Europe’s westernmost point, the Azores, is comprised of nine Portuguese islands which happen to be some of the tallest volcanic mountains on earth (if measured from the ocean bed to their mist-enshrouded peaks). São Miguel, the big brother of the chain, is righteously dubbed “The Green Island”, and with a notable trio of enchanting crater lakes, will have photographers squealing with delight. The Vista do Rei viewpoint flaunts both the emerald and sapphire waters of Sete Cidades, a visual treasure chest; Furnas is renowned for its ‘Cozido’ (a hearty stew), which is cooked underground, while the heart-stoppingly beautiful Lagoa do Fogo lies untouched in its volcanic caldera. In general, volcanic exploration is an Azorean theme and you can even bathe in lava-rock pools.
Being so far from land, there is naturally plenty to see at sea. Engulfing the islands is the inviting, infinite azure of the Atlantic, which proves an ideal base for Humpback whales, bottlenose dolphins and tropical shoals of fish to stretch their fins and gills, much to the delight of the discerning traveller. When it comes to spotting whales, Faial rules the roost but watersports, diving or just a simple splash-about is prevalent across the archipelago, and encouraged due to the nutrient-rich water of the ocean. There is also ample solace for the adventure seeker on land, including caves, hot springs, lava tubes, mountains and wondrous waterfalls awaiting discovery; ironic considering the Azores was once an alleged lost continent of Atlantis.
As for the municipalities, charismatic Praia da Vitória, over on Terceira, sheds a contemporary vibe. The island itself is a mixed bag with more cows to people, and most nights the enthralling Touradas à corda bullfighting traditions ensue on the streets. On a more cultural note, a 16th century fortress will appease those of a more explorative nature. Elsewhere, keep your eyes peeled for the odd flemish windmill, which decorates the Azorean landscape nicely.
The capital Ponta Delgada, on São Miguel, is a seaside city with an urban yet saintly quality; its black basalt and limestone streets look fresh from the scenes of a classic black and white movie set. The main Gateway, comprising of three elegant arches, is worth visiting at the main square since these were the city’s original entrance. Then there is the São Brás, a quaintly imposing fortress, followed by the captivating chapel of Nossa Senhora da Esperança with its blue and white tiles illustrating Biblical scenes.
After another day experiencing some of the best aspects of colonial Portuguese life, why not stroll to a restaurant with a view, sit back and write your memories onto some enviably scenic postcards.