7 Reasons Why You Should Visit the Azores, Portugal’s Best-Kept Secret
Volcanic mountain peaks. Ancient fishing villages. Bubbling hot springs. Vast, untouched landscapes. No, this isn't New Zealand, Hawaii, or the Faroe Islands. The Azores, a remote nine-island archipelago off the coast of Portugal, is an eden all its own. For decades, limited flights kept the subtropical island chain cut off from the rest of the world, but new connections are slowly opening up this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Here, 7 reasons to get there now—before everyone else does.
The islands are that much more accessible from the U.S.
Located 850 miles off the coast of Portugal, the Azores are far, but getting there will be easier than ever this year thanks to a new seasonal airlift from Delta, which begins flying non-stop from the U.S. five times a week starting May 24. Landing in a European paradise less than six hours from JFK? (Psst—that’s shorter than the connection to L.A.) Sign. Us. Up.
Anyone can dive into its yachting culture.
Yachts making the Transatlantic passage between the U.S. (or the Caribbean) and Europe often make a rest stop in the Azores. A visit to the marina in Horta, on the island of Faial, offers a fascinating look at the islands’ yachting culture: the jetty is like an open-air gallery, covered in murals painted by past crews. Mingle with captains and their ilk at the famous yachtsmen’s bar, Peter’s Cafe Sport, where sailing flags from around the world hang from the rafters. Prefer to set sail around the islands yourself? Pure Sail offers full-day and weekly charters that anchor near empty beaches and bays teeming with dolphins.
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It’s a perfect escape for a wellness holiday.
The Azores’ volcanic landscapes and natural geothermal hot springs make the islands a natural pick for a wellness vacation. Week-long spa retreats with Azores Getaways on the island of Terceira include massages with essential oils and local volcanic stones as well as flotation therapy in between meals and overnights at Hotel do Caracol, a four-star property overlooking the Bay of Silveira. For a more DIY experience, visit the iron-rich geothermal pools in the village of Furnas on São Miguel, near one of the island’s three caldera lakes, or Terra Nostra Gardens, whose thermal swimming pool centers a subtropical oasis of more than 2,000 species of trees.
The food scene is excellent.
Surrounded by so much open ocean, it’s no surprise the Azores offer some incredible dining experiences, particularly when it comes to seafood. Beira Mar, on the island of Terceira, is a great place to try a platter of cracas—an edible barnacle shellfish unique to the Azores. Also on Terceira, Quinta dos Açores—essentially a dairy farm with its own restaurant—is known for its locally produced beef products as well as its own brand of ice cream, which comes in unique flavors like coconut and sweet pineapple. For a totally immersive culinary experience, book a nine-day food and wine tour across four of Azores’ islands for a chance to taste famed Azorean white wines and try your hand at geothermal cooking—a long-revered island tradition.
There’s no better place to listen to Fado music.
The melancholic, achingly beautiful musical genre known as "Fado" traces its roots to mainland Portugal, but the moody and dramatic weather patterns that race across the Azores make these islands perfect for holing up in a cozy club and listening to local singers and guitarists. Grab a glass of sangria at Colégio 27 Restaurant & Jazz Club, in Ponta Delgada, which puts on regular Fado acts in addition to live jazz performances on Friday and Saturday nights (more frequently during summer’s high season).
The offshore attractions are next-level.
The waters surrounding the Azores are far from balmy—temperatures hover around the mid 70s in the summer and dip into the low 60s during winter months—but scuba divers who suit up and head out with operators like Norberto Diver are rewarded with remarkable diving around the open-ocean pinnacles at Princess Alice Bank, where manta rays and huge schools of mobulas often swirl in the currents. Whale watching is an even bigger business in the Azores. In addition to resident sperm whales, found here year-round, the Azores’ waters also frequently host migrating blue, humpback, and fin whales (best seen in the spring between April and May). Tours with CW Azores depart regularly from Pico Island.
Hotels and guest houses are intimate and homey.
Forget the mass resorts of Portugal’s mainland. In the Azores, tourism operates on a far smaller scale. As a result, there are some truly lovely guest houses where you can stay. Our favorite: Casa Hintze Ribeiro on São Miguel, a boutique property with just 22 suites decorated in oceanic blue-and-white hues, a pretty pool, and panoramic views. Even more intimate accommodations can be found at Guesthouse 27 in Terceira, where some rooms have exposed stone walls and guests are treated to plenty of local insight from the friendly Azorean owner.
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