Review: Whales, dolpins and 38 other reasons for visiting the Azores

Blue Crater Lake

Blue Crater Lake - Credit: Archant

If you love Lakes and Mountains holidays then you will adore the Azores. But why? asks Andrea Powell.

Green Crater Lake

Green Crater Lake - Credit: Archant

For clean air and tranquillity, quiet rural scenes with small houses, pastures of lush green grass and grazing cows and ever changing stunning scenery, all in warm climes, this could be your own little piece of heaven.

An archipelago of nine emerald green islands, just mere pin-pricks in the middle of the vast Atlantic Ocean, the Azores are a ‘handy stop’ on many a repositioning cruise between Europe and America.

But there is just so much more to these tiny islands than as a convenient day trip.

Whales and dolphins are attracted to the area throughout the year. Some, such as the Sperm whales and Common dolphins have made it their home, whilst other species and also Turtles, will just pass through during the summer months. It is also possible to swim in the Atlantic with these gentle, though inquisitive creatures – a true experience of a lifetime.

Hot Springs, Furnas Valley, Azores

Hot Springs, Furnas Valley, Azores - Credit: Archant

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Not a traditional beach destination, with the warm climate and lack of crowds, it is still an ideal place to sit back, relax and read a good book maybe – even if just for one day.

Although golden sand can be found on the islands of Santa Maria and Terceira, it is more usual to find stretches of stark black sand on these volcanic islands.

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With regards to gastronomy, maybe not as well-known as France, but cheese is the speciality here. Paired with a good Portuguese wine of course, Sao Jorge cheese is still made in the traditional farmhouse way and aged for over 120 days.

Or if tea is more your tipple, the Gorreana Tea Factory, the only tea producing factory in Europe, produces up to 40 tonnes of it ever year. On a guided tour you will be able to learn how it is harvested, processed and packaged – and even maybe taste the perfect cuppa!

Ribiera Grande, Azores

Ribiera Grande, Azores - Credit: Archant

But it is probably the scenery that attracts most people to these islands. The blue hydrangea hedges are well-renowned but this makes them no less spectacular. Throughout the island though it is always possible to see a diverse array of tropical fruits and sometimes rare plants as well as the more familiar Camellias, Cala Lily, Aloes, Hibiscus, Azaleas and Bird of Paradise.

There are also many different ways and means to enjoy such beauty.

With all of this stunning scenery, walking and hiking is an obvious choice. But for those looking for something a little more involved maybe, cycling and mountain biking in particular, are also very popular. Then there is the golf, on two beautiful courses, the bird watching and horse riding.

The warm waters surrounding these islands are attractive to many underwater species - making it also a popular scuba diving spot. Or for those looking to more to the extremes, kayaking, surfing, walking inside a volcano, or even canyoning maybe?

But what if you would rather not explore alone?

Guide ‘Tony’ (let’s call him) is just one potential solution. Driving a Merc, looking like Tom Cruise with innumerable anecdotes, tales and facts about the main island – Sao Miguel, this is definitely not your run-of-the-mill Island Tour.

In keeping with the ethos of all islands, instead everything is just so laid back and easy going. But what it lacks in sophistication it more than makes up for in irresistible charm and character.

For those with time on their hands, the best way to explore these islands is similar to the pace of the Azores themselves – slowly!

It would take several weeks to do justice to them all. And try to do too much in too short a time and you will spend all your time travelling and not enough time seeing. But how much is too much?

In about ten days it should be possible to visit three of the islands – Sao Miguel, the capital; Faial, one of the most picturesque and also cosmopolitan of the islands; and also a day trip to nearby Pico. Flights between Sao Miguel and Faial take only 40 minutes and the ferry to Pico about half an hour.

Certainly I found my time in the Azores simply amazing. The crystal clear waters, fresh air and magnificent scenery. I was never short of places to go, sights to see and activities to help show off these amazing tiny volcanic islands.

So maybe if you are looking for ‘something a little different’ next time, maybe try a trip to a jewel in the middle of the vast Atlantic Ocean.

Island hopping

Walking holidays are a popular option. Prices for a fourteen night guided walking tour covering Sao Miguel, Terceira, Sao Jorge, Pico and Faial costs from £1375 per person and includes Crater walks, cliffs, valleys and gorges as well as thermal springs, natural ovens and mud baths!

For those who prefer something a little less constructed and more tailor made, it is also possible to get your own self-guided tours. As an example, a three centre, seven night trip incorporating Sao Miguel, Faial and Pico costs from £1495 per person based upon two people sharing and includes scheduled flights, 7-nights B&B accommodation, all inter-island flights, transfers, and entrance tickets and guided excursions.

Andrea Powell is owner and Managing Director of Idelo Travel in Ipswich. Contact: 01473 231181.

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