Azores: Main Sights
Europe's Best Kept Secret
The largest, most populous, greenest and most diverse of the 9 Azorean islands, São Miguel, also known as the green island (Ilha Verde) is the principle island of the archipelago. The largest city in the Azores, Ponta Delgada on São Miguel, has a nice historic center and a variety of accommodation including a youth hostel. The interior of the island has several hot springs and calderas, one of which is at Sete Cidades, a pair of gorgeous lakes nestled in the caldera and volcanic crater. Sete Cidades is a very popular scenic area for hiking due to its stunning views of the lakes and two-colored mountain slopes; one blue, one grey. Ponta Delgada is also a popular departure point for dolphin and whale watching trips.
Santa Maria, the yellow island, is one of the smaller Azorean islands and home to the archipelago’s most beautiful white sand beaches. São Lorenço is the island’s surf spot,while Praia Formosa is the largest and finest beach for swimming and sun bathing. Characterized by hilly topography and marvelously deep bays, Santa Maria is also the sunniest island in the Azores and a popular fishing location.
Terceira, meaning “third”, was the third island to be discovered and is the third largest in the Azores. Angra do Heroísmo, Terceira’s capital, is a beautiful historic town (the oldest in the Azores, dating from 1534) and a UNESCO heritage patrimony city, which is certainly worth visiting. Points of interest in Angra include the Old Square, the fortress or Castelo de São João Baptista do Monte Brasil and the Palace of the Bettencourts. Other places worth seeing on Terceira are the Biscoitos (natural swimming pools on the coast) and the town of Praia da Vitória.
Graciosa is the second smallest and most northerly of all the islands in the Azores. It is also the driest and the flattest, although it is actually the top of a giant volcano. Green, tranquil and shaped like an oval, Graciosa, much like the other islands of the Azores, is peaceful, green and rural. Points of interest on Graciosa include historic Dutch windmills, hot springs, thermal baths, and the Furna do Enxofre, an impressive 80 meter sulphur cavern containing an enchanting underground lake.
Thin and long (58 x 8 km), São Jorge is a sharp ridge of volcanic peaks rising out of the Atlantic and culmi-nating in the 1053 meter high Pico da Esperança. Steep, tree-covered slopes, green plateaus dotted with historic chapels, churches and orange trees, São Jorge is an amazing place for hiking and walking. Make sure you visit Fajã da Caldeira do Santo Cristo, a protected nature reserve with an underground cave and lake. Also try some delicious São Jorge cheese, which is well-known and exported throughout the world.
The Ihla Azul, or blue island, gets its nickname from the blue flowers (hydrangea) which cover Faial. The island’s slopes are gentle and green; conducive to the cattle raising and dairy farming that are major parts of Faial’s economy. Once the center of telegraphic communication between the Old and New Worlds, the town of Horta is perhaps the most cosmopolitan and lively of all Azorean towns, due in part to its busy marina full of international sailors.
Pico, the second largest island in the Azores, is home to the highest mountain in Portugal, the majestic 2,352 meter tall Pico Alto. Pico is characterized by high plateaus, volcanic cones, lakes, grasslands and forests. The north coast of the island has impressive rock formations such as tunnels, caves, and arches. Black volcanic stone is pronounced all over Pico and is used for constructing houses, lava fields and small pyramids of rock or maroiças, which were created to reclaim precious farmland. Pico probably has the most visually stunning landscapes in the Azores and is highly recommended for travelers in search of raw natural beauty.
The most westerly of the Azores, Flores, meaning “flowers”, is covered in gorgeous flowers and greenery. Though still mild, Flores climate differs from the other Azorean islands in that it is windier and rainier, hence its multitude of flowers and lush plant life. High mountains, fantastically beautiful crater lakes and virtually untouched nature make Flores a must for nature hiking enthusiasts. The 4000 people on Flores mainly live in villages along the coast, leaving the rest of the island a remote natural paradise.
The smallest and furthest north of the Azorean islands, Corvo is just 17 square km and originated from only one volcano. An absence of traffic lights, hotels, crime and fast food restaurants gives some idea about just how remote and undeveloped Corvo is. It is a peaceful green pearl, which few people will ever take the opportunity to experience. The Caldeirão, a volcanic crater with a circumference of 3.5 km, is beautifully grassy and a favorite grazing spot for Corvo’s cattle and several wild horses. Home to about only 400 inhabitants, Corvo is recommended to those in search of something truly unique and peaceful, who don’t mind “roughing it”.