The Azores: The Hidden Gem of the Atlantic

  
I recently went to the Azores and loved it. It was possibly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been…and I’ve been to a lot of places. If you are a nature lover these islands owned by Portugal are perfect for you. With the untouched nature of Hawaii, the rolling hills of Ireland and the architecture of Portugal, these islands are a hidden gem.
Although the Azores are made up of nine islands, we only had time to go to two of them. We chose Sao Miguel and Terceira. Before I get into the things we did (and what you should do while you are there) I want to provide a few tips for visiting:

1. Rent a car. There is absolutely no way you can get around the island without one. Yes, they have cabs but everything is so spread out that you will spend more money on cabs than a rental car. Make sure you know how to drive a standard car. They have very few  automatic cars on the islands and the ones they do have are very expensive.

2. All over the island they have signs showing lookout points – always stop at them. Each one had an amazing view!

3. Drink Kima – a grapefruit soda they make on the island. You literally can’t find it anywhere else on earth so it’s truly one of a kind.

4. Pack for all different kinds of weather. If you are from New England you will understand this. Depending on if you are in the sun or shade you can go from sweating to shivering in one location. The Azores are prone to rain (although it only rained once in the time we were there) so pack an umbrella or rain jacket.

5. If you are from the U.S., bring Euros. Only one place on the island took credit cards.

6. Pack comfortable shoes.

Now to the fun part, what to do while you are there. If you want, you can follow our itinerary to the the T. Everything we did I recommend.
Sao Miguel – Day 1

We stayed in Hotel Talisman in Ponta Delgada. It was a beautiful hotel with very nice and helpful staff. It was in the heart of the city and close walk to local restaurants and the ocean. They had a continental breakfast every morning too. 

When we arrived we explored Ponta Delgada and went into a few shops. We then hopped into the car and drove to Cha Porto Formosso (a tea plantation) that had beautiful views of the ocean and cliffs and small village below. We went inside and drank tea while eating biscuits made by locals. We loved it here so much we ended up going back two days in a row. From here we went a few miles down the road to a second tea plantation – Cha Gorreana. This was also interesting but we enjoyed the quaintness of Cha Porto Formosso more.

   
   
After more tea, we were off again to the Lagao das Furnas (the Furnas Lake). This lake was green! When we arrived, we parked and walked on a path around the lake. We went by an abandoned cathedral which was beautiful and eerie at the same time. Here, you can opt to go paddle boarding, canoeing or kayaking too. 

We then drove to the other side of the lake and the Furnas which is an area where the lava underground heats up the earth so much that there is bubbling water, steam and sulfer. A local restaurant actually puts a tin full of meat and vegetables into the ground and lets the steam heat it up for hours before serving it for dinner.

   
    
   
At this point we had gone all day without stopping, had spent several hours at each site and driving that we were very tired so we had dinner at the hotel and it was very good.

Day 2

We woke up had breakfast and started the drive to Lagao dos Canario. This is a steep 15 minute hike up a hill but trust me the views are worth it. We had fog around us the entire time and we still thought it was an amazing experience. You feel like your on the edge of the world. With steep cliffs on either side and a narrow path across the top of a mountain, you can see for miles. On our way down we stopped at another Lagao just a 5 minute walk away. 
   
   
From here, we continued on to Sete Cidades. We stopped at the overlook point and had beautiful views of the two lakes and the village below. We then drove around looking for a lunch spot and came across Green Love. It was good and packed! So many people were there.

   
    
 After lunch, we continued on to Mosterios, a town on the west side of the island. We drove around, got out of the car and watched the waves crash into shore. We then stopped into a tiny pastry shop and had tea, coffee, Kima and pastries.

  At this point it was late in the afternoon and with about an hour drive back we headed on our way to the hotel. We then had dinner at Calcada do Cais – it was delicious!

Day 3

Everyone told us to go to Nordeste so off we went! On the way, we stopped in many lookout points and got beautiful views of the island. We stopped off and got pictures of Lagao do Fogo too. Once in Nordeste, we walked around exploring and got lunch at Restaurante Tronqueira. We were a little skeptical at first since it was a buffet but it was one of the best meals on the island. We went up to get more food at least 3 times. The waitress was so sweet too and there were great views of the ocean and palm trees.

   
   
 
 On our way out of town we stopped and got pictures of the lighthouse in Nordeste and continued on to Ribeira dos Caldeiros. This is also a must-see. There were numerous waterfalls, water mills and lush fauna everywhere.

   
 Again, on our way home we stopped at Cha Porto Formosso. 

That night we tried a restaurant called Rohta Ihla dos Verde. It was good but you must be open to different takes on regular dishes. I can see that many vegetarians love it there.

Day 4 – off to the airport to get to Terceira!

We hopped off the plane and immediately it was different. Instead of tall mountains and deep canyons, this island had more rolling hills. We stayed at Hotel Praia Marina which I highly recommend! It was right on the beach and the owner was so fantastic. They were helpful and very nice. This hotel also had a continental breakfast. 

Since we had gotten there after breakfast was served, we walked up the hill and into town to a local Cafe. I can’t remember the name but their pastries were delicious!
We then hopped in the car and went to Angra do Heroismo – which many of you know is a UNESCO Heritage site. This city did not disappoint. It was beautiful. From the bustling streets to the wonderful restaurants and beautiful architecture. We first got a view as we drove Monte Brasil before driving into the town. We went to lunch at Tasca das Tias – we also went to this restaurant twice. We loved it! After lunch, we continued walking around town, stopping in stores and exploring. We then drove around the island to see what there was, stopping at lookout points and just getting a feel for the island. 
   

 Then we had dinner at Tutti Gusti – a pizza place next to our hotel. We were exhausted!

Day 5

Everyone I asked said to go to Algar do Carvao so off we went to the lava caves. Little did we know we got extremely lucky with timing! We pulled up and people were waiting in a line for it to open. Apparently in October you need to make an appointment to go in there. We didn’t make one! They still allowed us in but if we had shown up later we wouldn’t have gotten in.

We climbed down this walkway and headed underground. 30 feet above us was a large hole in the earth where you could see the sky. The lava tubes went down close to 300 ft. We climbed down hundreds of stairs and got amazing views of this ancient cave that was made from a previous volcanic eruption. At the bottom was another small lagao. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

   

  

 After getting our fill of the beauty we went to Funas de Enoxfre which is another Furnas that has steam coming from under ground lava. We walked around the whole perimeter.

   

 From here we went to Lagao de Negro which was another lake and  lava tubes but the tubes were closed. 

We then headed off to Biscoitos and had lunch at Casa do Pasta de Pedro – it was delicious! We had a chicken dish that was sauteed, a salad, fries and rice. After a hearty lunch we walked over to the wine musuem (Museo de Vinho). The owner was very sweet and walked us around and told us the history. She then let us taste a table wine. 

We then walked along the beach (a mile!) to La Barca for dinner. Along the way we watched surfers and waves crash against the walls. We also came here twice for dinner!

Day 6

We drove to the top of the mountain overlooking Praia da Vittoria and looked at the monument to Mary. 

We then drove to Serra do Cume which is the second highest point on the island. We then drove back to Biscoitos and went to the Piscina Natural (natural pools). This was very cool. We spent an hour just hanging out watching the waves crash and the pools fill with water. In the summer it is very busy and filled with people.

   

  

 From here we drove back to Angra do Heroismo and had lunch again at Tasca das Tias and went shopping.

For dinner again we went to La Barca. 

Day 7

Sadly this was the end of our trip. If you ever get the chance to go to these wonderful islands, I highly recommend it. I would go back in a heartbeat.

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