Azores Islands: An insider’s guide to each island

The Portuguese discovered this remote archipelago, scattered 800 miles west of their mainland in the swirling mists of the Atlantic Ocean in the early 1500s. The Azores comprise nine islands, each a mythical, magical land of volcanoes, bubbling thermal waters, geysers of rising steam, turquoise-toned lagoons and bottle-green lakes. With a landscape that seemed alive, it is no wonder that the population turned to the Holy Spirit for protection – an allegiance they still have today, as witnessed in the many shrines and chapels that dot the towns and villages. More than anything, devotion to the Holy Spirit is a defining element of being Azorean.

That authenticity makes the Azores, some 400 miles apart, such a pleasure to visit, on top of their extraordinary and diverse landscapes, different gastronomic strengths and excellent wines. Increasingly sophisticated contemporary hotels are opening, old manors are being converted into hotels, and eco-lodges are launching for the walker and nature seeker for whom the frequent rain is no obstacle. But it is thanks to this climate that the islands are so green. That they have Europe’s only tea plantation, that the tiny pineapples are so intensely sweet and that the cows who graze all year round in fields bordered by rows of blue hydrangeas give us milk, butter and cheese that is worth the journey alone.

São Miguel Island, AzoresGetty Images

São Miguel

Nicknamed the Ilha Verde (Green Island), São Miguel is the largest island and home to the regional capital, Ponte Delgada, making it a good starting point. Its cobbled streets are lined with imposing white-washed and basalt facades, allowing you to imagine when the port here was a crucial staging post between Europe and the New World. Now the Ponta Delgada has a thriving culinary scene, but for traditional fare, head across the island to Lagoa das Furnas, where cozido is cooked, a rich meat and vegetable stew which simmers underground for five hours. Across the lake are steaming geysers and bubbling springs, and beyond that, the impressive Parque Terra Nostra begun in the 18th century by a prosperous Bostonian. Surrounded by hibiscus, Japanese cedars and giant water lilies are warm, mustard-coloured water holes where locals bathe to absorb the rich minerals.

Nearby is Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagoon of Seven Cities), a lake in a crater at the bottom of a dormant volcano. It is split in two, connected by a narrow straight, with one side a brilliant turquoise and the other a deep bottle green.



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