Are The Azores for you?

When I told people that I was going to the Azores, the response was overwhelmingly something along the lines of the following: Ooooh, the Azores… Where’s that?

It’s an understandable question. Somehow The Azores have remained one of Europe’s most mysterious destinations. The simple answer is that this 9-island archipelago is pretty much in the middle of the Atlantic.  Sure, it’s a little closer to Europe than it is to the US but that’s splitting hairs, really. Suffice to say, it’s remote. The other part of the response – the ‘Oooooh, The Azoooorrres’ part – is also understandable. There’s something about that word, Azores, that just sounds exotic. People imagine white sands, Caribbean-style bathtub seas,  beach huts and palm trees. Well let me put that one to bed straight away… from the moment I arrive on Sao Miguel, the largest of the islands, all I can think is just how similar it is to Ireland. Field after field full of cows, little stone houses and painstakingly built stone walls, huge blue bursts of hydrangea flower lining the roads, thick pine forests, a black coastline that’s been battered beautiful by the Atlantic – and green. Everywhere you look there’s green.

The Azores. Not Ireland. Azores. Image: Feliciano Guimarães on Flickr

Of course, Ireland it definitely isn’t. For one thing, I visit in October and despite overcast skies (just like home!), the temperatures are still up around the 20ºC mark. And it is exotic, it’s just not exotic in the way lots of people might expect. The best way I can describe the Azores is… well, imagine that Iceland, Ireland, Sri Lanka and Jurassic Park all got together and made beautiful little island babies. That’s what the Azores are like.

Sete Cidades Lake

Stunning Sete Cidades Image: Azoresphotos.visitazores.com (plokje)

They’re the kind of place where you can go whale-watching in the morning, eat a meal that’s been cooked underground in the heat from a volcano afterwards, hike into the belly of a huge crater in the afternoon, and stew yourself in natural thermal baths in the evening. The islands are very easy to fall in love with, and the fact that they are still relatively untouched makes them even better.

I have a lot to write about the Azores and the incredible experiences you can have there, but before getting into all that it’s worth giving the islands a proper introduction, considering how mysterious they still are to so many people. So before I give you the scoop on dolphin swimming, scuba diving, and mountain biking – here’s the basic stuff you need to know to decide if the Azores should be one of your bucket list destinations. Go to the Azores if…

You don’t want a typical beach holiday (but you’d like a beach option):

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a lazy beach holiday – in fact they should be mandatory for everyone once in a while. But I really think that coming here to just lie on the beach is a bit of a waste. There are some great beaches, but this isn’t a beach resort kind of place. It’s a volcanos, forests, lakes, rivers, craters, mountains, boiling mud, thermal baths kind of place. It’s a ‘holiday of a lifetime’ kind of place. If you want to chill by the sea, it’s best done at one of the many natural swimming pools carved into the volcanic coast. But don’t expect beaches like those on the Balearics or Greek islands.

Mosteiros

The Coast at Mosteiros. Image: Azoresphotos.visitazores.com (Daniel-haslwanter.at)

You love a bit of natural beauty:

Well – a lot of natural beauty. The Azores are all about natural beauty. These nine little islands rose out of the sea, formed out of molten lava, and created some of the most lush, beautiful, unusual, diverse and dramatic landscapes I’ve seen in a long time. Each island has its own particular draw, and everything feels fresh and pure and unpolluted. In one week I saw my very first rainbow’s end, and then four more for good measure – it’s that sort of place. It’s a paradise, but not a ‘white sand and turquoise sea’ paradise – it’s more like Eden, or the Great Valley at the end of ‘The Land Before Time’. Azoreans know a good thing when they see it too, and thankfully, they’re fiercely protective of the island’s ecology and environmental health.

You like doing stuff:

Lots of stuff. If you’re the kind of person who loves the sort of holiday where you fall into bed completely exhausted at the end of the day, you’ll love the Azores. For outdoorsy people, the Azores are the ultimate holiday destination. The whole archipelago is like one giant natural playground, and whether you like land-based action or water-based action, you’ll be like a kid in a candy shop. Climbing, canyoning, mountain biking, scuba diving, hiking, golfing, fishing, horse riding, whale watching, snorkelling with wild dolphins, cycling, paddle boarding, kayaking, surfing… You could easily create a serious week-long itinerary on Sao Miguel alone, but different islands offer different things, so be prepared to do some hopping (there are inter-island flights, and during summer a ferry to get you to different islands).

Canyoning on Sao Miguel

You like it hot, but not too hot:

The coldest it gets is about 10°C in the depths of winter, and it never gets dead hot in summer either (up to 26°C is standard for July and August). But it’s very humid, it can get windy throughout the year, and there’s always a chance of rain. If you want a sun holiday with guaranteed heat and sunshine every day, you’re taking a bit of a risk with the Azores (you’re in the middle of the Atlantic, remember!). Look, chances are it will actually be lovely if you come here in summer –  but you just never know; you’re at the mercy of the Atlantic. The payoff for the archipelago’s changeable weather is more than worth it, and if you’re here for an active holiday you’ll appreciate the lack of extremes.

You’re not looking for a rave:

The Azoreans like to have a good time, but this isn’t Ibiza. You won’t find banging clubs or neon-lit main strips full of people up all night on a mad one. What you’ll find is really nice bars – ones that stay open well into the wee small hours and everything – but the whole buzz is just laid back and relaxed. And that’s really nice – besides, if you’re getting the most out of the islands during the day, it’s probably all you’ll be able for. The islands are known for their festivals though, from traditional religious ones through to a renowned annual blues festival on Santa Maria, and if you go there during one of these you can be sure of a bit of a party.

Worth making a boat trip for.

You want to see whales, but you also have realistic expectations:

I spent the first four days there obsessively looking out plane windows, car windows, restaurant windows and hotel windows, desperately staring at the water  in the hopes of spotting a whale.  I kept telling the guides I was with that I was looking for them. The guides kept politely telling me that I wouldn’t see any from the coast at this time of year, with the sea as choppy as it was. It was only on day five that I started to actually listen to them. I still looked and everything, but with a resigned acceptance of defeat, instead of the excited hope I’d been running on for the previous five days. The Azores are one of the best places in the world to see whales, and to see many different species of them. If you actually want to see them, go on a proper boat trip, ideally between June and September when the water is calmer.  Don’t bother staring hopefully out of car windows at the ocean. You’re welcome.

You’re ok with life in the slow lane:

Or sometimes, the ‘not moving at all because there are cows in the way’ lane. The islands are gorgeously untouched, and while you’ll find wi-fi all over the place and it’s by no means a backwater, the islands are very rural, very unhurried, and wonderfully simple. Azoreans all seem to know each other, at least they all wave at almost every car they pass on the road. They don’t have to lock their cars or fit alarms on their houses. People seem really happy, so much so that you might take a notion to just jack it all in, run away from the rat race and move here to work the land. If you’re like me, you’ll quickly remember that you haven’t a clue how to actually ‘work land’, so you’ll just go home instead – but the Azores will give you that feeling.

Azores Wine and Cheese

Azorean wine and cheese.

You would travel for wine and cheese alone:

There are vineyards and cows all over the islands, and those vineyards and cows produce some excellent wines and cheeses. Production is relatively small compared to some of the world’s bigger wine and cheese producing regions, and the prohibitive costs of exporting fairly small amounts of produce such long distances mean that it’s difficult to find Azorean wine and cheese outside the Azores. So, go there to try it. And while you’re there, try Azorean liquors too. And don’t forget the local pineapple, tea, passion fruit, and beef either.

You’re prepared to come here more than once. 

That’s the curse of this place. I love seeing new countries and discovering new places, but there are some holidays that I just want more of. That’s how I feel after the Azores. I did so much there, but now all I want to do is go back and do it all (and more) again. I’m day dreaming about my return, thinking about the islands I didn’t get to yet, and the islands I can’t wait to visit again. I’m bumping other destinations down my list to put the Azores back in at the top. If you come here and really get stuck into the islands and all they have to offer, you’ll probably feel the same.

caldera 1

This little archipelago, right out there in the middle of the Atlantic, is a pretty special place. If you love and respect the amazing beauty and nature of the islands and the bounty of activities they offer, then you might just find The Azores making their way onto your list of favourite destinations. The fact that they are so easily within reach of London, Lisbon and Porto, and yet so untouched and exotic, make them the perfect place for people who want to go somewhere really and truly different – but without the long-haul trip.

On three of the five occasions when I saw a rainbow’s end during my week there, I excitedly pointed it out to the guide I was with. They all seemed quite used to it, and each one of them laughed (I was probably going a bit ‘double rainbow guy’ over it) and said ‘ah, you have to go and find the treasure!’. I really couldn’t help but think that I already had found it, and the rainbows were just reminding me.

Dee Murray

Dee Murray

Dee Murray has a very simple travel MO... Go to great places; do awesome stuff; eat delicious food; then come home and write about it all.

27 Comments

  • Kaki

    Excellent article! In my opinion you have just transformed into words the truly beauty and magic about Azores islands.

    29th October 2015 at 1:59 am
    • Dee Murray
      Dee Murray

      Thank you! It was easy to write with the Azores as inspiration – I can’t wait to go back. Stay tuned, we’ll be publishing more about the islands and what you can do there over the coming months 🙂

      29th October 2015 at 8:38 am
      • AHR - Azores Holiday Rental

        We will wait for further posts about Azores.
        It is a dream destination for who seeks for nature and peaceful vacations

        8th November 2015 at 9:33 pm
      • Hannah

        Hi there! Great article. You sound like a similar type of traveler to myself and I wondered if you had any top 10 or must-do lists for the Azores. I am going on a holiday with my mom and sister and we are outdoorsy but also happy to sit and enjoy cheese wine and culture. How do we narrow it down in the Azores?! Staying for one week in Sao Miguel

        10th November 2015 at 8:24 pm
        • Dee Murray
          Dee Murray

          Hi Hannah. Outdoors… wine… cheese… yeah I think we do have a similar travel style! I definitely have some ‘must-do’ experiences, and in the coming weeks I’ll be publishing an article about them, so keep an eye out. A week is the perfect amount of time on Sao Miguel, when are you going? If it’s before the article’s published I’ll happily email you some tips.

          11th November 2015 at 8:51 am
  • Paul

    THis place looks really amazing. I never really knew anything about it. Will there be flights from Ireland? I really want to go there now, I can’t believe this place is in Europe. I liked your bit about Jurassic Park and Ireland having island babies!

    29th October 2015 at 9:35 am
    • Dee Murray
      Dee Murray

      That’s really what it’s like, Paul! We don’t fly from Ireland… yet (fingers crossed).

      But honestly I thought it was worth flying through Stansted, or you could go through Porto or Lisbon and spend a couple of days in another lovely Portuguese destination as you make your way to the islands

      29th October 2015 at 6:08 pm
  • Conde

    Like! In a week and with so much to see, here is a good synthesis about vacation in the Azores. Thank you!

    30th October 2015 at 9:10 am
  • Zoe

    Wow! What a read! Great article, thanks! I’ve been all over Europe hiking, cycling and generally enjoying the outdoors. I’d never considered the Azores as a destination but it’s definitely going on the list now (and up the top too)…so much to do, so untouched and so easy to get to! Thank you Ryanair.

    30th October 2015 at 7:16 pm
    • Dee Murray
      Dee Murray

      Oh if you are an active holiday kinda gal you will really, really love these islands. Honestly Zoe, start planning! And keep an eye out for more articles about the Azores on Into The Blue, i’ll be writing more soon, about some of the different things you can do there.

      2nd November 2015 at 9:21 am
  • Francisco Medeiros

    Great article of my homeland but…..a little disappointed that Ryanair doesn´t fly from the Azores to Germany and France. Markets very strong for the Azorean tourism.

    30th October 2015 at 8:39 pm
    • Dee Murray
      Dee Murray

      Who knows what the future will hold Francisco!

      2nd November 2015 at 9:19 am
  • Verhoeven

    I spent 1 week in Sao Miguel in january 2014 and this article sums it up perfectly.
    I just need to go back again….

    30th October 2015 at 9:05 pm
    • Dee Murray
      Dee Murray

      Me too. I want to look down over Sete Cidades again!

      2nd November 2015 at 9:18 am
  • Wendy Wright

    Have already booked to fly from Stansted in March with my husband, son, daughter in law and two grandaughters. Can’t wait. It looks beautiful.

    30th October 2015 at 10:19 pm
    • Dee Murray
      Dee Murray

      Ah that’s brilliant Wendy, what a perfect place to have a family holiday. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did 🙂

      2nd November 2015 at 9:17 am
  • Francisco Medeiros

    I also would like to add that there is no info about the Azores in your website. Ponta Delgada sometimes relates do other archipelago. You should add the word Azores to Ponta Delgada in your website as some airlines do. Ponta Delgada (Azores)

    31st October 2015 at 12:51 pm
    • Dee Murray
      Dee Murray

      hey Francisco, that’s a good point and one we’re working on for the new site. Stay tuned 😉

      2nd November 2015 at 4:37 pm
  • Michelle Reilly

    What a great article, I had never heard of this place but is now firmly on my wish list thanks to you! 🙂

    31st October 2015 at 4:19 pm
    • Dee Murray
      Dee Murray

      well let me know if you’ve any room in your suitcase and I’ll sneak along with you 🙂

      2nd November 2015 at 4:37 pm
  • Paulo

    Simplesmente o melhor destino …
    Se o paraíso existe … é aqui in Azores

    2nd November 2015 at 12:21 am
  • Pedro Marques Alves

    Dear Dee:

    Congrats. Excellent article! I hope to see you again in Pico Island and dive again with you 🙂
    Greetings

    6th November 2015 at 9:15 am
    • Dee Murray
      Dee Murray

      Thanks Pedro! Keep an eye out for the next article, I’ll talk about diving more in that one. I will let you know when I’m back on the islands, we can go looking for blue sharks 🙂

      11th November 2015 at 9:00 am
  • AHR - Azores Holiday Rental

    Absolutely worth visit Azores. The islands are incredibly beautiful colored by astonishing green tones that contrasts with the blue water from ocean and inner lakes.

    8th November 2015 at 9:31 pm
  • Lynda

    Excellent read! I’ll be visiting in January of 2016 on my first solo adventure. This article reaffirmed all my reasons for going. I can’t wait!

    8th November 2015 at 10:50 pm
    • Dee Murray
      Dee Murray

      You’ll love it, Lynda. I can’t wait to go back again!

      9th November 2015 at 8:40 am
  • Oliver

    Congrats Dee! Your article just describes in a wonderful way the magic of the Azores…I know what I am talking about as I call the islands my home for the last 4 years 🙂
    Can’t wait for your next article about our paradise.
    Greetings, Oliver

    10th November 2015 at 8:40 pm

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