Strung out far into the Atlantic Ocean, the Portuguese archipelago of nine volcanic islands that make up the Azores is an enchanting playground that you can enjoy all year round. While much of Europe shivers in the cold, there’s a pleasantly agreeable climate in the Azores – even in the depths of winter.
Hikers immediately find themselves drawn to the main island of Sao Miguel, whose twin crater lakes at Sete Cidades at the western end are among the Azores’ most arresting sights. They’re not quite twins, though: one lake is a deep blue while its neighbour is a vivid green. You can follow the paths around the lakes – handily connected by a bridge – or follow the trail to the viewpoint at Vista do Rei for spectacular views. If you prefer two wheels to two feet, the island’s cycle paths take you past the breathtaking sight of steaming fumaroles and calderas smothered in vegetation.
With so much volcanic activity, it’s no wonder that the geothermal energy rumbling beneath the surface is put to excellent use. Head to Terra Nostra Botanic Gardens at Furnas and wallow in the warmth of thermal pools that are heated to a toasty 35C. Afterwards, feast on cozido (meat stew) that’s been using the heat of the underground springs to make it delectably succulent.
As the Gulf Stream keeps the waters at a mild temperature, the archipelago’s coastlines become a magnet for fans of water sports – helped by more than 30 Blue Flag beaches. Explore the coasts by kayaking, paddle boarding or windsurfing, and enjoy the lively atmosphere of the marinas where the world’s sailors take part in a busy schedule of regattas. Get the adrenaline going by trying canyoning, rock climbing and swimming in waterfalls.
You don’t have to be a nautical type to enjoy one of the most pleasurable experiences the Azores has to offer. Early spring is one of the best times to join a whale-watching tour to see the huge resident population of sperm whales and bottlenose dolphins. At that time of year you’ll also catch sight of blue whales and fin whales passing through during their annual migration.
If you want to end the year in fine style, join the revellers in Sao Miguel’s capital, Ponta Delgada, during the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Watch the free concerts before the midnight fireworks light up the sky. You’ll see plenty of people in full black-tie and evening dress, as they prepare for the ball that doesn’t get going until at least 2am.
Brighten up a dull February by joining the Mardi Gras festivities all throughout the Azores. In the days leading up to the start the Lent, the Carnaval spirit infuses the islands, as parades, pageants and dances take over for four days.
All of this is just a prelude for Festas do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres – the Festival of the Christ of Miracles – in May. Over the course of a week, the Ponta Delgada is the scene for the Azores’ biggest religious festival, with processions, concerts, food markets and pilgrimages taking place and filling the town with colour and merrymaking.
Written by guest blogger, Mary Novakovich
For further inspiration on holidays to the Azores, please visit our website or telephone our dedicated reservations team on 020 8758 4722.