The Azores: the Portuguese islands packed with natural beauty
Have you heard of the Azores? It's OK if you haven't — they've basically been one of Europe's best kept secrets... until now.
This breathtaking Portuguese archipelago is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, just a four-and-a-half hour flight from the UK. Made up of nine islands, each with their own unique landscapes, the destination remains unspoilt by tourism and a perfect getaway if you're looking to escape to nature.
So — are you ready to see what a trip to the Azores would entail? Let's dive in.
Go off the beaten path on a hiking adventure
One of the most popular activities in the Azores is hiking, thanks to the islands' stunning natural landscapes and year-long mild climate. In total, there are over 60 trails to explore across the islands, of all different lengths and for all different abilities. They are divided into three categories; easy, medium, and hard, as classified by the Regional Government of the Azores, so you can ensure you're at the right level.
One of the best islands for hiking is Faial — nicknamed the Blue Island after the beautiful blue hydrangeas that blossom there in summer. Several of the best hikes on Faial also pass incredible calderas (large, cauldron-like hollows that appear after volcanic eruptions), so you can be sure to get some awe-inspiring scenery. Plus, all of the trails here are clearly marked with signs so you don't have to worry about getting lost. Find out more here.
Explore the islands' magical waterfalls
The Azores is home to a cornucopia of fairytale-like forests with waterfalls that cascade into hidden, sparkling pools. São Miguel, São Jorge, and Flores are the best islands to discover them, either on a hike or by going for a picnic and a swim.
If you're looking for something a bit more thrilling, then canyoning could be the perfect activity for you. Also known as gorge walking, canyoning involves making your way through river gorges and abseiling over small cliff faces, even getting a glimpse behind some of the waterfalls. The Azores offers lots of different tours led by local professionals who can help you have an amazing canyoning adventure safely.
See unspoiled beauty on a cycling trail
If you prefer to explore on two wheels, then look no further. Feel the cool island breeze as you zip along rugged coastal paths, past dormant volcanoes, enchanting lagoons, and white (and black!) sand beaches.
Or, if you'd prefer to see some of the cities' historic architecture and European charm, you can go on a city bike tour. If you want to learn more about the Azores' winemaking traditions, then head to Pico island for a cycling tour of their historic vineyards.
Much like the hiking trails, the cycling routes are also divided into three categories; road, cross country, and enduro (endurance). There are multiple bike rental places on the islands, so you can find your perfect set of wheels. Find out more here.
Go for a dip in some hot springs
The Azores' unique volcanic landscape makes these islands a thermal paradise, with steamy pools tucked away in the lush, tropical forests. One of the best places for a dip in the hot springs is Furnas village, on the island of São Miguel.
The high iron content of the water here is said to rejuvenate the skin, plus you can get a natural massage from the cascading waterfalls. In the streets of the village, you'll spot lots of little fountains dotted around where you can refill your water bottle. There's even one hot water fountain that can turn green tea purple!
Terra Nostra park is one of the main attractions of the area, and is home to thermal pools and 12.5 hectares of botanical gardens. You'll spot blossoming flowers at any time of the year, and you can go for a walk along one of the meandering lakeside footpaths. The main pool is the biggest thermal pool in the Azores, reaching temperatures of 35-40ºC.
If you fancy something even warmer, you can visit Caldeira Velha, also on the island of São Miguel. There are two smaller pools here where the water is a bit hotter, and the surroundings are absolutely idyllic.
Ready to start planning a trip to the Azores? Find out more here.