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Azores travel guide

The islands of the Azores, marooned out in the Atlantic Ocean, are a haven for volcano walking, spectacular flowers and some of the world's best whale watching

The nine islands of the Autonomous Region of the Azores, a Portuguese archipelago sitting out in the Atlantic 1,500km from the mainland, form the western border of the EU. Straddling the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the American and Euro-African continental plates meet, the islands are a product of volcanic eruptions below the ocean floor.

Rural, green and rugged, dotted with whitewashed houses, you could almost think you were in west Ireland at times. But then you notice how black the soil is, how the stone walls are basalt, and how the mountains are actually volcanoes. With a mild climate, and plenty of rain, as well as volcanic soil, everything from potatoes to pineapples grows in this bounteous garden, with agriculture and fishing providing the main incomes.

The Azores is also one of the top places in the world for whale watching, with sperm whales and other species of whale and dolphin regularly seen. Add in some excellent walking, and a way of life that has changed little over the centuries, and the result is a unique and fascinating travel destination.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Go whale watching – the cetacean spotting here is some of the best in the world. Sperm and pilot whales are regularly seen, with another 20 or so species also recorded.
  2. Wander the harbour of Horta on Faial, famous as a stopping-off point for yachts crossing the Atlantic, before downing a beer at Peters Café Sport, the watering hole and information spot for the crews.
  3. Seek out the local festivals, which haven’t changed for centuries. Note that the bulls are never killed (or even hurt) in the local bull-fights.
  4. Roam the island of Flores, claimed by many to be the most beautiful island, with spectacular hydrangeas. 
  5. Explore the Furna do Enxofre, a sulphur lake located in a cave, on Graciosa. 
  6. Climb Ponta do Pico – the pointy-shaped volcano that dominates the skyline on Pico island is a challenging ascent.

Wanderlust tips

Try to visit several islands as they each have a different character. A typical three-island itinerary would combine Sao Miguel, the largest island, with Pico and Faial, which are only a few kilometres apart. If you have time for more islands, you could add on Terceira or Flores.

Take a waterproof and suncream – the weather is extremely changeable.

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