It was never my intention to visit The Azores, a group of desolate islands out in the Atlantic Ocean. But fate was to decide otherwise! I was meant to fly to Krakow in Poland, where I was to spend a couple of days, before flying off to Kutaisi in Georgia. However, this was not to be, as my Ryanair flight to Krakow was cancelled at the last minute due to freezing fog there. So my planned holiday turned out to be an unexpected dinner at the airport and then back home!
Over the next few days, I thought hard and fast about where I could spend those few days somewhere else. That was not an easy task as it had to be cheap and easily accessible from Malta. Eventually, I picked on The Azores as they were easy to get to from Malta through Porto. The fact that the flights and car hire were super cheap tilted the balance in favour of these idyllic islands! And I was not to be disappointed!
I chose to spend my short stay (of just three days) on the main island of San Miguel. It’s four times larger than Malta so I decided to stay somewhere central. I picked on an Airbnb apartment in Lagoa, just 45 minutes by car from any point on the island. By the way, it’s essential that one hires a car to go around if one wants to see all the main sights in a few days!
I could not have chosen a more beautiful place to visit. The Azores have it all: lush green countryside dotted with cows (in fact, the joke is that there are more cows than people), a mountainous landscape and fascinating lakes inside volcanic craters. In a couple of words, the islands are wild but beautiful!
The Azores are part of Portugal and therefore use the Euro and are part of the European Union so if you are from the EU, then you can use your mobile phone as if you were at home. However, from all other aspects, the islands look tropical as it rains so much over here and one can almost expect to see dinosaurs poking their heads out of the vegetation!
There is not much history and culture here but if it’s nature you’re after, then the Azores are as close to paradise as one can get! I’ve never seen a greener place ever before in my entire life! And if you visit in the off season, then it’s more than likely that you will be in the ONLY car on the road for most of the time, in BOTH directions! Pure bliss in other words, especially if you come from an island marked by tailbacks, traffic jams, hooting and swearing!
Of course, it’s not all nature here. One can visit the capital city, Ponta Delgada, and wonder around the streets. One can also have a very special dinner cooked for some 6 to 8 hours in the heat of the volcanic earth! But beware, you need to phone the restaurant at least 12 hours earlier to let them know you’re coming. The rest is heaven as the food is so soft and tender and the price of the meal is very reasonable indeed.
There are also a number of historical churches one can visit on Sao Miguel. One MUST SEE is the famous Nossa Senhora da Paz Sanctuary at Vila Franco do Campo. Words and pictures cannot truly describe this place. Do not miss this stop! When I pulled up, it was truly jaw dropping as is the amazing view from up there!
If it’s raining, and this can happen often (so patience is the word here), one might need to revisit a sight or location so it’s best to visit the places on your bucket list on your first full day. You can then always try again on your second or third day if your first visit to a volcanic crater ends up in disappointment due to it being shrouded in fog and low clouds. And if the rains persist, one can also visit the 5000-year-old lava tunnels in the capital.
Everyone says the Azores are the new Iceland with a small population, beautiful landscape, hidden treasures, and tons of hot springs. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that one can take a bath in one of the many cheap natural hot springs on the islands. Definitely an excellent experience, despite my initial scepticism.
I would definitely recommend visiting the Azores before mass tourism takes a firm hold. Having just returned from a solo trip a few months ago to São Miguel, the largest island in the archipelago, I was utterly enchanted with the place — so green, so many giant succulents and sprawling ferns and primordial bubbling mineral baths.