The Azores may just be Portugal’s best-kept secret. So secret in fact, that you can’t even spot it on Google maps unless you’re seriously zoomed in. Two hours west of mainland Portugal, scattered amidst the Atlantic Ocean, sits a cluster of nine volcanic islands, each with their own charm.
São Miguel is the largest, and most diverse island, which is why it was our basecamp for our week-long trip. With the help of our questionably reliable rental car (automatic transmission isn’t really a thing there), we were able to explore every inch of the island. Our days were filled with hikes leading to postcard-worthy views; lush, immaculate landscapes; curvy, potentially vertigo-invoking coastal drives; crossing paths with a street light only once the whole week; abandoned buildings growing older each day; and copious amounts of Portuguese wine.
WHAT TO EAT
The local fare focuses heavily on what is available on the island –— as in fresh fish caught off the coast, cozido, an assorted meat and vegetable stew slow cooked in the island’s geysers, and Queijadas de Vila Franca, a traditional pastry refined by nuns in convents during the 1600s.
A Tasca: This was hands down our favorite restaurant. Their fish selection was unparalleled (if only I could find triggerfish in North America), and I’m still dreaming of their pineapple cake -— filled with fresh pineapple, perfectly textured, and totally messy. So good.
Cais 20: The highlight here was their killer grilled limpets (as in mini sea snails).
Terra Nostra: If the limpets aren't adventurous enough for you, then be sure to try the cozido stew at Terra Nostra's restaurant. Like other cozidos the stew is a mixture of less common meats cooked in the island's geysers, which gives it a sulfur-y undertone. True, it is not for the faint of heart, but definitely worth trying.
WHERE TO STAY
We split our time between the east, and central; in hindsight, I would recommend staying in Ponta Delgada and taking day trips from there. Pack a lunch for daily picnics, and enjoy dinner in the 'city', where options are abundant.
SEEING THE SITES
The island is small enough to drive in one day, but there is so much to see, and do, that you can easily spend a week touring around.
Furnas: Then there were the thermal baths in Furnas. Nothing beats walking off a flight and going for a dip in a natural bathtub. The water at Terra Nostra is charged with minerals, making the water an eery, though fantastic, orange colour (be careful for your whites).
Pineapple Plantation: Finally, there were the pineapples. Have you ever been to a pineapple plantation? Or seen a pineapple before its mature? It is truly incredible. The plantation produced ice cream, jams, chutneys and mustards – be sure to try them ALL.
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All photos by Shelley Ludman