The Azores – An Atlantic Paradise
On the Azores, a series of islands set in the Atlantic ocean, life moves at a different pace. The architecture, the people, the way and pace of life were all from a past long gone. From the sleepy fishing town of Vila Franca Do Campo, the pedestrian streets of Ponta Delgada, the estancias of verdant pastureland and tea plantations that surround Sete Cidades, the towns and villages on São Miguel live on in a dreamy colonial past.
We only had time to visit São Miguel, for there was so much to see and do on the island that 10 days was barely enough to cover them all. There is a host of activities for the thrill seeker and nature lover, from canyoning to wreck diving. For those days when you’d like to relax and take it easy, there are plenty of lovely hikes around the many serene calderas of the island, and a few sight-seeing tours to get a sense of the architectural history of the island.
For all of this, we booked our trip with Azores Adventure Islands Tour, which is run by Dio and his truly dedicated team of adventurers. For most of the trip, we were taken care of Andre and Andre (it’s a popular name), both of whom were extremely experienced and truly had a passion for adventure and nature. It was a pleasure to have them show us their favourite places on the island, including some truly secret, secluded spots well off the beaten path.
Most of São Miguel is cultivated, perhaps all of it is, I don’t know for certain. Yet, it is also sparsely populated. At times, we felt as if we were the only ones on the entire island, the only people standing on perfectly manicured land that was void of another soul for miles. That was one of the things that struck me about the island – how perfect everything seemed. Like most volcanic islands, São Miguel is mountainous and covered in verdant trees and shrubs, yet the hiking trails were all well marked out, with roads that were easy and broad. In terms of effort to payback, the nature walks on the island were some of the most rewarding I’ve had. Even the most inept hiker could do them, which was a blessing really, since I am still not particularly good at finding my footing on a mountain slope.
For adventure, we opted for canyoning, horseback riding, diving, snorkeling with wild dolphins and whale watching. Of all these activities, I would particularly recommend horseback riding. There is a tradition of the sport here, and vast swathes of pastureland are allocated for horse husbandry. Also, sight-seeing the island on horseback will truly take you back in time. It definitely gave us an appreciation of its beauty we would not otherwise have simply sightseeing in a car.
After that beautiful nostalgic feeling of times gone past and the lovely people we met through Azores Adventures, my favourite thing about the Azores is the food. It’s fresh, no fuss, yet highly creative at times. Particularly memorable was the Queijadas de Vila Franca, a snack that is a cross between a cookie and a custard. It’s ingredients are simple, flour, eggs, milk and butter, yet the end result is divine. Like many other Azorean dishes, it starts simple but ends up as something deliciously unexpected.
Ten days was certainly not enough to thoroughly enjoy the Azores, and we wanted to return even before we boarded the plane back to mainland Europe. The people, the food, the stunning landscape and the sheer fun we had will be sorely missed until we return.