Where are the Azores?

When I told my friends and family that we were going to the Azores on holiday this year, generally I was met with a puzzled “where’s that?” Which isn’t surprising considering the Azores still don’t seem to be a very popular holiday destination for people in the U.K, probably because of a lack of direct flight routes. However having just got back from 9 days on the Azores’ largest island, Sao Miguel, if you love the great outdoors and thermal springs and want to escape the chaos of everyday life for a bit of an adventure, I definitely recommend adding the Azores to your travel bucket list.

The Azores are a group of 9 volcanic islands situated in the middle of the Atlantic between Portugal and America. It is officially part of Portugal and is Europe’s most westerly point, 1500 km west of Lisbon. With a population of around 250,000, it is comparable in population to the London Boroughs of Camden or Westminster but in landmass to Luxembourg at 2300 sq km! Meaning one of the most attractive things for us visiting from London was the scarcity of people – we could drive for half an hour along the beautiful windy roads and see only a handful of people.

We first read about the Azores a few years ago and were immediately attracted to it when it was described as the “Iceland of the south”, due to the similar dramatic, volcanic landscape to Iceland. Photos of lush green hills, amazing dive sites, lots of yummy seafood plus the promise of thermal waters a plenty, meant I didn’t take much convincing when RBJ suggested we booked it for our holiday this year!

We found a great travel blog written by a guy from the Azores, Geekyexplorer, which gave us lots of inspiration and information and was super helpful when planning our trip. So to help other people do the same, here is our 9 day itinerary including where we stayed, places we are and each days activities:

THU 6 JULY 06.00 Fly Heathrow (T2) to Lisbon. TAP Portugal.
10.55 Fly Lisbon to Ponta Delgada. Arr 12.20Pick up car (Easy Car – pick up at Airport). Check into Casa Vitoriana Rua João Francisco de Sousa,34, Ponta Delgada.Explore Ponta Delgada.
FRI 7 JULY Walk in Lagao de Fogo (3-4 hours). Hike down to secluded beach. Visit Caldeira Velha hot springs – note minerals in the water turn bikini orange so wear an old one.

Dinner at A Tasca in Ponta Delgada.

SAT 8 JULY Brunch at market in Ponta Delgada at Sabores.
Visit Goreanna tea plantation then onto Ribiera das Tainhas beach for the PM. Yummy steak dinner at Restaurante da Associacao Agricola de Sao Miguel.
SUN 9 JULY Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at Islet Vila Franca do Campo.

Dinner at Taberna Acor in Ponta Delgada – amazing cheese platter with Azorean pineapple and blueberry jam.

MON 10 JULY Diving in Franca do Campo. Lunch at Caloura (incredible fish restaurant). Afternoon on Amoras beach (quite a hike down – take trainers).

Dinner at Musaxi in Ponta Delgada – yummy sushi!

TUES 11 JULY Whale watching with Futurismo. Saw sperm whales and dolphins!

Lunch at Mane Cigano (local café) and afternoon at the piscina in Ponta Delgada. The piscina was packed and full of children – wouldn’t recommend!

Dinner at Azor Hotel restaurant.

WED 12 JULY Our first rainy day. Gave up on idea of Sete Cidades and instead went to the heavenly hot pool at Ferraria. Then drove northern coastal road and went for a 2 hour walk in Nordeste.

In the evening, dinner at Tony’s in Furnas then evening in Poca Da Dona Beija hot springs. Again recommend wearing old bikini!

THU 13 JULY Visited abandoned hotel in Sete Cidades – so creepy! Then 5 hour walk around Sete Cidades.

Favourite dinner of the holiday at Quinta dos Sabores – five course tasting menu. Highly recommend if you can get a booking.

FRI 14 JULY Ferry to Islet Vila Franca do Campo. Only 400 visitors a day so get there before 9.30am to ensure your place on the ferry which leaves at 10am.

PM at Terra Nostra Garden Hotel Hot springs in Furnas.

Final dinner back at A Tasca in Ponta Delgada.

SAT 15 JULY 07.00 Fly Ponta Delgada to Lisbon. Arr 10.10.
12.55 Lisbon to Gatwick Sth Terminal. Arr 15.35.

I have included links to reviews of the springs and thermal baths we visited, plus my write up of the incredible Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series that we were invited to watch.

My top tip if you are visiting in summer months like we were, is to make sure you have accommodation, car hire and in some cases, restaurants booked in advance. We spoke to a Belgian couple on the first night who told us that they booked their flights last minute and then found it close to impossible to final any accommodation that didn’t cost a fortune. We also found most restaurants told us that they were fully booked and that we couldn’t reserve a table. Luckily we managed to get a table everywhere we planned to but in most cases, we had to wait quite a while to be seated (normally meaning I was pretty tipsy by the time we got our starters!)

Finally, most of the posts I read before visiting said that the beaches in Sao Miguel were nothing to write home about. However I massively disagree as we visited some of the most beautiful beaches. What I would say is that the best ones are the less touristy ones so don’t turn up expecting to get sun loungers and ice-cream stands or you will be sandy, hungry and disappointed. My two favourite beaches were Tainhas and Amoras, which are both marked on the driving map given out at the airport. Here are a few photos:

The view looking down on Praia da Amora

Black sand beaches of Praia da Amora

Praia da Amora

The beautiful beach at Ribiera das Tainhas

If anyone has any questions about the Azores or its hot springs, feel free to drop me an email or comment below.

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