The World's Best Kept Secret: The Azores
Just a five-hour non-stop flight from New York or Boston, the Azores is known as the "Hawaii of Europe" and it's travel's best kept secret. An island chain, the Azores offer some of the most stunning natural landscapes in the world. It is one of the few places in the world where you can go snorkeling with wild dolphins in their natural habitat, as well as whale watching or swimming with whale sharks. The Azores also boast unique local cuisine, like the famous Cozido das Furnas dish cooked for seven hours underground and Cha Gorreana, Europe's only tea plantation. With so much to explore and experience, the Azores are a must-visit destination.
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Where to stay
Octant Hotels Furnas
Serene getaway to the Azores with a focus on hot springs health and elevated local gastronomy.
A selection of Portuguese delicacies.
Hotel Verde Mar & Spa
Inspired by Azorean nature and its volcanic origins, this comfortable, minimalist hotel offers unique views of the ocean and proximity to the picturesque town of Ribeira Grande.
Octant Ponta Delgada
In the heart of Sao Migel, this mid-sized contemporary hotel overlooks the marina and has a full spa and a restaurant serving local fare.
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Day 1: Welcome to Sao Miguel
Arrive at Ponta Delgada in Sao Miguel and enjoy a cafe and traditional pastry at the airport before you grab your rental car. The island is large, and sites are spread out, so you'll be driving (but the roads are great). On your way to your hotel, stop at Furnas Lake, a crater lake with geothermal hot springs, hiking trails and a restaurant. Settle in at the Octant Furnas Hotel and spend the day getting over any jet lag by relaxing in the hot springs with the hotel's special "green sangria." If you're feeling up to it, visit the nearby Caldeiras das Furnas - a series of bubbling hot springs where the famous Cozido stew is cooked, or the Parque Terra Nostra, an extremely beautiful botanical garden with, you guessed it, another hot spring that you can swim in.
Day 2: Explore the natural wonders
Today you're going to the Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes where a spectacular waterfall framed by huge blooming hydrangea bushes awaits you... right by the parking lot! No hiking needed. But if you like to hike, the park also has several trails (and more waterfalls). The Azores have no mosquitos nor snakes, so you can hike unafraid!
From here we're going to the Gorreana Tea Factory for a free tour, a tasting and a walk through the tea hedges which overlook the sea. This is Europe's only tea plantation.
Now off to the beach! The Praia dos Moinhos is a black lava sand beach with a charming beach front cafe where you can enjoy a beer and a snack while watching the waves come in.
For dinner, eat at your hotel restaurant the A Terra Furnas, which offers one of the best dinners in Sao Miguel, typically with live music.
Day 3: Iconic sites of the Azores
Today you're going to see one of the iconic sites of the Azores, the Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz - a church built on a hill with a winding maze of white steps leading up to it. At the top, you are rewarded with panoramic views.
Carry on toward the main town, Ponta Delgada. Plan to spend about an hour exploring the town (it's small) and then stop for lunch at Louvre Michaelense. Ask for the white wine from Pico (another Azorean island), and don't skip dessert, it's what they're known for.
On your way back to the hotel, stop by the Pineapple Plantation for a short tour. Azorean Pineapples are different - they are smaller and sweeter.
Tonight, eat at Caldeiras e Vulcoes, a short walk from your hotel. This is where you'll want to try the Cozido stew (order 24 hours in advance).
Day 4: Volcano tour
Today you're taking a tour. You're going to ride 4-wheel drive jeeps on the ridge of the Sete Cidades Volcano, an experience like no other. Don't worry, the volcano is dormant! From the ridge you'll get an amazing view of the Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire). Half of it looks blue, and the other half green. Your tour guide will take you down into the city of Sete Cidades for a closer view of the lakes and towns on this part of the island, which is popular for weddings.
Your tour guide will drop you off in Ponta Delgada which makes your dinner at Gastrónomoa simple task. Gastrónomo is known for their seafood. Try the world famous tuna, or the local specialty "cracas" (a type of barnacle that tastes like a mix of crab and oyster).
Day 5: Island hop
Today, board your flight to another island - take your pick! You can leave Sao Miguel and head to another Azorean island like Pico (known for whale watching and good white wine) or Terceira (a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its food), or head to a different archipelago, Maderia; the birthplace of Cristiano Ronaldo and Maderia wine, where bananas out number people, luxury hotels abound, and spectacular nature awaits (Maderia has over 200 "levadas," water channels that people walk aside in "levada walks."). Or, head over to the mainland and explore Porto or Lisbon.
Need to Know
For more travel tips, check out my guide, Discover Seville during the Feria de Abril.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Portugal.