Our trip began with a direct Ryan Air flight to the main island of Sao Miguel. I’ve had mixed experiences with Ryan Air in the past but this service runs to time, and the Portuguese crews are always friendly and helpful. You can fly all year around on a Saturday, and in the spring and summer there are direct services twice a week (on Tuesdays and Saturdays) to Sao Miguel and weekly Wednesday flights to the island of Terceira.
Our first couple of nights were to be spent in Ponta Delgada; capital of the Azores and one of Europe’s friendliest, most laid-back cities. Max was staying at the Hotel do Colegio whilst I had a sea view room at the Grand Hotel Azores Atlantico. No sooner had Max dropped his bags at the Colegio, than he was off west – to spend the afternoon e-biking around the great crater at Sete Cidades.
At 5km in diametre and 15 km in circumference, Sete Cidades is an enormous crater. It’s no surprise that the Azores’ most photographed, most famous view point is here – Vista do Rei, ‘the King’s Viewpoint’ named in honour of King Carlos and Queen Dona Amelia during their visit in 1901. Sete Cidades is great for birdwatching, kayaking, standup paddleboarding – and in Max’s case e-mountain biking with our friend Andre from Azores Adventure Islands.
Back in Ponta Delgada, we headed out for dinner with Pedro and Olivia. We’ve been working with Pedro for fifteen years; since he created his company Geofun in 2004 to offer guided walks and jeep tours across the whole of Sao Miguel. We share an office overlooking the seafront Avenida – and when you travel with us, you can pop into the office to see Olivia for advice, directions and to book last-minute trips.
Dinner was at Chandelier, a new restaurant on Rua Pedro Homem. There’s been an exciting food-revolution amongst the city’s restaurants in recent years. More of the island’s young chefs are travelling to the mainland, and are taking inspiration from their contemporaries in Lisbon and Porto to evolve their traditional Azorean dishes. There’s still one element that retains pride of place: their ingredients are always fresh, seasonal and local. Take a look at our online guide to the best restaurants in Ponta Delgada.
Bright and early the following morning, we collected our hire car and headed up to Capelas on the north coast of the island – to meet up with one of our favourite accommodation owners on the island: the lovely Maria Joao de Menezes. Maria Joao has traditional-style houses across the whole island – three of our favourites are here in the north: Casa Lareira, Casa Granel and Casa Pompal. Visiting self-catering properties and exploring the local area is crucial – it allows us to recommend a house that works for you whether you’re travelling as a family or as a couple, if you include a hire car or prefer not to drive; whatever your preferences might be.
Heading along the coast, our next stop was the Parque Riberia dos Calderoes. It’s quite a secluded spot way up in the north east corner of Sao Miguel, but it’s well-worth a visit. The Ribeira dos Caldeiroes and Ribeira do Guilherme converge here – this was the island’s industrial heartland back in the 17th Century and you can still see preserved examples of the water mills which once dominated this landscape.
Max had also been hoping for a swim in the sea at Maia – sadly the wind was up and the sea was a bit too rough. That’s sometimes the way on Sao Miguel at this time of year – it can be windy in the north and still in the south, cloudy in the east and sunny in the west.
Instead, we decide to cross the mountain pass which divides the island in two – via the summit of Pico da Barrosa (947m) to one of my favourite viewpoints on the island, overlooking Lagoa do Fogo: the Lake of Fire. En-route, we came across hitchhikers Piotr and Yetta – a young polish couple on a weekend break from their studies in Lisbon. Their student budget didn’t stretch to a hire car and the bus services between the north coast and Ponta Delgada aren’t very frequent. We were only too happy to offer them a lift, and they were able to grab a few pics of Lagoa do Fogo for themselves.
We ended the day at Casa do Abel in Agua de Pau. Owner Abel had great success with his Bar Caloura fish restaurant in nearby Caloura, before opening this Azorean steakhouse. The food was amazing and the wine possibly even better.
Next day, we were due to leave Sao Miguel on the afternoon flight to Pico. Just enough time for whistle-stop visit to Furnas – to the hot springs at Poca Dona Beija.
I always love the flights between islands and our birds eye view of Sete Cidades was magnificent as ever.
Our hosts for our stay on Pico were Sofia, Carolina and Maria Serpa. Maria has been renovating traditional Azorean houses across Pico’s north coast for over twenty years – at the last count, she had completed twelve and no doubt there are more renovations to come in the future. Maria has a gift for preserving the traditional feel of these old buildings, whilst adding comfortable modern interiors.
Our casa was in the centre of Prainha – within a stone’s throw of the supermarket (for supplies), and the excellent seafront Adega Acoreana Tapas and Wine House: a wonderful family restaurant overlooking the village’s Piscina Naturias seawater swimming pools.
Pico ticks a lot of boxes if you’re thinking of visiting the Azores. It has the largest (UNESCO protected) vineyards, it’s the island where Azorean whale watching all began, and the island’s black volcanic coastlines are breath taking. Like many, we’d come to climb the mountain: Mount Pico, Portugal’s highest peak at 2351m. Max’s recent blog has all the details if you’re thinking of including a guided ascent in your trip, with tips on how to prep for the walk prior to your holiday and what to expect on the hike itself.
Our efforts on the mountain were rewarded with dinner in Madalena, Pico’s main harbour town, with a sunset-silhouetted Faial in the distance.
Before departing the island, we had time to meet up with Luis and Pedro from Our Island – a sustainable tour company we’ve recently got to know. They’re actually based on the neighbouring island of Faial, but Luis’ family have a banana plantation on the south coast of Pico and we offer to lend a hand with a bit pruning.
Next stop – the island of Teceira…
…for a stay in one of the wonderful cottages at Pico da Vigia, one of our favourite places to stay in the Azores.
Owners Bruno and Sophia have recently opened their own wine bar called Garoupinha, just off the main Praca Velha square in the centre of Angra. Their selection of Portuguese wines is huge, and they serve deliciously-moreish ‘Terceiran Tapas’, known as Petiscos in Portugal. Their veggie version of the Lisbon classic Bacalhau à brás was amazing.
As is sometimes the case, it was just a fleeting visit to Terceira on this trip, before a short hop brought us back to Sao Miguel, for a final evening with Pedro in Ponta Delgada.
Farewells done and another memorable visit is sadly over – time to head to the airport for our flight home.
We specialise in tailor-made holidays to the nine islands of the Azores. Call Paul on 017687 721020 to begin planning your personalised trip.
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