The Azores, the hidden gems of Portugal
Last week Elly from our commercial team headed out to the lesser known Azores Islands of Portugal. Whilst there Elly fell in love with the islands and couldn’t stop talking about what a wonderful place it was and so we asked her if she could share her experience on our blog. Being a keen photographer and nature lover Elly embraced the islands beautiful landscape and dolphin spotting opportunities and also got to see some top hotels. Here’s Elly’s account of what the Azores Islands are all about:
‘Located equal distance between North America and Europe, rising luxuriously out of the Atlantic Ocean lies the best kept secret of the Portuguese, the remote archipelago of The Azores. The Islands are the same latitude as Lisbon, but benefit from the North Atlantic Drift of the Gulf Stream making their climate much milder than that of Portugal. Positioned only 3 hours and 45 minutes from London thanks to SATA International’s direct service to Ponta Delgada, the islands are no longer the exclusive hideaway of the Portuguese mainlanders.
Since their discovery in 1427 many settlers have tried and failed to claim the archipelago as their own. Today the nine islands that make up the Azores (Santa Maria, Sao Miguel, Terceira, Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo) are all independent from Portuguese rule, which is apparent in the styles of architecture, the delicious cuisine and the language. As a cultural tourist you could spend hours getting lost in the small seaside towns winding your way though cobbled streets soaking up the lazy island atmosphere or treating yourself to a bit of window shopping. The Royal Garden Hotel in Ponta Delgada is one of the few 4 star hotels on the islands (there are no 5 stars) and is ideal if you are looking to be in the centre of it all.
In terms of nature this is where the islands really come into their own. Due to the temperate climate, fertile volcanic soil and ample rain the island can grow virtually anything and indeed the inhabitants treat the whole island as an extended private garden. All the island’s perfectly surfaced roads are lined with lovingly maintained hydrangea bushes making your drive a wash of blues, pinks and greens. When the hydrangeas are not in season the azaleas are given a chance to shine, peppered with bright busts of orange and red from the bird of paradise plants. The bright colours and natural vistas make thrilling subjects for photography enthusiasts. Sao Miguel Island is famous for its pineapple plantations, the produce of which can be sampled all year round and tastes so much better here due to the freshness of the fruit. The Terra Nostra Garden Hotel in Furnas is set in acres of landscaped botanical gardens and even benefits from its very own volcanic hot spring in which hotel guests and visitors are welcome to soak away a relaxing and peaceful afternoon. I was lucky enough to visit one of the hot springs in Ponta da Ferraria which offers guests a lovely bath-like experience in a stunning natural setting, pure bliss!
Because of its isolated location, on land the island has no native predators apart from seabirds.This has given the many different butterfly species an ideal habitat in which to thrive. In the sea however it is another story, the islands boast 24 resident species of dolphin including the Bottlenose, Risso’s and Striped Dolphin. The Azores are considered one of the best places in the world to see whales and although the Sperm whale is the whale you can see most frequently the islands are also visited by migrating Baleen whales such as the Blue, Pilot, False, Finn and even the occasional Killer whales. With such a rich stock of sea life available sightings are more or less guaranteed meaning whale and dolphin excursions are well recommended.
Currently you can easily reach Ponta Delgada on the Saturday direct service from London Gatwick, but we are confident that flight frequency is bound to increase once these hidden gems are discovered.’
Have you ever visited the Azores and if not are you now tempted?