Although its name literally means ‘third’, Terceira is the Azores’ second island, at least in terms of population. It derived its rather mundane name from the fact that it was the third island discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century, despite originally being named the Island of Jesus Christ. It is also referred to as Ilha Lilás or the Lilac Isle, a name which depending on who you listen to, it owes to the abundance of wisteria and lilacs, the pastel hue of its old buildings or the spectacular sunsets seen from the shore.
The main town on Terceira is Angra do Heroismo. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 this is a town with its roots firmly set in the days of the great explorers and its magnificent houses and churches hark back to the island’s eventful early years. Vasco da Gama stopped here and for a long time it was considered an essential stop on the way to Africa and India, thanks to its harbour which was naturally sheltered by the surrounding hills. It grew in size and repute as a place where men would stock up on food and drink and do what sailors in those days generally did.
As the town flourished its buildings became more ornate and reflected the finest architecture of the time. Despite the island’s relative isolation it certainly saw more than its fair share of foreign interest. The Spanish launched a number of attacks on the Azores in the continuing conflicts between the two maritime superpowers of the day, while privateers would target the spices and riches being traded here for their ill-gotten gains. Even in more recent times the British set up a base here during the Second World War and the Americans became its main users in the post-war years. One way or another, Terceira has continued to attract attention from far and wide.
Today the visitors come in search of relaxation and a more benign type of exploration. The island has its sandy beaches and natural rock pools for those wanting to unwind and dip in the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s a popular destination for walking. A highly-regarded hike is the climb to the summit of the volcanic Monte Brasil just outside Angra do Heroismo. From its 1205 metre summit you get a bird’s-eye view of the main town as well as a panoramic lookout across most of this elliptically-shaped island, with its neat stone walls and its profusion of hydrangeas.
Terceira is home to some of the Azores’ most keenly-celebrated festivals. The Angra Rock Festival takes place in September, while the internationally-acclaimed Angra Jazz Festival is a regular October fixture on the island. June meanwhile sees the ten-day celebration of Sanjoaninas, a festival in honour of St John which sees parades, shows, concerts, fireworks and plenty of dancing. All celebrations are laced with the highly-prized fruit of Terceira’s vineyards, the wine made from its verdelho grapes.