This Is the Destination Everyone Is Talking About
When we first started seeing deals for the Azores Islands about three years ago, few of us at Travelzoo had heard of the mid-Atlantic island chain, much less been there. Now it’s one of our favorite destinations to visit and talk about. The unspoiled landscapes, friendly people and sheer beauty of the islands reminded us what we love so much about travel. And we’re not the only ones -- the Azores were named a top place to go in 2017 by publications like Travel + Leisure, the Huffington Post, Fodor’s and Conde Nast Traveler.
The Azores are a Portuguese territory made up of nine volcanic islands -- think Hawaii but less beachy and definitely less touristy. Each island has its own unique culture, traditions, food and landscapes, and each could stand alone as a destination.
São Miguel: The Green Island
Nicknamed the Green Island for its lush landscapes and rolling hills, the largest of the Azores is also the most visited of the islands. Some of the Azores’ most iconic views and famed crater lakes are found on this island at Sete Cidades and Lagoa do Fogo. Ponta Delgada, the main city, is not only the hub of the island but the capital of the Azores. It’s not a bustling European capital like Paris, but it evokes all the charms of Europe with cobbled streets, sidewalk cafes and a thriving foodie scene. São Miguel is also a geothermal spot, meaning you can find warm water to swim in year-round in one of the natural spas inland or tucked along the rocky coast.
Pico: The Grey Island
Characterized by black volcanic soil, Pico Island is covered with lava rock vineyards that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites (the wine is pretty good too). Locals produce red and white varietals in the shadow of Pico Mountain, the highest point in Portugal, measuring over 7,700 feet. The island also boasts one of the world’s longest lava tubes, where you can see rare stalactites and stalagmites that have been unaffected by outside or artificial light.
Terceira: The Purple Island
With patchwork fields crisscrossing the landscape and more cows than people, Terceira’s landscape is reminiscent of the Irish countryside. Angra do Heroismo, the main city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is characterized by Renaissance buildings with purple facades that line windy cobbled streets. The island’s interior is home to its most famous site -- the Algar do Carvao, a volcanic chimney that you can walk inside and home to some of the largest stalactites in the world.
Faial: The Blue Island
If you’re lucky enough to visit Faial in summer, you’ll get to experience a bursting of blue hydrangeas that practically cover the island. Most famous as a port, Faial historically has been (and remains to this day) a popular stopping point for sailors crossing the Atlantic. The main city, Horta, though small, has a cosmopolitan feel, with travelers from all over gathering at the restaurants and bars along the harbor to swap stories and take in views of Mount Pico across the bay.
São Jorge: The Brown Island
São Jorge may be small, but its scenery is dramatic, shouldered with mountains that tumble into deep ravines, rocky cliffs and lakes and characteristic fajãs (plains formed by lava flow). The fertile brown soil and dark rock striations lend it its nickname, and the island is a favorite among outdoor and adventure enthusiasts -- you can do everything from mountain biking to canyoning, hiking, canoeing and spelunking.
Flores: The Pink Island
Nearly every local will tell you Flores is their favorite island. The island gets its name (meaning Flowers) from the luxuriant botanical garden of a landscape covered in goldenrods and pink and blue hydrangeas. It’s one of the few UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in the world, which is a protection given for natural landscapes. Another island favored by outdoor enthusiasts, Flores gets high annual rainfall, which pays off with an abundance of lagoons, deep blue crater lakes and dozens of waterfalls.
Santa Maria: The Yellow Island
The oldest of the Azores, it’s known as the “mother island” of the archipelago. It’s a bit flatter than the others, which means it’s more of a true beach island, with pale yellow sands and warm water year-round. Beyond the pastoral landscape, the cities are similar to those found in the Algarve in mainland Portugal with limewashed houses and lush green forests.
Graciosa: The White Island
This small island is serene enough to live up to its name, which translates as Enchanting. Graceful white rocks line the coastline, and red-turreted windmills dot the landscape. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot one of the Azorean dwarf donkeys -- there are only 20 left. The deep waters around the island also make it one of the best from which to embark on a whale- or dolphin-watching expedition.
Corvo: The Black Island
The smallest island has only one village, which is home to 468 locals -- one of the smallest communities in Europe. The properties are divided with the same black basalt rocks that many of the homes are built out of, and locals still speak in a medieval dialect of Portuguese. It’s a favorite among bird-watchers, as many rare migratory species can be spotted here, and divers who visit for the skylit caves full of submerged lava formations.