Story of my life. I see a photo of something incredible and plan an entire trip around it. And folks, that’s how Adam and I decided to go to the Azores – this spot via a Travelzoo Top 20 email (my photo shown!)
Now, if you’re like most people, you have no idea what or where this magical place is. Cliff’s notes: It’s a group of 9 Portuguese islands in the Atlantic, about 2 hours off the coast of Portugal. And hands down one of the most spectacular places I have ever been.
And, lucky for us they even have an airline that fly’s directly from Boston in 5 hours flat for a very affordable price (Azores Airlines). This is probably a good point to tell you that if you’re thinking of booking this amazing flight deal, please be flexible with your travel plans. And when I say flexible, I mean with your dates (our first trip was cancelled by the airline when they went on strike) and with your connection times (our return flight was delayed 3+ hours, causing us to miss our original connecting flight home). You get what you pay for!
But, back to the good stuff. There is so much to see there across all of the islands and it’s very easy to fly between them. But given we were short on time, we figured a jaunt to the main island, Sao Miguel, would be the best use of our time.
Our research also told us that it’s an incredibly safe, drivable island with so many different areas to explore so naturally, we also rented a car. And I know what you’re thinking. What did we do without SPG hotels in the Azores?! Don’t worry, somehow, we found TWO SPG hotels in this remote part of the world. YAAS!
After the aforementioned trip rescheduling craziness, we did in fact make it to Ponta Delgada! We were SO exhausted, but forced ourselves to go out and explore. We happened to be there in mid-July which was perfection for many reasons – mainly the weather and the wild hydrangea in full bloom EVERYWHERE on the island. It made for the most magical drives.
We set out to explore the Southeast & West parts of the island, with our grand finale being the Lagoa das Sete Cidades (a twin lake that is in the center of a massive volcanic crater). On our way, we stopped for quite a few photo ops, like this one!
Once we got closer, we saw a ton of people hiking up an old dirt road so of course we figured, why not try to take our tiny European manual car and try to drive it! Always an adventure with Adam as your driver.
The views certainly didn’t disappoint!
We then found a quick hike that took us to THE spot – the one that sold us on the Azores! It’s a bit tough to find, but it’s called Miradouro da Boca do Inferno.
On our way back down, we stopped in the actual town of Sete Cidades and saw probably the cutest church in the world.
You would think we had enough exploring for one day, but nope, there was more! We stopped for a bit of relaxation at Mosteiros, a gorgeous lava rock black sand beach on the West coast.
After some ice cream on the beach, we finally crashed and headed back to the hotel. But, not to bed yet. What else does one do on an Island? Find the best sushi, of course!
I forgot to mention that we planned our stays to alternate between locations so that each day, we could explore different parts of the island. And that’s really a must because each corner of the island has significantly different topography – there’s always something new to see!
Our first hotel, the Azor Hotel, was in the city of Ponta Delgada, so we set out for a stroll and grabbed some local breakfast – these incredible pastries called Pastel de Nata.
With full tummy’s, we set out to drive the South and Central parts of Ponta Delgada. Our first stop was at the Vila Franca do Campo church, which was an incredibly beautiful church set atop a hill with a gorgeous view of the ocean.
Afterwards, we headed to the town of Furnas, where the is still volcanic activity that creates natural hot springs, as well as calderas that the locals use to cook food. It also happened to be the location of our next hotel, Furnas Boutique Hotel. But, we weren’t ready to stop! We strolled around the furnas for a while, took some incredible photos and even got some corn that was cooked in the furnas.
After, we headed to drive the North & East coasts and to a city appropriately called Nordeste. It was here that Adam told me he read about a road that winds down to a really pretty lighthouse. He mentioned some people said it was “steep” and so he wasn’t sure if our car could make it. After seeing another car come up the end, we decided we were going for it. Little did I realize that the part we saw was 1% of the drive down a 1-lane, winding cement switchback road at about a 50% gradient. For those of you that are wondering, that’s steep as F*$K. After losing about 20 years off my life, we were rewarded with some of the most breathtaking views.
We continued our journey along the coast, stopping whenever we could.
We arrived back in Furnas ready for dinner! We made reservations at a very popular spot so that we could try Cozido de Furnas, a local stew cooked deep in the calderas we saw earlier! It was an absolutely incredible meal – and we even got to try some local Azorean wine which was also delicious!
The next day started with some relaxation at our hotel’s natural hot springs pools.
After we were ready to conquer the day, we set out to explore the town of Furnas, as well as get some breakfast. One of my absolute favorite local foods are the bolo levedo, a soft and slightly sweet bread that pairs well with just about everything.
From there, we headed to explore more of the North and Central parts, starting with Cha Gorreana, a tea plantation! I am a huge tea lover, but have never been to a tea plantation so this was a huge treat. And no surprise, the views were spectacular.
Just when I didn’t think it could get any better, but spoiler alert, it did. We drove up to Lagoa do Fogo, which is another crater lake and just simply stunning.
We popped by a waterfall on our way back for good measure.
And then we decided to lunch in Ribiera Grande, a super popular beach town on the North coast.
Last, but not least, we headed to Sao Miguel’s pineapple plantation, Arruda. Yes, you heard that right! Because of the cooler climate, they grow them in greenhouses. The variety is also a TINY version of what you’re used to seeing. As a result, they’re even sweeter. And make the perfect topping for ice cream!
In the Azores, the things you hear most about are tea, pineapple, cheese, seafood and steak. So, we indulged on our last night. And yes, I do mean INDULGED.
It’s a miracle we even woke up after that meal, but we had a whale/dolphin watching tour scheduled before we had to head to the airport. Despite it being prime whale migration time, we didn’t see any whales. We did see a million dolphins, which was such a spectacular sight!
And that, my friends, is the end of our Azores adventure. But don’t worry, we armed ourselves with our favorite tea, bread, cheese and wine to bring back home to keep the spirit of the Azores alive.
A word of advice: If you are even the least bit inspired by this trip, you need to go. Like now. It was so incredible to travel to a place that’s so foreign to so many, yet filled with unimaginable natural beauty. I couldn’t get enough of each place we went and I found myself just wanting more time, everywhere. I absolutely can’t wait to return and see what the other Azores islands have in store.