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  • Writer's pictureManuela Lenoci

A voyage of discovery to the Azores Islands

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Belonging to Portugal, They are an archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Europe and America

What I allowed myself in the Azores (Acores in Portuguese) was an experiential trip, immersed in nature, with enchanting landscapes (different on each island although all of volcanic origin,) rejuvenating, between trekking and bathing in the natural pools found on some islands.

It is at the same time a food and wine trip, the Azores being a leader in cheese production, possessing several PDOs in Sao Jorge, a leader in wine production in Pico thanks to its special grape varieties declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Azores also leads Europe in coffee production, with a dedicated plantation in Sao Jorge

9 unspoiled islands

São Miguel, Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores, Graciosa, Corvo and Santa Maria, 9 islands very different from each other, but united by the beauty of the lush, almost unspoiled nature, a very rich flora and fauna and a sea of intense colors.

I visited three of them, discovering the excellence and typical beauty of each. My trip started from Terceira (3 days) then went to Pico (3 days) continuing to Sao Jorge (3 days) ending the last night in Lisbon.

Variable and humid weather, certainly with the humidity it was tiring to keep "hairs in the crease" during the tour, fortunately, I encountered frequent fog banks and sudden torrential rains, and no one paid attention.

Cows were a constant feature of the landscape.

Apparently there are about 500,000 of them in total on the islands: twice the number of inhabitants. These islands appear to visitors who may be visiting them for the first time, a veritable piece of paradise.

Getting there and moving around

From Italy there are no direct flights, but a stopover in Lisbon is necessary.

The most prevalent low-cost airline is Ryanair.

Internal flights between the islands are operated by Sata

The ideal stay is with solutions in private houses or villas

Travel between the islands by ferry is handled by Atlantico Line

Personal driver with minibus is preferred for travel within the islands

There is a 2 hr time difference with Italy (the Azores are 2 hr behind)

First stop Terceira Island

It is the third largest in the archipelago, home to the historic capital of the Azores, Angra do Heroísmo, the liveliest center for folk festivals if you want to be late at night, dating back to 1534 as well as the first place in the Azores to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. We did and saw many things on this island straddling sea life and rural life in contact with nature.

The first thing to do as soon as you arrive on these islands is to find a "personal driver - tour guide" to live symbiotically with you. My "angel" in Terceira Island was Mario Mendes, nice and super professional.

He "guided" us on this incredible cultural, gastronomic and naturalistic journey to discover the authentic beauty (the sweetest pampering the daily sack lunch to be eaten in always different equipped picnic areas)

where to sleep

What makes all the difference in a trip is where you go to sleep.

In the Azores if you have a personal driver you have a better chance of choosing wonderful facilities, at honest prices, even if they are located in more remote areas or poorly served by public transportation.

Casa Dos Romeiros, in August, was the best option for us (location Santa Barbara plus or minus 50 minutes by car from the center of the island, off the known circuits).

A villa hotel at our complete disposal, including breakfast: modern, completely renovated, comfortable and spacious rooms almost all with private garden. Sweet and savory breakfast very plentiful, by the way, they always also turned a blind eye to the brazen and usual all "Italian" practice of making us sandwiches "for later" as the English say and emptying the fruit cart.

cosa fare

The activities on this island were many I suggest some of them.

- Rocha do Chambre 3h trekking with medium-high difficulty for a distance of 10 km

- Baías da Agualva 2h trekking medium difficulty, breathtaking ocean views with tropical forest crossings

- Gruta do Natal (a 700-meter lava tube with an altar where mass is celebrated at Christmas) and Algar do Carvao (a volcanic chimney (inactive) almost 100 meters deep indeed a hole with vegetation around it, illuminated by sunlight (ticket 12 euros - last entry 17:30). These are two symbolic places that encapsulate the whole essence of the island.

- Porto das Cinco Ribeiras . A dip is a must here in one of the three most beautiful natural pools in the Azores.

- Touradas a Corda. Terceira islanders are literally crazy about the tourade a corda da Ilha Terceira, the Azorian version of bullfighting.

They are so popular that there is an official calendar with dates, times and venues. We enjoyed the atmosphere, the party, the wine, bifanas and beer as well as the performance of the bull and the bullfighters running after it. Every year, from May to October, about 230 "touradas" take place in the streets, fields and beaches of Terceira. The Azorian version of bullfighting bears little resemblance to the more famous Spanish or mainland Portuguese tradition. Here the bull is controlled by a rope around its neck, held by six people called "pastores."

The intention is not to kill the bull, but only to grab it by the horns.

- Monte Brasil. Visit to the monument overlooking the island that celebrates the Portuguese occupation of the Azores.

dove mangiare

"Azores Comfortable" was the leitmotif of the group of vacationers I left with.

A journey punctuated by waking up "never" before 9 a.m., and "meal" time always set at the first sign of contagious and simultaneous stomach "grumbling" on time every day.

Eat "a lot but well." The cuisine of the Azores is rich especially in fish and seafood, with generous portions like a true Apulian trattoria.

Among my favorites, I recommend dining at.

- SABORES DO ATLANTICO where you should try grilled limbets served on a black plate or Lapas grelhadas., on which squeezing fresh lemon on top is a must.

- O CHICO very good trattoria (perhaps my favorite. Don't miss the typical regional dish ALCATRA made with beef (the portions are large, with an order for 4 people you can eat plentifully in 8). Best beef stew in my life.

- BERIA MAR fish and location intimate and excellent

Seconda tappa Isola di Pico

We also stayed three days on this island.

If you prefer, I suggest you reach this island by a 1 h internal flight Sata Azores instead of by ferry ( 6 h at sea). The cost is about 70 euros per person.

Each island in the Azores has its own charm and strength.

Pico for example is nicknamed the "gray island" . It is the most volcanic of the entire archipelago rich in vineyards of immense charm, turned into black stones, dominate the landscape, This uniqueness, in 2004 led to the inclusion of the "Landscape of the Vineyard Cultivation of the Island of Pico" in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Not only because of its cultivation practices (which protect the vines from the fickleness of the Atlantic Ocean) but probably one of the most distinctive ones we find anywhere in the world, made with dry stone walls made of lava stones (currais) that demarcate small parcels of land within which the plants dwell.

Here in Pico I have given free rein to my food and wine passion.

For those who love wine and food like me and my traveling companions, Pico is the right place for a wine and food tour. Its wines pair perfectly with the island's gastronomic specialties and its grape varieties give rise to a fresh and light wine (white) that is produced right here Pico that the "vinho de cheiro" of the Azores.

dove dormire

We slept at Alojamento Bela Vista in Lajes do Pico strategically located on the harbor, close to restaurants and bars.

The owner of the hotel is named Camillo.

He is a handsome man of indefinite age, tall with a mustache whom you should definitely contact and visit in person as soon as you arrive on the island. (You can always find him in the souvernirs store on the harbor inside which you can also book the boat trip (Whale Watching) to spot whales from him while you are there.

For a successful vacation in Pico, you need to make a "deal with the devil" i.e., the island's cabs. There were so many activities we had planned on this one and travel was essential. Camillo gave us a hand. I tried to define transportation as best I could by setting clear hourly appointments together with him, with the TAXI picking us up from the hotel every day.

cosa fare

- Adega Luca Amaral - Interesting wine tasting proposal (3 or 5 glasses) in a charming atmosphere in the vineyard guided by Mrs. Sandra (who became a grandmother on the day of our visit). Her family has tried, with success, to recover the prestige of wine from the verdelho grape variety by improving its production. Accompany everything with typical local cheeses.

- Ilha do Pico - A visit with tasting at this Cooperativa Vitivinícola da Ilha do Pico is a very nice sensory experience. They have you taste 9 wines including Frei Gigante, T.L. Branco, Arinto dos Açores, Verdelho, T.L. Rosé, T.L. Blend, T.L. Merlot, Lajido 2003/2007 + 10 years aged).

- Ilha do Pico Wine Museum - This museum illustrates the history of wine on the island of Pico and the centuries-old importance of the grape variety called "verdelho." Cost 2 euro

- Whale and Dolphin Obervation - an amazing 3h experience to see whales and hope for their tail waving to come

- Cella Bar - Aperitifs with an ocean view. Not to be missed. Located in Lugar de Barca, Unique design a peculiar wooden building with a curvy shape meant to remind you of the wooden barrels where wine ages. Good food and gin and tonics prepared with the local distillate.

- Moinho do Monte - Climbing a mill is an incredible experience especially if from its summit you can admire the cultivations Unesco site (Igreja area)

- Climbing Montana do Pico - Ascent and descent are tough (9 h total)., 2350 meters above sea level, the highest point in all of Portugal. Trekking equipment is essential. Recommended to tackle it with a professional guide who provides two poles to facilitate the walk and a GPS device per person for each participant.

In the main crater is a lava cone called Piquinho, with permanent fumaroles. The heat from the fumarole at the summit is so pleasant that it makes the bag lunch sandwich even tastier.

where to eat

- Fonte Tavern - Buona proposta di pesce, mi raccomando GARLIC FREE, perchè esagerano

- Cella Bar - Cibo di qualità e ricercato, salumi di prima scelta serviti croccanti e un po sciolti

terza tappa Isola di Sao Jorge

I left my heart here. São Jorge is one of the most scenic islands in the entire Azores archipelago. The most beautiful and experiential stay on the island .

Nature conquers and envelops you, giving you lifeblood if it understands that you can appreciate it.

It is called the island of fajãs, plains/insins originated by landslides. There are more than 40 on the island, some of which can only be reached on foot. In fact, the trails are without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best ways to get to know the island and its nature.

For travel I recommend Brasil & Silva, Lda. / Virver-Viagens and Descobertas (owner Antonio) who assigned Giorgio to us as our personal driver/guide for the days we stayed.

where to sleep

Sao Jorge deserves to be experienced by living in this area. Kuanza Natura Experience in Faja do Belo in the Calheta region. Far from the town, surrounded by greenery, at the foot of the mountain facing the ocean. Reaching the villa the real adventure: only on foot. A 30-minute trekking route totaling 2 km - full of ups and downs and waterfalls.

Fortunately, waiting for us with the ATV at the foot of the trail was BEDU, general manager of Kuanza, who loaded our suitcases and supplies of food and wine needed for our three-day stay. Every morning Bedu, brought us freshly baked hot sandwiches for breakfast.

A complex of 13 villas (distant and indioendent). Ours was a villa (self caterng) surrounded by nature, with a beautiful ocean view, a swimming pool, and with a super-equipped kitchen that prompted us to always stay for dinner at home and takeout from the best restaurants on the island.

On this island we also took advantage of the Government Voucher of 35 euros per person to spend on some services, transportation or participating restaurants. An incentive voucher to visit the island, which is sometimes subject to earthquake tremors that can discourage choice.

cosa fare

- Visita a Velas - Città principale dell’isola

- Visita a Urzelina e Manada - note rispettivamente per la torre, tutto ciò che resta di un’antica chiesa che fu sepolta quando il Pico de Esperanca eruttò nel 1808 e per la Igreja de Santa Bárbara. Molto piccola ma ricca di storia, di affreschi e di un soffitto il cui tempo dedicato per vederla vale moltissimo.

- Cafè Nunes a Faja Dos Vimes. Unico in Europa, produce caffè nelle piantagioni sull’isola e serve tazzine di espresso fatte con il caffè biologico prodotto dalla famiglia. Tutta la produzione, dalla raccolta alla tostatura, viene eseguita manualmente.

Abbiamo in principio degustato il caffè (1 euro) non male devo dire e poi fatto una interessante visita guidata nella piantagione con Marcus (che ha ereditato l’attività) per ascoltare la loro storia e toccare con mano tutte le fasi della produzione.

Sopra la caffetteria, la madre di Marcus, Alzira Nunes e sua sorella Carminda, si dedicano alla produzione di copriletti fatti ancora a mano con il telaio come una volta. Credo di aver capito che sono gli unici che continuano a produrli sull’isola.

- Poca Simao Dias - Meravigliose piscine naturali in cui tuffarsi a Fajã do Ouvidor. Una delle più grandi fajã di origine vulcanica della costa settentrionale di São Jorge. Il Simão Dias è stato un vero paradiso naturale.

- Visita alla Fabbrica di Formaggio UniQueijo Sao Jorge - Il viaggio alle Azzorre è stato scandito dal morso continuo e costante ai formaggi.

Lunga vita al "Queijo" di quest'isola, compagno inseparabile dei momenti conviviali, soprattutto con il calice, nell'altra mano. Hanno anche una DOP. La visita guidata è durata poco più di un’ora ed è stata molto interessante. Ci hanno fatto indossare le protezioni: raccoglitore dei capelli, scarpe e grembiule. Visitare un caseificio è un vero e proprio viaggio alla scoperta del formaggio. La cosa più bella, per me, la visita ai magazzini di stagionatura dove le forme riposano e vengono curate quotidianamente in attesa del settimo, quattordicesimo e ventiquattresimo mese necessario per raggiungere le tre maturazioni dei tre tipi di formaggio dell’isola.

- Visita al Parco Forestale delle Sete Fontes. Uno dei più importanti dell'isola di São Jorge, occupa un'area di 12 ettari. Ricco di vegetazione e di innumerevoli sentieri immersi nel verde che conducono a spazi ricreativi come parco giochi e un'area pic-nic. Lungo il cammino ci sono laghi e fiumi, scorci bellissimi per scattare foto fonte di gioia degli amanti della natura. E tanti animali liberi.

- Fajas do Cubres e Faja da caldera do sto cristo - Un percorso stupendo a piedi che abbiamo fatto partendo da Faja do Belo

dove mangiare

Avendo la cucina da mille è una notte, la prima sera in questa isola ho deliziato tutti cucinando un piatto pugliese Spaghetti alla San Giovanni

- O SPOT- Comes e e Bebes (pagando con il Voucher del Goveno) a base di Bifana (porchetta azoriana)

- Sabores Sopranos (pagando con il Voucher del Goveno) ottimo pesce e frutti di mare

Come ogni vacanza che si rispetti, anche le più belle volgono al termine.

Traghetto fino a Faial e poi volo per Lisbona dove, causa ritardo del volo siamo arrivati giusto in tempo (entro mezzanotte) per un giro veloce nel cuore della città Barrio Alto dove avevamo l'alloggio.

Central Hill Apartament - ho dormito in una stanza da sogno, con il letto a baldacchino nel cuore di Lisbona.

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