This Weekend We Virtually Visited the Azores
The Azores, one of the two independent locales of Portugal, is an archipelago made of nine volcanic islands in the Macaronesia region of the North Atlantic Ocean. Legend has it that these are leftovers from Atlantis, but in reality, it was born out of volcanic activity. Europeans first settled here in the 1400s, and for decades, the Azores have evaded the eyes of tourists, mainly due to its distance from many parts of the world. However, as we discovered on our 36-hour virtual visit this weekend, this “Hawaii of the Atlantic” has a lot to offer and every bit worth the long journey.
We were expecting the usual island activities, volcanic craters, and delicious seafood, but we were caught by surprise when we stumbled upon a gin library, pineapple farm, and the world’s best wine! Before we give away more spoilers, read on to experience a virtual visit to the Azores.
36 Hours in the Azores
8.00 AM: Morning Views
What better way to start the 36-hour journey in the Azores than with outstanding views of its tidal ponds.
The Grota do Inferno Viewpoint (also known as Boca do Inferno) on São Miguel Island is the perfect place to view the four tidal ponds: Lagoa das Sete Cidades, Lagoa Rasa, Lagoa de Santiago, and Lagoa do Canário. Located at an elevation of 730 meters, you can also see the main lake, Lagoa Azul, in the distance — if the clouds permit!
9.30 AM: Crater Walk
Next, visit Caldeira das Sete Cidades, a volcanic crater and an important freshwater source for the islands. Surrounded by green hills and dense forests, it was framed by volcanic emissions. Hike up to the top of the crater to get a glimpse of the sea, various other lakes, and the town.
11.30 AM: Whale & Dolphin Watching
Did you know that the Azores is one of the biggest whale sanctuaries in the world? Home to over 20 types of cetaceans, the whales range from residents to migrants, and some are seen in specific seasons only.
The sperm whales are the most-easily spotted, while the seasonal ones include blue, fin, and sei whales. In autumn, there’s a higher probability of spotting the humpbacks. Whichever season you’re visiting in, don’t miss a whale and dolphin spotting tour.
1.00 PM: Barnacles and Sea Snails for Lunch
Enjoy an “under the sea” buffet at any island in the Azores. Pirates once devoured marine delicacies such as barnacles, sea snails, and other ocean critters. You can taste these at one of the many restaurants in the Azores, including Restaurant Beira Mar (Terceira Island), Petisca Tidbit House (Pico Island), or Restaurante Marisqueira Ancoradouroorde (Pico Island). The less adventurous can go in for “fish on a stick” and shrimp.
2:OO PM: Europe’s Oldest Tea Plantation
Head over to Europe’s oldest (still operational) tea farm: the Gorreana Tea Plantation. Located in Sao Miguel, the island’s volcanic soil and humid climate turned out to be suitable for tea plant seeds. Started in 1883 by Ermelinda Gago da Câmara, five generations later, it is still family-owned and produces 44 tons of tea annually. You can take a tour of the farm and witness the picking and packing of tea leaves (depending on the time of the year).
3.30 PM: Pineapple Plantation
During our virtual weekend travel, we learned that São Miguel is the only place where pineapples are produced in greenhouses! That’s reason enough to visit one, and a few plantations that are open to the public are Ananás Arruda, Plantação de Ananás dos Açores and Ananás de Santo António.
Initially known to produce oranges, the island now boasts over 6000 pineapple plantations. The practice started over a century ago when Augusto Arruda imported pineapples from Brazil and tried growing them on the island. The richness of the soil and conditions inside the greenhouse made it possible to grow them in abundance.
In addition to visiting a pineapple plantation, don’t forget to try some delicious pineapple products: pineapple cake, pineapple alcohol, jam, stake embellish, etc.
5.00 PM: Oficina Museum
An artists’ collection of homemade handicrafts, Oficina Museum, is a must-visit in Sao Miguel. From traditional Azorean crafts such as flowers made from the leaves of garlic cloves, fish scales, and the pith of fig-trees, to terracotta figures and industrial equipment from the 20th century, this workshop-museum is sure to leave you enthralled.
The place also showcases the founder’s personal collection of stamps, lighters, seashells, pencil erasers, bookmarks, stickers, keychains, and old credit cards!
7.00 PM: Gin Library
If you’re tired of regular libraries, try this gin library instead!
A 19th-century mansion that has been converted into a gin library with one of the largest gin collections from around the world — 400 bottles on last count — take your own bottle of gin when you visit. If they don’t have it in their collection, you get a free tasting! Or else, you can try their gin tasting menu.
08.00 AM: Salto do Cabrito Walk
Salto do Cabrito is a lovely waterfall on São Miguel island. You can hike to it in the morning, starting from Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande, which has warm showers/boilers/fumaroles dating back to the 19th century.
10.00 AM: Lake of Fire
Another crater lake that’s worth visiting, ‘Lagoa do Fogo,’ means ‘Lake of Fire.’ Located inside the volcanic complex of Água de Pau Massif, the vast blue lake is around 2km long and fills the ground of an extinct crater. Surrounded by high mountains and lush green vegetation, this place is breathtakingly serene and beautiful.
11.30 AM: Our Lady of Peace Chapel
After enjoying the outdoors, visit Our Lady of Peace Chapel located high up on the slopes above Vila Franca. A stunning 16th-century chapel, legend has it that it was built after the ghost of Virgin Mary to a shepherd in a cave.
12.30 PM: Ilheu de Vila Franca
The Islet of Vila Franca do Campo is sure to energize you after the morning excursions. Opposite Vila Franca do Campo, the islet is an effect of the crater of an ancient submerged volcano. Enjoy a swim, and if you have snorkeling equipment, then that too!
2.00 PM: Volcano-Cooked Stew
In Furnas (Portuguese for “fire”), the locals often use volcanic heat for cooking their food. An experience that is not to be missed, slow-cooked stew can take 6–7 hours to cook. Locals begin the process early morning, and once cooked, the stew is transported to various restaurants to serve tourists. The cooking process itself is fascinating, though — so we’d highly recommend experiencing this first hand.
03.00 PM: Lagoa das Furnas
Situated in the outskirts of Furnas, Lagoa das Furnas is one of the biggest volcanic lakes in the Azorean Archipelago. Like it’s other volcanic lake counterparts, this too is encircled by beautiful scenery and lavish vegetation. What sets it apart from the rest are the hot springs, fumaroles and bubbling mud pools around it, making it a hotspot for various geothermal activities.
4.00 PM: Wine-o-clock
They say nobody makes wine like the Azoreans, so we cannot end our 36-hour sojourn without wine tasting!
The Azores may not seem like a place for grape-growing, but the locals have learned how to grow grapes in lava rock, producing the most exquisite red and white wines. The grapevines are planted along the coastline and protected by black stone walls, which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site by virtue of being the biggest stone network built by humans.
05.30 PM: Iron-Rich Swim
Unwind with a relaxing dip in the iron-rich waters of Terra Nostra Gardens. You may be put off by the strange mud-colored water, but the hue comes from the iron-rich mineral deposits in the water, which are a great natural remedy for a variety of ailments. After a swim, you can stroll through the gardens that boast of a variety of flora and fauna.
7.00 PM: Japanese-Azorean Fusion
Enjoy your last meal in the Azores at Õtaka, a Japanese-Azorean fusion restaurant in Ponta Delgada. You can enjoy a 6- or 7-course tasting menu for 25 euros that includes fresh sashimi, tartar on toasted rice, karaage chicken, and tempura eggplant.
On the Brink of a Boom
Described by some as the “new Iceland” of travel, what’s interesting is that the Azores have always been around as a unique travel destination. An “old world” feeling to the place is undeniable, and with its mineral baths, sprawling landscapes, and gastronomical delights, the Azores are on the brink of experiencing a tourism boom once the world opens up again.
How to get there
There are non-stop flights to the Azores from most major European cities, including London, Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris.
Where to stay
When to go
Summer is the best time to visit the Azores, although it will be hot. More information here.
The Azores are part of Portuguese territory, so EU nationals do not need a visa to travel. Citizens of the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and few other Western nations do not require a visa to stay for up to one month. Passports must be valid for at least six months upon arrival. Travelers from other countries would need a valid Schengen visa — more details here.
Taxis are the easiest mode of transport in the Azores. Alternatively, you can rent a vehicle (motorbike or car) and drive around yourself.
The euro (€) is the official currency of the Azores.
The official language is Portuguese. Most people in the tourism industry understand English.
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