Introducing the Azores: Europe’s secret adventure paradise

written by Bex Shapiro August 23, 2018
Azores Portugal

They call it the Hawaii of the mid-Atlantic. But, really, this spellbinding region is pretty incomparable…

A remote archipelago that consists of nine volcanic islands, the Azores are like nowhere you’ve ever been before. An autonomous region of Portugal, they’re one of the last few areas deserving of an ‘unspoiled paradise’ or ‘best-kept secret’ title.

We’re not exaggerating. Picture dazzling emerald lakes, volcanic caverns, cascading waterfalls, and rolling hills. Imagine a land where you can hike, sail, surf, bike ride, whale watch, swim in geothermal pools, and more. And just think of how popular this destination would be if more people knew about it.

For now, though, let’s keep it between us. And between the travelers wise enough to embark on our NEW 7-day Highlights of the Azores trip. Because the Azores are worth the journey, promise. Though in case you need more convincing, here’s a little insight into the hidden gems these islands offer…

An island for everyone – highlighting 5 favorites

Let’s start with the basics. The nine islands of the Azores are divided into three different groups. There’s the eastern (Sao Miguel and Santa Maria islands), the central (Terceira, Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico and Faial islands), and the western (Flores and Corvo islands).

Sao Miguel Azores Portugal

Sao Miguel

Faial is one of the most scenic islands. It’s known as the blue island due to the cool blue hydrangeas which cover the houses and roads, especially at the tail end of Spring. Diving is popular here, as is climbing to Whaler’s Chapel for a spectacular view of Faial and Pico.

Pico also stuns thanks to its imposing mountain (it has pride of place as the highest mountain in the Azores and is so big that the island is literally known as ‘Mountain Island’). In fact, everything is superlative here. The vineyards are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the swimming holes are some of the finest in the archipelago.

(In case you’re wondering, the Azores are home to two of Portugal’s 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The other site is the old town of Angra do Heroismo on Terceira.)

Flores is another one of our favorite islands. Known for its waterfalls, deep valleys and lagoons, the westernmost point of the archipelago is part of the North American tectonic plate (as is the island of Korvo), which distinguishes it from the other Azorean islands which sit on the European plate.

Flores Azores Portugal

Poço da Alagoinha, Flores

And if you’re into hiking, look no further than Sao Jorge. Our trip gives you a free day to explore its steep cliffs and seaside walk; you’ll have many to choose from as the island is home to some of the best walks in the Azores. Bird-watching is also a must here. We also offer a guided hike along the Pico do Pedro trail, a 17 kilometre trip that takes you along the island’s stunning mountain range (and includes a picnic!).

Ending on another high, Sao Miguel has, perhaps, the most diversity. We’re talking sandy beaches, rolling hills, beautiful lakes and more. It’s the largest and most populated island of the Azores, and this means it has something for everybody. The island is also home to Ponta Delgada, the largest city in the archipelago. It offers cobbled streets that contrast with a modern marina, and all the ocean-front cafes and nightclubs you could want.

All in all, it’s a region where island hopping is going to come in handy. Every island has something different to offer. And you’re going to want to see them all.


The food scene in the Azores

We thought we’d include a little bit of insight into the cuisine. Because although we simply adore Portuguese food and think it’s pretty underrated, it’s not that well-known.

Since the Azores islands are fertile, the climate is ideal for growing conditions. This ensures that what you’ll be eating is super fresh. And it means that more tropical fruits can be grown – from pineapple to bananas to passion fruit.

Unsurprisingly (seeing as we’re talking about islands), seafood is big here. Definitely sample the tuna and also try Lapas, a sort of sea snail that’s great grilled with lemon. Octopus stewed in wine is also a must-try.

Portugal fish Azores

Fresh Portuguese fish

If you make it to Sao Jorge Island also ensure you try the region’s famous (and strong) cheddar cheese. And whichever island you’re on ensure you try both rumpsteak and cozido – a typical meat stew cooked underground via volcanic stream.

Last but not least, the volcanic slopes of the Azores make for grape vines and therefore great wines. We recommend the fragrant Vinho de Cheiro.


What our new Azores trip offers

All in all, our new trip offers 7 days of beauty, culture and adventure. You visit four Azores islands (Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge and Sao Miguel). Here’s a little bit more info on these gems:

Unique experiences in the Azores

Faial Island was the last location of major volcanic activity in the Azores, thanks to the volcano that erupted in 1957. When it did, it permanently changed the islands – covering an entire village in volcanic ash. Not only do we show you around the eruption site’s interactive museum, but we also include a climb of Capelinhos Volcano itself.

Capelinhos Faial Azores Portugal

Capelinhos on Faial

Our trip also includes a whale-watching tour in Pico Island. Up until 1980, the island supported a substantial whaling industry due to the deep waters of the surrounding Atlantic. Fortunately, the end of that industry means that whale watching is a pretty popular activity.

Another Intrepid trip highlight from Steph Millington, the Regional Product Manager for Europe:

Sao Miguel is seriously cool – our trip includes a stop at a pineapple plantation… tropical fruit grown in Europe, who would have thought?! On this day you also explore black-sand beaches, enjoy a pottery demonstration, and try Cozido (the Azorean meat stew). The lagoons and volcanoes on this island are just beautiful.

Weather, packing tips and other Azores intel

Be prepared for unpredictable weather in the Azores – it can mean the schedule for flights or ferry crossings can be disrupted. However, storm clouds can make for some dramatic scenes.

If you’re expecting to take a dip in the sea, there are plenty of options but be mindful that it’s the Atlantic Ocean (which can be cold). Luckily, there are hot springs dotted around, which can be much more pleasant to take a dip in.

Oh, and take some sturdy walking shoes – you’ll need them to explore the islands’ spectacular, countless wonders on foot.

So, what are you waiting for? The otherworldly delights of the Azores are calling your name. Check out our new 7-day trip.

(Blog hero image c/o iStock/mgokalp, social hero image c/o Manfred Bohn. Inline images from top to bottom: iStock/karnizz, iStock/Marcobarone, Intrepid Travel, iStock/Yulia-B, Intrepid Travel, Intrepid Travel)

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