The Azores archipelago is made up of 9 Islands: Corvo, Flores, Faial, Pico, Graciosa, Santa Maria, Terceira, Sao Jorge and the largest of Sao Miguel, formed by the clashing of three tectonic plates in the middle of the Atlantic. Each of these islands is unique and beautiful in their own special way.
Sao Miguel is the largest of the islands, roughly 50 miles long and 13 miles wide, and its volcanic landscape is draped with lush green vegetation, punctured by hot springs and dotted with grazing Friesian cows. The winding coastal roads are lined with giant red and blue hydrangeas – visit the island in June and July to see this colourful spectacle.
In 2013, the Azores was named one of the Top 10 whale and dolphin watching destinations the world by The Telegraph newspaper. From the capital Ponta Delgada and from Vila Franca do Campo on the south coast of the island, you can book a half-day whale and dolphin excursion. With 24 of the world’s cetacean spotted in the waters of the archipelago these trips have a high success rating. Sperm whales, Fin whales, Humpback whales, Blue whales, Common dolphins and Bottlenose dolphins have all been recorded and in 2013, Orcas were spotted off this coast of Sao Miguel – a rare sight. Of course, you are not guaranteed to see a whale and on my recent excursion, I did not see whales but I did get to observe dolphins in their natural habitat excitedly jumping around my rib boat.
Towards the east of the island is the village of Furnas, a mysterious town nestled among lush countryside and home to Furnas lake, hot springs and the renowned botanical gardens. This is the place for kayaking, bathing in thermal pools and for gentle walks. Furnas is also famed for its Cozido stew which is cooked in the hot springs in the village. In the Cozido you will find black pudding, pork belly, cabbage, carrot, yams, beef, chicken and potatoes, it has a slight sulphurous aroma and is delicious.
The second island of the archipelago, Terceira is just a 50-minute flight from Sao Miguel. A relatively flat island, in comparison to the rolling hills of Sao Miguel and the mountain ridge of Sao Jorge, Terceira is a fascinating destination to visit and a favourite of the team at Sunvil. Terceira combines some of the best aspects of the archipelago including a historical town (Angra do Heroismo), a sandy beach, unspoiled countryside and volcanic features.
Of particular interest are the festivities that take place on Terceira throughout the year. On most weekends throughout the summer you will find a village celebration, religious event or a ‘running of the bulls’ procession taking place. The locals are always more than happy to tell you where to find the nearest spectacular.
After my recent visit, I would recommend that all visitors climb to the top of Monte Brasil in Angra do Heroismo for a fabuous view over the town. The area is also a great area for picnics and walking.
Sao Jorge is one of the longest and narrowest islands in the Azores, with a quaint little harbour in the capital, Velas. The island is ideal for walking, with most trails starting on the mountain peaks and meandering down to the small coastal settlements below. Wonderful views unfold at every turn.
Sao Jorge is part of the central group of islands – made up of Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge, Graciosa and Terceira. From the mountain summit, which runs along the length of the island, it is possible to see all five islands on a clear day. It is also possible to visit the neighbouring islands of Faial and Pico on a day excursion.
Do not forget to take a picture of Portugal’s highest point, Mount Pico across the water. At sunset the view across the ocean from Velas is magnificent.
Sao Miguel, Terceira and Sao Jorge form an ideal multi-centre itinerary with each island having a different feel, landscape and attractions. In fact, with day excursions to Faial and Pico available it is possible to visit five islands in one holiday.
For more inspiration please see our 7-night ‘Three Island Tour‘.