The Azores have been on the radar of rugged European types for some time, but are only now developing a following among travelers from the northeast United States and Canada who are looking for an easy island destination in the age of Zika and fear. The 2015 expansion of non-stop inexpensive flights to the Azores from North America makes this a dream adventure destination.
I’m an earth scientist, so I went to examine a field site for weather measurements on the islands, but I brought my husband along and we enjoyed a fall weekend getaway on the main island of Sao Miguel.
The “Hawaii of the Atlantic” shares a volcanic origin with Iceland along the deep-sea mid-Atlantic spreading ridge. But the Azores, situated farther south, are fortuitously bathed by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. The balmy climate, new boutique hotels, and extensive outdoor adventure opportunities make now a prime time to encounter what Mother Earth tossed up in the middle of the North Atlantic.
Like Madeira, the Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal — though more primal and remote than the larger island 600 miles to the east. Here in the Azores, a Portuguese design ethos infuses seaside bathing shelters and new hotels with EU-caliber infrastructure. The appealing juxtaposition of civilized wildness makes for a winning draw for visitors.
Lay of the Land
The island of Sao Miguel is a landscape of verdant, pastoral gorgeousness. Volcanic rock fences and rows of blooming hydrangeas separate numerous farms. We spotted longtime locals on the main roads driving horse-drawn carts.
The island’s strategic mid-ocean location has made it a significant maritime post throughout history. A vibe of self-sufficiency suffuses the wind-swept outpost. The fierce weather that can engulf the island in winter contrasts with the highly benign flora and fauna. There are no hazardous critters and spiders to fascinate the locals, as many are not endemic.
Fabulous local cheeses and excellent beef abound — the island’s cow count rivals its people count. Couple that with the proliferation of local wines and terrific seafood, and you have a serious culinary experience. The regional specialty are limpets, a type of mollusk in a spiral shell. A bonus is that they are surprisingly affordable. We paid €40 for a scrumptious feast that included a bottle of local wine.
Other popular activities include whale watching and hiking the extensive trail network to waterfalls and the caldera lakes of Sete Cidades and Lagoa do Fogo.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the brand-new, Starwood-affiliated Azor Hotel on the marina of Ponta Delgado. The large suite with a wraparound balcony and modern design provided stunning views of the sea and island geography, and the service was top-notch. The ease of accessing the entire island by car makes staying in one hotel a great option.
Each of the nine islands is unique and deserves a visit by inter-island flight from Ponta Delgado. There are vineyards at the base of Pico volcano on the west side of the island chain and gorgeous beaches of the oldest island, Santa Maria, on the east side. On Pico, a good base is the unique Lodge of Pocinho Bay. On Santa Maria, the brand new hotel and spa Charming Blue.
Non-stop flights now reach the Azores from Boston, Toronto, Providence, Oakland, and London. From Boston, the flight-time is around five hours on SATA Airlines, at an affordable $400 round-trip.