Why Travel to the Azores
Many people haven’t heard of the Azores, but it’s growing in popularity with visitors all over the world. The Azores are a group of nine islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Portugal. Some campaigns and enthusiastic locals call the Azores, “the Hawaii of the Atlantic.” And guess what? They’re not wrong. These islands are home to lush forests, gorgeous waterfalls, and ocean views for miles.
The Azores A-Z
There are nine Azorean islands: Sao Miguel, Terceira, Flores, Corvo, Faial, Graciosa, Pico, Sao Jorge, and Santa Maria. This volcanic archipelago has a temperate climate considering how far north it is, mostly due to the Gulf Stream. The main industries are agriculture (dairy farming, livestock, fishing) and tourism. Most flights take you to the island of Sao Miguel, specifically to the capitol city of Ponta Delgada. From there, you can take a little island jumper to any of the other eight islands.
History and Mystery
The Azores were settled over two centuries and the Spanish, French, and Portuguese all claimed it at one or multiple points in the past. The Azorean culture varies from island to island, and the Azorean dialect is extremely unique compared to mainland Portugal or Brazilian Portuguese. Due to the various rulers and settlers of the Azores, the culture and customs of the people are a distinct blend of several European traditions. The resulting Azorean flavor makes for a wonderful getaway. Finally, and perhaps the coolest things about the Azores, the islands are home to the only European pineapple plantations and Europe's only tea plantation!
Given the islands' distance from the mainland, the food is farm-to-table focused and the seafood is extremely fresh. The Azores export seafood, dairy, and lots of cheese to Portugal's mainland. The best meal we had in the Azores was simply called Cozida das Furnas. Translated, that's Furnas cuisine. Furnas is a town in the center of Sao Miguel where the traditional cooking method was to combine beef, chicken, pork, taro, potatoes, carrots, kale, and cabbage in a massive pot, dig a hole in the earth at the base of the main mountain, and let it cook all day. The mountain is a dormant volcano, but still holds tons of geothermal heat and energy. This cooks the food in the pot and by the end of the day, it's ready to eat. We proudly took part in this tradition and it was amazing. The meat seasons the vegetables and everything is tender and juicy.
Hiking, Biking, and Waterfalls - Oh My!
Beyond the beauty of the area, there are tons of hiking and biking trails throughout the various islands. Some of the islands, like the Nordeste area of Sao Miguel, are home to beautiful waterfalls. Some you can drive to and others are hidden and require a hike to visit. No matter how you choose to see the waterfalls, they are lovely. There are also some more adventurous activities during warmer months, like parasailing and jet skiing. You can also keep it relaxed with some dolphin and whale watching or just soak in the hot springs scattered around the island. Lastly, the islands are a photographers paradise, blending jungle-y landscapes with European garden influences. There are very few views that aren't picture worthy.
All the islands are peaceful and relaxed. It's hard to believe they're a short, four hour flight from Boston! If you don't have too much time for a vacation, or want a long weekend getaway, the Azores is a wonderful option from the East Coast of the States or western European countries.