Europe’s best kept secret: The Azores

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Mother Nature has shaped a land packed with natural beauty often referred to as “Europe’s answer to Hawaii” in the blue immensity of the Atlantic Ocean: the Azores. It has become an increasingly admired destination with year-round charms for travelers. These unique islands, comprises several islets and nine major islands, are part of Portuguese archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean. Lies 1500 km off the coast of Portugal and of volcanic origin, the islands’ beauty is rare, and timeless.

It has been suggested that human presence on the Azores Islands could date back 2,000 years ago. The Europeans at least knew of the islands as early as the 14th century, and they did appear in maps and sea voyage accounts. During the 16th and 17th centuries the Azores archipelago was one of the centers of trade between Europe America and India. Today, the traditional lifestyle of the Azores mostly remains unchanged. This far-flung gem of the Atlantic is without doubt worth the detour off Europe’s beaten track. There are no bright big cities neon lights, no metropolitan rambles – it is stripped down to the bare-bones and goes ‘au naturel’ in fabulous style. The Azores architecture is a combination of traditional Portuguese buildings, breathtaking scenery with hedgerows and meadows covered with hydrangeas, pineapple plantations and a population of cows. Above all, the region’s volcanic history is still in evidence, with craters and bubbling hot springs visible at close quarters.

Due to their remote location in the Palearctic realm, the Azores Islands have unique flora and fauna. The untouched and pure nature and vegetation are home to numerous species, including endemic plants and animals. At least two endemic bird species still survive on the archipelago, including the Azores bullfinch restricted to laurel forests, and the Monteiro’s storm petrel. 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. The Azorean Marine Park, covering 135 466 km2, is designated to protect the marine species.

The Azores enjoy mild weather throughout the year, benefiting from the warm water of the Gulf Stream. Daily high temperatures range between 16 and 25 °C. The average temperature on the archipelago is 17 °C, with July being the driest month and November the wettest month. Weather can sometimes be changeable, with rain, sun, and cloud all in the same day, but overall, the temperate climate means a holiday can be enjoyed at any time.

Though the nine Azores main islands share some similarities to one another, each island is unique and has its own distinct set of characteristics that set it apart from the rest:

Sao Miguel Island

Known as the green island, Sao Miguel’s lush landscapes and rolling, verdant hillsides inspire and awe everyone who experiences it. As the largest (759 km2) and the most populated of the archipelago, Sao Miguel is known for the award-winning Terra Nostra Park and it is a geothermal hot spot. Ponta Delgada, the most prominent city, is a blend of contemporary life with historic flavor, with old world architecture like cobbled streets, sidewalk cafes, and a thriving culinary scene. Activities in Sao Miguel include whale watching, swimming with dolphins, trekking, diving, fishing, jeep safaris, bird watching, sailing, snorkeling, swimming, golf, and many other outdoor and indoor activities.

Terceira Island

The historic center of Teceira capital, Angra do Heroismo, has been classified in UNESCO’s International Heritage list. This ancient maritime city dates to the 15th and 16th Centuries when the island was a major port of call for ships travelling from Africa and the Indies. Known as the Lilac Island, Terceira features one of the best public libraries and archives in Portugal and retains some important private art collections. Terceira is home to the Azores’ most iconic patchwork landscapes, and to one of the only lava tubes in the world.

Graciosa Island

Ancient streets, manor-houses, and stunning churches dates to 16th centuries are some dazzling sights and architectures found in Graciosa. Known as the White Island, Graciosa is an ideal environment for a perfect relaxing. The vaulted cave over an underground lake; the undulating wheatfields; green and purple vineyards; the vanes of windmills; the mirror formed by a lagoon hidden in the depth of the earth; the peace and quiet of country life; the nectar of delicious wines, all these are attractions of Graciosa, which also offers in dramatic beauty the rainbow colors of underwater life.

Faial Island

Nicknamed the Blue Island for its abundance of blue hydrangeas that absolutely cover the island, Faial is the site of the most emblematic landscapes shaped by 1957 volcanic eruption in the Azores. Most famous as a port, Faial historically has been a popular stopping point for sailors crossing the Atlantic. The island’s main city, Horta, has a modern, cosmopolitan feel. Sacred Art Museum, Nossa Senhora das Angústias Church, Nossa Senhora do Pilar Chapel, Caldeira Natural Reserve, and caves in Costa da Feteira and Monte da Guia belvedere are some should visit places in Faial Island.

Pico Island

Known as the grey island, Pico is covered with basalt-lined vineyards that are official UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Pico Island boasts one of the world’s longest lava tubes, where a glimpse of rare stalactites and stalagmites that have been unaffected by outside or artificial light is located. Other points of interest in Pico Island not to be missed include Lagoa do Capitão, Lajido da Criação Velha, and whaling museums. Pico owes its name to a 7713 ft Portugal’s highest peak volcanic cone. At such a towering height, Pico is one of Europe’s most popular hiking trails.

Sao Jorge Island

Sao Jorge is dramatically beautiful, filled with mountains that tumble into deep ravines, as well as rocky cliffs, crater lakes, and unique rare wonders; fajãs (plains formed by lava flow). The fertile brown soil and dark rock striations in the island lend it its nickname, the Brown Island. Sao Jorge Island has an indented coastline with an oblong shape.

Flores Island

The island gets its name from its luxurious botanical garden-like landscape covered in goldenrods and pink and blue hydrangeas. Known as Pink Island, Flores is one of the few official UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in the world. This island has a set of seven lagoons, as well as several natural swimming pools tucked along the coast.

Corvo Island

With only one village, Corvo is where visitors have that true sense of community and kindness. It is safe to say that living in Corvo is like living in one big family. Corvo is a favorite among birdwatchers, as many rare migratory species can be spotted here, as well as divers, who visit the island for its skylit caves filled with submerged lava formations. The island’s only paved road leads to the breathtaking Caldeirão, a crater that resulted from the island’s single volcano of origin.

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