The Azores may not be the obvious European summer holiday destination; the beaches are mostly black rock and the restaurant scene is more local than flashy. However, if you’re looking to get off the beaten track and discover some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe, this is where you need to head.
Sao Miguel is the largest island and subsequently is the most visited by tourists. You’ll find a little bit of everything the Azores have to offer here with whale watching trips, breath-taking crater lakes and numerous hot springs. Terceira is part of the central group of islands, boasting year-round festivals and underground volcanic caverns. Farther west, you’ll find the tallest peak and the best whale watching of the islands on Pico. Neighbouring Faial offers an active volcano and a nature reserve nestled in an extinct crater. The two islands farthest away from Portugal are Flores (A UNESCO biosphere reserve) and Corvo (home to just 430 people). Finally, Graciosa offers spectacular hiking, Santa Maria has the best beaches and Sao Jorge is the most visually dramatic island.
Tempted to visit? Here are ten reasons why we recommend making the Azores your European summer destination this year.
1. To soak in hot springs
Sao Miguel is one of the best islands for soaking in natural hot springs, boasting a diverse variety of geothermal waters. Choose to submerge yourself into a naturally warm rock pool in the sea, bathe in a yellow geothermal lake in the middle of a botanical garden, or relax in hot pools in the middle of the forest.
2. To admire the landscapes
Each island offer dramatic cliffs and vast green landscapes; many also showing off with towering volcanic peaks and huge craters that have transformed into lakes. Everywhere you look there are waterfalls, trees, black volcanic beaches or sprawling meadows. There’s something for everyone here, whatever landscape you prefer.
3. Because it’s cheap
As they are not yet touched by mass tourism, the Azores are a much more affordable holiday destination than other European islands. Flights from the mainland of Portugal are especially cheap and many other affordable routes have opened up all around Europe. Once you’re there, you’ll find low priced food and drink in most bars and restaurants, mainly thanks to the abundance of produce that is grown and made on the islands themselves. Wineries, gin distilleries, pineapple farms and even tea plantations flourish here, and the water’s surrounding the islands produce plentiful seafood.
4. For the interesting architecture
The small towns on each island boast interesting buildings with colourful walls, but it’s perhaps Sao Miguel that offers the most striking sights for admirers of architecture. The streamlined changing huts at Ponta da Ferraria offered the perfect balance of style and functionality with their subtle Brutalist structure. Meanwhile, just a few miles away, driving up to admire the views of Sete Cidades, the abandoned hotel at Vista do Rei is fun to wander around.
5. To escape the crowds
Yes, there are tourists in the Azores, but the tourism here is nowhere near the levels of other similarly-sized islands across Europe. You won’t have the hot springs to yourself, but you won’t have to queue up to squeeze in. You could however, stand at one of the best view points on the islands and not have to share the moment with another soul, or drive along the narrow clifftop roads without passing another car. If you’re looking to escape the tourists this summer, this is one of the best destinations in Europe.
6. For some of the best views in Europe
All of the islands offer dramatic views from atop cliffs or peering down at crater lakes from mountain peaks. Sao Jorge offers a multitude of stunning vistas while visitors to Pico can climb to the top of the biggest mountain in Portgual to admire the panoramic views. On Sao Miguel, there are many impressive viewpoints but if you hike up to Boca do Inferno on a clear day, you’ll be able to admire the twin lakes of Sete Cidades as well as several smaller lakes and even the island’s coastline.
7. For the greenery
The islands are among the greenest in Europe with thick foliage spreading out as far as the eye can see. Greenery tumbles down the side of cliffs and surrounds lakes, sub-tropical forests colliding with towering pine trees and endless hydrangeas.
8. To eat delicious seafood
Like any islands, seafood is the speciality in many restaurants. The menus on all of the islands are overflowing with everything from swordfish to scallops. The local speciality of grilled octopus is not to be missed, even for those who have never enjoyed the dish before. There are no big resorts here, but many of the coastal villages have one or two seafood restaurants that offer panoramic views of the ocean.
9. To spot whales
The waters surrounding the nine volcanic islands that make up the Azores archipelago are rich in minerals, attracting bountiful sea life to their shores. Most of the world’s species of whales visit the Azores during their migration, including the sperm whales that stay all year round and blue whales that visit in spring. You’re also likely to see dolphins, turtles and Portuguese Man O’ War if you take a trip out on a boat.
10. For hiking
If you’re a keen walker and like to spend your holidays hiking in interesting landscapes, you really can’t do much better than the Azores. Each of the islands offers miles of walking trails, along the edges of volcanic craters and up towering peaks, rewarding you with breath-taking views at the end.
Emma Lavelle is a UK based writer and photographer and has her own blog Field and Nest.