Nine tiny islands set adrift in the Atlantic, the draw of the Azores is their remoteness and the unique landscapes this promises. Most trips here tend to centre around popular Sao Miguel island or the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Terceira – and we’ll take you there – but we’ll also take you to some of the lesser visited, but no less extraordinary, sites of the archipelago. On our Azores Grand Tour, you’ll also explore the secluded islands of Flores, Pico and Faial, each of which is home to it’s own array of unique natural attractions.
Take Faial for example. While all of the Azorean Islands are volcanic, it is here that you’ll find the most memorable volcanic vistas. The eruption of Capelinhos volcano in 1958 created a stretch of ash dusted-earth reaching two kilometres long, where today you can explore craters, cones and lava tubes. Over on Pico, you’ll be one of the few people to taste wine grown from volcanic soil on the vineyards that climb Mont Pico. Flores in the west is the most secluded island and promises an Eden-like interior of tumbling waterfalls, green carpeted cliffs and twinkling lagoons.
The adventure also stretches to the transport. Inter-island flights let you spy the rims of volcanic calderas from above, while island-hopping by boat offers the chance to spot whales and dolphins splashing in the waves.
Fly to Ponta Delgada, the capital of Sao Miguel Island (via Lisbon) and check in to the Hotel Vila Nova or similar, just minutes from the marina and the waterfront. Spend the rest of the day at leisure. The food and restaurants in Ponta Delgada are the best place for an introduction to Azorean cuisine - try grilled limpets with Molho Alfonso sauce, or a desert made from Sao Miguel pineapples.
The highlight of any trip to Sao Miguel is to stand on the banks of Sete Cidades. These are the biggest pair of volcanic crater lakes in the Azores, although it’s their colour that brings in BBC film crews . Separated by a thin slice of land, one lake is a glowing turquoise green while the other is a deep blue. You’ll also have the opportunity to travel across the mountain roads and visit one of Sao Miguel’s famous pineapple plantations at the Vista do Rei Belvedere. (B)
Today, fly to one of the remotest islands in the Azores—and indeed, the world—Flores. An hour’s flight further west across the Atlantic, you’ll enjoy stunning views over what Portuguese explorers called the island of flowers. And with less than 4,000 residents you’ll be free to enjoy the flowers and the rest of the stunning scenery on Flores all to yourself. Check in to the Hotel Das Flores or similar. (B)
Today embark on a full day tour of Flores. The lakes, streams and waterfalls on Flores are just a little crisper and sparkle a little more than anywhere else in the Azores. Your tour will stop at the beautiful Lomba, Funda and Rasa lakes at Riberia da Cruz, as well the waterfalls at Poco da Alagoinha where a collection of streams tumble off the cliffs into a crater lake below. Time your trip between May and September and you’ll also be able to see the hydrangea covered fields that gave the island its name. (B)
Take a short flight to Faial and enjoy more sweeping panoramas over the islands from the plane. Upon arrival transfer to the Hotel Faial or similar and check in. Home to a huge abundance of blue hydrangeas, Faial is known locally as the blue island, and is truly spectacular during July and August when the flowers are in bloom. The centre of the island is dominated by a scenic volcano caldera. This island was once popular with pirates but is now a favoured stopping off spot for travellers and yachtsmen embarking on an Atlantic crossing and seeking a place for lunch or a night ashore. This makes Faial a great spot to try windsurfing and kayaking. (B)
If you didn’t see the whales yesterday on the ferry ride, your free day in Faial should be spent on a whale watching tour. The waters off the Azores are a sanctuary of marine life and you can hope to see marlin, sharks and bottlenose dolphins. But it’s the whales that remain blockbuster viewing. Blue whales and killer whales are two of the more sought after sightings, while sperm whales can be found surfing through the waves year round.
Today, fly to Terceira and check in for a three-night stay at the Hotel Angra Garden. The hotel is set at the heart of the historical capital of Terceira, Angra do Herismo. This is one of the oldest settlements in the Azores, and the cobbled streets, whitewashed facades and terra cotta tiled roofs make for a picture postcard setting recognised by its UNESCO heritage listing. (B)
Today’s full day jeep tour of Terceira starts inside a 90 metre deep volcanic chimney. The lava tube at Algar do Carvao (summer only) was formed by receding lava thousands of years ago, and today you can step past the flowstones and stalactites to touch the burnt red walls of an extinct volcano. There is more volcanic fun at Carbito, where the eruption has served up natural swimming pools formed from black volcanic rock where you can take a dip. Your return to town will take you through the sleepy farming village of Doze Ribeiras and alongside the fishing fleet moored off Sao Mateus. (B,L)
Enjoy a free day to explore Sao Miguel at leisure or take an optional excursion. (B)
Today take a tour to Furnas and head for the bubbling waters of Furnas Crater Lake and dodge the hot springs and fumaroles that burst from the ground. Take a dip in the cooler geothermal pools or try one of the local stews that is literally cooked by the volcano – the locals bury it in the ground close to the caldera. (B,L)