This summer, the little known islets dotting the shores of Europe will likely see more foreign faces as visits to remote island destinations are growing in popularity.
Among the travel savvy, the archipelago of nine volcanic islands off the Atlantic shores of Portugal are on the list of must-sees. However, to most this unspoiled paradise remains a secret treasure. Fitting, as the Azores are also known as the fortune islands.
Nature’s fortune, indeed. The Azores islands are a canvas of calderas and caverns, grottos and fumaroles splattered with scalding springs, blue lakes, waterfalls and green pastures scented with laurel and cedar forests.
An eco-conscious traveller’s dream, three of the islands (Graciosa, Flores and Corvo) are designated UNESCO biospheres. The archipelago is also home to over 30 Blue Flag beaches and 13 Ramsar wetland sites. It’s little surprise the group of islets was ranked the world’s top sustainable destination, the only place in the world to receive the prestigious Platinum Award from Quality Coast.
The Azores offer ample opportunities for every type of adventurer. The yearly mild temperatures and Gulf Stream-warmed waters makes the archipelago one of the best diving locations in the Atlantic. Best known for whale and dolphin watching, the Azores is now attracting sailors and surfers while those seeking relaxation can dip into one of the many swimming holes formed by cooling lava or geothermal pools. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy a plethora of hiking trails and the fascinating landscapes present the perfect conditions for adventure sports like canyoning and the 21st Festival of Paragliding.
Photo: Waterfalls on the Azorean island of Flores, which is particularly good for adventure activities © ABB Photo / Shutterstock
The Azores are the islands of flowers, mountains, wine and whale watching. Here’s a sampling of what’s to explore:
Island Sao Miguel
The largest and most populated of the nine islands, Sao Miguel is referred to as “The Green Island.” Here, the views of Caldeira das Sete Cidades, two ancient lakes, one blue and one green where according to legend seven towns sank, are spectacular.
A visit to Fogo volcano to take a dip into Caldeira Velha, a warm iron-rich waterfall is definitely worth the trip.
For incentive groups, the art deco Terra Nostra Garden Hotel nestled in Furnas Valley, offers a true wellness experience with botanical gardens, spa and geothermal pool.
Located on the mid-Atlantic ridge, the Azores are some of the tallest mountains on the planet, measured from their base at the bottom of the ocean to their peaks. Mount Pico, the highest point in Portugal (2,351m) offers ample hiking opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.
Photo: The vineyards of Pico enclosed by dry-stone walls made of black basalt © James Kay / Lonely Planet
Descend into Gruta das Torres, one of the world’s longest lava tubes (5km) and a regional natural monument. The island is also known for its UNESCO-designated historical vineyards, wonderful wine tours and tastings, dolphin and whale watching.
The Green Key certified Aldeia da Fonte Hotel, offers six recently renovated volcanic stone houses perched on the cliffs of the Atlantic amongst lush gardens. With a nearby convention center, fitness and Zen Room, Taichi Garden, Whale Observation Tower and fine restaurant it’s the perfect location for a corporate retreat.
There are seasonal direct flights to the capital of Sao Miguel, Ponta Delgada, from Canada with Azores Airlines. Inter-island travel can be arranged via air or ferry.