It is getting cold outside which got me thinking back on my trips this October. I had been away with work most of the month. Once back I was absolutely shattered and then the usual work just piled on top of me all and lo and behold, it is mid December, Christmas is basically knocking at the door. However, a post for one of my trips is forming in my mind and my fingers are itching to start writing again.
This October has taken me from the north of UK, road tripping down the Scottish Highlands all the way to the Azores in the middle of the Atlantic. While Scotland is still trying to find its way out of my head, the beautiful Portuguese islands write the story themselves.
Often times called the Europe’s answer to Hawaii, the Azores are a group of small volcanic islands spanning over more than 900 square kilometres through the Atlantic. They are covered in vibrant green vegetation and the softest moss I have ever touched. I don’t really go around touching moss, I don’t know why I phrased it this way but it is sooooo soft, I want it as a bathroom rug to step on every time I get out of the shower. Soooooft… These islands are an absolute must for someone who wants to get lost in nature and run away from masses of people (and touch the soft moss). Just look how green it is!!
One thing to remember – I had come here with work so my free time was basically non existent. I visited only Sao Miguel, the main island in the group of 9. I spent my one free afternoon exploring Ponta Delgada a bit (photos below) and the next day I had an arranged tour of the island with a guide we use for our clients.
If you decide to spend your holidays on the Azores (and you definitely should) you need to keep a couple of things in mind:
The easiest way to get about is with your own transport. Public transport does not go to some “tourist” places or there is a need to change transports. Also the schedule is done for the locals and their needs, not the tourists. If you do get your own transport (be it car, motorbike or bicycle) you do not want to get stuck on the inland roads after dark. The roads are twisty, absolutely perfect for going on the bikes BUT, once the dark falls, there are no street lights and it does get quite dangerous driving around. Even the locals avoid going on the roads after dark whenever possible. Oh, and beware the cows! There are 2.4 cows per person on the island and Azoreans really love their cows who, in return, tend to get on the road and in front of your vehicle…
The islands themselves are connected with flights and ferries. Only two of the islands have international flights. If you want to visit more than one island, I’d suggest taking a plane from Sao Miguel to the central islands and then use a ferry between them – there are 5 central islands. Otherwise, Sao Miguel to Treceira (closest central one) is 4.5 hours on a ferry (non existent in winter month apparently). The ferries between the central islands do not go every hour, sometimes there is one ferry in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the inland flights are not really that cheap either so plan carefully before deciding what to do with the time you planned for the trip. I think island hopping here is an amazing experience but it does take more time.
Ah yes, the thing Brits love to moan about the most, the weather! The climate in the Azores is very humid and it rains quite a lot. Yet, you will not hear them complain about it. On the contrary, they accept it as completely normal! There is a saying that you get all four seasons in one day on the Azores and I have found it to be true. In one day, on the Sunday I had beautiful sunshine, then wind, then showers, fog, drizzle, you name it. Then next day, I was almost blown away by the gale force winds at Sete Cidades after a nice sunny, warm morning.
The island is quite small so if you don’t like the weather on one side, you can just get in the car and go to the other side of the island where the weather is better. However, no matter the rain, the temperature was quite high and it was very warm, even hot if no wind was blowing.
What to do there?
There are loads of things you can do while visiting the Azores. The islands are perfect for nature lovers or people who just want to get in touch with the green around them and unhook from the usual pattern of life and social media (apart from those times when you just HAVE to post the gorgeous surroundings to make your friends jealous). Don’t get me wrong, there are cultural things you can see but the nature is so amazing that you will end up spending most of your time outside experiencing the four seasons in one day.
Whale watching – this is an experience offered in many coastal places, but the Azores have the advantage of being quite far from the mainland so they have many animals around. There are about 27 different species of dolphins, porpoises and whales in the ocean around the islands. According to some sites, the best time to see as many animals as possible is spring time. Their resident whales are sperm whales. If interested, just google whale watching and it will give you all the information you need to book it.
Hiking and cycling – somehow I see these two always going hand in hand. There are many hiking and cycling paths across the islands. Hiking wise, they have circular paths (very long, start and end at the same point) or linear ones (starting in one place and ending in another).
Sete Cidades and the twin lakes – this is what I was doing on the Sunday – a road trip from Ponta Delgada to Sete Cidades which is a small town in the middle of a volcanic crater. It is on the shores of the twin lakes – one blue one green. There is a romantic, heartbreaking legend about the lakes but I find it annoying. Google it if really interested.
On our way there we stopped at several view points and different lakes. There are 7 lakes in total on the Sao Miguel island, I saw Lagoa do Canario, Lagoa Empadadas (soft moss) and the twin lakes. I saw more of them from a view point called Boca do Inferno (mouth of hell). Honestly, I think I only missed Fogo and Furnas ones.
Oh, one interesting fact about the Blue Lake! In the 1930s an underground tunnel was dug out from the lake to the coast to help keep the water level down and avoid flooding during very rainy periods. You can actually walk through the tunnel when it is dry and I so wanted to do it but had no time!! If anyone has done it, please tell me what it was like!
Thermal pools and volcanic caves – this is another thing I did not manage to do but really, really wanted to!! There are thermal springs in Furnas on Sao Miguel and you can go exploring volcanic caves on some of the other islands as well. I think it would be such a nice day, exploring the caves and then chilling in the hot spring pools full of iron and other minerals which are good for your skin.
Botanical gardens – the botanical gardens in Furnas make you feel like you are walking through a “civilised” jungle. By civilised here I mean there are walking paths and you do not need to use a machete to cut your way through the vines. There are also three smaller botanical gardens in Ponta Delgada and possibly more of them in other towns along the islands.
Surfing – apparently it is a really big thing here. They certainly have the waves for it and they hold some championships as well. The main spot is Ribeira Grande (Sao Miguel) but there are other ones more recluse and difficult to get to.
Thinking about it now, I wish I took a couple of days off right after the business part of the trip just to enjoy the Azores in my own pace and maybe even venture to another island. Even if staying put, it would have given me time to do some of the experiences offered in this amazing destination. Well, there is always next year (or year after). Until then, I am looking forward to going home for Christmas ❤
Happy holidays everyone!!