One of the perks of working at Archipelago Choice, beside the rapier like whit of my colleagues, is getting to visit far-flung destinations that one may not otherwise get the chance to see and, in doing so, being able to experience first-hand the accommodations and activities on offer so that we can better recommend them to you.
Having only started working for AC over the summer, this was my first chance to get to the Azores to experience it all for myself. I was able to visit the islands of São Miguel, Faial, and Pico, bookended with nights in Lisbon. Having not travelled abroad since before the pandemic I was a little apprehensive that I would have forgotten something obvious in my preparations, but once I was checked in a Manchester Airport I could relax, listen to some music, and people-watch whilst waiting for my (slightly delayed) TAP flight to Lisbon.
I arrived in Lisbon late in the evening but Miguel, the driver for my airport transfers, had been in touch via WhatsApp to let me know he was still there and waiting for me. After checking-in to my accommodation, AS Janelas Verdes, I grabbed a quick bit to eat at a restaurant up the road then headed back to the hotel for drinks on their balcony overlooking the Tagus.
The next morning I had a few hours free before my flight to São Miguel so, after a coffee on the balcony, I made the most of the free pass to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga that was provided by the accommodation.
In the afternoon I had a transfer back to Lisbon Airport and then boarded my flight to the first Azorean island of my trip, São Miguel. Lisbon is in the same time zone as the UK, but the Azores, being c.1400km out into the Atlantic, is an hour behind. After working out how to change the time on my phone, I made my way out of the airport and was met by one of our guides, Rui, and we set out on a tour of the western part of the island. This was my first experience of Sete Cidades, and it did not disappoint, and catching it as the sun set made it that bit more special.
After being dropped at my accommodation for the next three nights, Casa das Palmeiras, I had a wander around the city of Ponta Delgada before going to the restaurant across the road, O Giro, for the first of many excellent vegetarian meals. Azorean cuisine is largely meet and fish (there are twice as many cows as people, and, well, it’s an archipelago so they eat a lot of fish), and it was out of the main holiday season so some places were closed, but I was still able to find a decent vegetarian option wherever I was (it just took a bit of looking sometimes).
For my first full day in Ponta Delgada, I explored the city in the morning to get my bearings, and also visited a couple of the people with which we work. In the afternoon I had a transfer out to run one of our recommended walks, the trail up to Lagoa do Fogo. Unfortunately, it was a bit claggy (as we say in Cumbria) and visibility was poor, but it was still impressive in its own way.
That evening I scratched my newly acquired fine dining itch with a four-course vegetarian taster menu at Casa Nostra in Ponta Delgada.
My second full day in Ponta Delgada was one I was particularly looking forward to as it involved exploring Sete Cidades by mountain bike and foot. I had a transfer into the town of Sete Cidades to pick up a bike and then I cycled around half the crater, taking in the famous viewpoint of Vista do Rei, before dropping back into the crater to explore the lakeshores. In the afternoon I was transferred back up to the aqueduct to the southwest of the crater for a run linking a section of the Serra Devassa and the Mata do Canário (north side of Sete Cidades) trails, before dropping down into Moistiros for a well-earned bottle (or two) of the local Korisca IPA. I was luckier with the weather and was afforded with some of the classic Azorean views.
One thing I was not expecting was how blue the ocean was, as sign of how clean it is!
That evening I gorged myself at Ponta Delgada’s newest Indian restaurant, the Jewel of India, run by a friendly chap from Wolverhampton! The food was fantastic, the mango lassi was to die for, and there was plenty of choice for vegetarians. It had only been open four weeks but already was a hit with both the ex-pat community and the locals.
The following day I met one of our guides, Paulo, for another tour. This was supposed to be a geological tour but, given the weather (more rain), we opted to include a trip to the pineapple plantation in Ponta Delgada and the Gorreana Tea Factory rather than another trip into the clouds shrouding Lagoa do Fogo.
The tour did include an enjoyable and informative trip into the lava caves under Ponta Delgada, and a visit to the hot springs at Caldeira Velha. At the end of the geo-tour I was dropped at my accommodation for the next two nights, the Terra Nostra in Furnas, which, fittingly, has its own thermal pools.
For my first day in Furnas I had hoped to go climbing with one of our guides, but due to the inclement weather we had to cancel that and instead I took myself around the botanical gardens at the Terra Nostra and then to the fumaroles in Furnas where they were erecting the weirdest nativity scene I have ever seen.
In the afternoon I ran the trail from the hotel up and around Lagoa das Furnas, past the famous cozido cooking holes. In the evening I had the surprise highlights of the trip: a swim in the thermal pool. It was after dark and the stars were out, surrounded by trees from the botanical garden, and with steam rising form the water which is around 40°C (104°F) all making it a special and relaxing atmosphere. For both evenings I ate at the Terra Nostra.
After Furnas my next stop was the island Faial where I had some self-catering accommodation at the Porto Pim Apartments, conveniently located for the shops, restaurants, and harbour in Horta as well as for the picturesque Porto Pim Bay.
After checking-in to my accommodation I met up with one of our whale watching guides, Pedro, for lunch before being taken on a tour around the island. Once again, the highest point of the island was in the cloud, but the weather made the trip to the volcanic terrain of Capelinhos all the more dramatic. That evening I went to Canto do Doca for food and was surprised when I was given some raw veg, a cold veggie burger, and a super-hot slab of rock for me to cook it all on!
The following morning I explored the town and visited the Museu da Horta to learn a little more about the area. In the afternoon I had a transfer up to Caldeira and the circular trail that takes in the highest point of the island. I then ran back down to Horta along some great trails – it’s a shame that these trails have not yet been linked up as the view of Mt Pico as you descend form Caldeira is quite spectacular.
In the evening I went to the legendary Peter’s Café Sport, befriended a group of Slovakians from a cruise ship, and drank far too much of Peter’s equally, and justifiably, legendary Gin do Mar.
After Faial my final island was Pico, a 30-minute ferry ride away, and home to the UNESCO protected landscape of Pico’s vineyards. I was met at the terminal by our guide Joáo and given a tour of the island. First stop was the Casa dos Vulcões and I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable both the Jules Verne style journey to the centre of the Earth and the virtual reality earthquake experiences were. That was quickly followed by a shot of distilled wine fresh from the distillery next door.
We then headed to the old whaling factory and then the whaling museum. Both of which were interesting and gave an insight into life on the island in days gone by. The film in the whaling museum is not, however, for the feint hearted. The tour ended with a trip to Joáo’s own vineyard and samples of his own wine. At the end of the day I was dropped off at my accommodation right back at the harbour, the Hotel Caravelas. It was a short walk from the hotel to the Mercado Bio for another delicious vegetarian meal.
I originally had grand plans to run up the full hight of Mt Pico, at 2351m it’s the highest point in Portugal, but, you guessed it, the weather was not ideal, so I decided upon linking a couple of trails that cover a good length of the eastern half of the island. First off was the Caminho das Lagoas, of which the first 15km were hidden in the mist before you start to descend towards the coast.
The trail is basically a country lane and very easy under foot and ends on one of the main roads around the island, conveniently opposite the start of the Nove Canadas da Ribeirinha. This trail, at 10km is shorter but a little trickier underfoot, especially as you near the end at Calhau where you must pick your way across the lava field. All the trails were exceedingly easy to navigate, even in almost zero visibility as there are way markers at every junction. After a return transfer to my accommodation, and a nap, I headed to O Cinco, opposite Mercado Bio, for a pleasingly large vegetarian curry (and more Korisca).
For my last day in the Azores I met up with a young guide, Joseph, who was from Cape Verde originally but now calls Pico home, and after working for some local companies is striking out on his own. In the morning we explored some of the lava caves – each one was increasingly more challenging and longer than the last, and as such had much more adventurous feel than the sanitised experience in Ponta Delgada.
After lunch we hopped on some mountain bikes and had a ride around more vineyards. From a windmill you could get a sense of the area that the vineyards covered and how hard it must be to harvest the crop. In the evening I returned to Mercado Bio as it was the only option on a Sunday out of season.
To round out the trip I had one more night in Lisbon. This time I was at the 5-start Dom Pedro Lisboa conveniently located near an excellent restaurant with a large selection of vegetarian meals. On returning to my accommodation I had an couple of beers watching the World Cup in the hotel bar which I then followed with the complimentary wine and cheese that was left in my hotel room. All in all, a luxuriant way to finish off what I hope to be my first of many trips to the Azores.
We specialise in tailor-made holidays to the nine islands of the Azores. Our experienced team of specialists are ready to put together your personalised trip – just give them a call on 017687 721020.
Our island hopping holiday to the Azores was absolutely amazing,
This is a long email, so you might want to go grab yourself a cuppa before you start reading.
We just wanted to send you an email to say thank you so much for everything.
Our island hopping holiday to the Azores was absolutely amazing, it was far beyond our dreams and expectations, and that is certainly because of you and all your plans in putting this together for us. We just loved every second (apart from me and canyoning, we do not get along, but the boys absolutely loved it!) we just can’t believe all the things that we have seen, and done, and learned about! What an incredible place!
We have certainly been bitten by the Azorean bug and we can’t wait to get back there to explore the other islands. They’re very special places, each of them for their own right.
We felt as though we were treated like royalty from the minute we arrived in Sao Miguel, even the weather was kind to us (largely) we seemed to miss the adverse weather, either arriving somewhere that had had storms the day before, or leaving just before they arrived. We did have one morning of heavy rain when we went to the tropical gardens at Furnas, but we did manage to see some of the gardens before we gave up and went back to Caloura, where there was glorious sunshine, so we spent the afternoon at the pool and made the most of the Especial and fresh lemonade from the snack bar.
Every single person that we met, we were struck by how hard they work, and how happy they all are. Many of them never leaving the island they were born on, because, why would they want to?!
We love the Azorean people and their love and pride for their islands. Their sustainable way of living also struck deep with us. It’s the way we try very hard to live ourselves. Dave’s business is retrofit insulation, preparing old housing stock to a better more eco friendly way of conserving energy, so the way they live and respect their land, was of great interest to us.
For us all, Flores is a very special place. We went to the restaurant maresia while we were there and met the owner and his son. Although the restaurant itself is eclectic to say the least, after chatting to Vincent, we understood his dads way of living and the food was outstanding! We can’t wait to visit again.
All of our guides were amazing! Their knowledge and passion is admirable.
We just loved every second and can’t thank you enough for making our trip so smooth and completely stress free.
I will spend today writing reviews online for all the companies and guides that helped us on our trip.
A million thanks to you all Jake.
The Cole family
Personal service and efficient!
You really listened to what type of holiday we wanted and tailored our week accordingly. You understood what we were looking for and were so helpful and knowledgeable. Very personal service and efficient!
Linda from Norfolk
Professional and personal service!
Everything you do, you seem to do it professionally. I know I’m not your only client, but you make me feel like I am.
Bryan from Stoke
Azores Choice provided a prompt, helpful service. they found us the perfect accommodation for our needs and provided superb, expert advice on how to spend our week walking on San Miguel. I would certainly use them again.
Joan from Durham
Recommended small travel company!
Great little company with friendly staff. Organisation of flights & accommodation very efficient. When problems arise they are helpful and very reasonable in their efforts to resolve them. We would definitely use them again for a return trip.
Really great! Would use again!
Very efficient, friendly, helpful. Excellent local knowledge. Everything ran very smoothly, from supplying the tickets to airport pick ups and hotel bookings. Lovely accommodation selected. No complaints!
A wonderful break in a beautiful environment!
Everything was excellent. The information and organisation, the hotel and the island itself all exceeded our expectations. Whale watching and other trips out, fantastic. We will book again!
Great honeymoon package and experience!
They provided a great package at a good price. We found them to be helpful and a quality service was provided.
Nicola and Christopher – Winchester
Top notch service. Highly recommended!
Excellent service throughout. Very informative, with lots of literature, maps and the like. Attended their offices in Ponta Delgada – very impressed with Olivia, friendly and helpful. Paul was first class.
Lynne in Welton-by-Lincoln
Great company for first time Azores visit!
Really great company, will be recommending them. We had never visited the Azores before but this company helped us decided which islands to visit.