Azores: Nine island gems, including a volcanic past and a magical present

(CNN) – A journey to heaven on earth does not necessarily require a long, difficult or dangerous journey.

In fact, an unconventional landscape reminiscent of a fairy tale that is only five hours from Boston and about four hours from the United Kingdom. It is a land where waterfalls descend on steep green slopes; Where roads are paved with hydrangea hedges; And where the whimsical coast is covered with black sand beaches.

The quality of a lost time prevails, be it a village of stone habitat connected by a paved path, or the locals who are true to the old method of planting crops in the fertile plains at the foot of the hill, or deliver milk to the cheese factory by horse-drawn carriage.

Welcome to Azores, the necklace of nine fascinating islands that are stuck in the middle of the Atlantic but part of Portugal. The archipelago is an autonomous region about 1,000 miles from the Portuguese mainland. The island’s heat pools, alluring calderas, crater lakes, and steaming geysers bear witness to the violent volcanic eruptions that gave birth to them, yet each island has its own distinct character where nature prevails in its wild state.

Azores Airlines flies non-stop from Boston to Ponta Delgada on the island of Sওo Miguel and to Teresera Lodges, with stopovers at Ponta Delgada all year round. Both United (from Newark) and Azores Airlines (from JFK, on ​​selected days) have summer non-stop services in Ponta Delgada. British Airways offers non-stop, summer service on Saturdays

Here’s what to expect on each island, after a direct walk to an archipelago of seemingly one world away:

Western islands

Flores

Flores is the westernmost island of Azores. Although its name translates to “flower”, it is the abundant water source that defines this dazzling emerald green island that is frequently shrouded in fog.

They have a perfect Miraduro (viewpoint), including Forest Green Lagoa Negra, sitting right next to the cobalt blue Lagoa Comprida.

As well as the adjoining Negra, the left, and the adjoining Comprida Flores create an interesting view.

As well as the adjoining Negra, the left, and the adjoining Comprida Flores create an interesting view.

javarman / adobe stock

Drenched with waterfalls within the island’s green wall, the mighty Poco do Bacalhau descends 300 feet into a small, swimming pool.

Visitors to Aldeia da Cuada, a century-old village transformed into an atmospheric dwelling of stone cottages decorated with local antiques and patchwork quilts, will enjoy the view of the waterfall at their back door. The sanctuary embraces the simple pleasures of life, including stargazing from a private garden

Corvo

With less than 500 inhabitants and a secluded town situated on a single parcel of land above sea level, Corvo is the smallest (and most remote) Azorian island, only four miles long and not even three miles wide.

Bird watching is a popular activity in the tiny cormorant.

Bird watching is a popular activity in the tiny cormorant.

Jacob / Adobe stock

Nevertheless, this tiny island (remnant of an ancient volcano about 10 miles north of Flores) is a famous paradise for bird-watchers, who gravitate here especially in the autumn, hoping to see the yellow-billed cuckoo, Cory’s shearwater and many other species. .

Central Islands

Beach

For hundreds of years, sailing ships have built the capital port of Horta – famous for its boldly painted seals – a stopover that sailed between the New and Old Worlds in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Anchoring their yachts, many of the current captains and crew still descend on the nearby Peter Cafe Sport, a more than 100-year-old installation where nautical memorabilia plaster the cozy interior. They have items from the late 1800s, dedicated to the Screamsh Museum, the art of carving whale teeth and bones, and engraving.
Bright hydrangeas border road along the west end route of the file.

Bright hydrangeas border road along the west end route of the file.

Schlierner / Adobe Stock

Sky-blue hydrangeas border road along the route on the west side of the island and a football ball-shaped globe in the frame house. This desolate, monotonous area stands in stark contrast to the buzzing, colorful Horta.

An entire village is buried in charcoal-black ash and other volcanic elements that emerged decades ago from eruptions under the long sea. The Capelinhos Volcano Interpretation Center has exhibitions telling stories about this and other volcanoes.

Pico

At about 8,000-feet, Mount Pico, Portugal’s highest peak, dominates the island’s landscape.

Mount Pico is Portugal's highest peak at 7,713 feet (2,351 meters).

Mount Pico is Portugal’s highest peak at 7,713 feet (2,351 meters).

rvdschoot / Adobe Stock

Here, almost everything seems to be made of black basalt lava rock, including coral mosaics around the local vineyards that have kept them warm and protected from the island’s fuzzy, salty winds for centuries.

It is the fertile, mineral-rich volcanic soil that puts Pico on the list of every true oenophile. Cooperative Vitivinicola, a 70-year-old wine co-op in Madeleine, the island’s capital, offers informal flavors, including Verdaleho, a crisp white from local grapes on the island.
In keeping with Pico’s near-land sensitivity, the village-like Lava Homes Resort relies on local stone and wood to build its 14, multi-windowed, contemporary villas.

Saint George

Snacking through the landscape of wild heather and Japanese cedar is the natural sidewalk that is made up of fuzzy or cliff-backed fertile plains created by landslides and ancient lava flows.

One of the most enticing is the Faza de Santo Cristo, accessed via a six-mile-long walkable donkey trail that descends from the peak of the best de Topo clouds. The trail is past the old waterworks and the gated branch gates in the isolated, waterfront village of Faza de Santo Cristo. Residents cultivate yam, cabbage, spinach and tomatoes in the roof garden.

Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo is a fertile plain at the foot of a steep slope.

Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo is a fertile plain at the foot of a steep slope.

DanitaDelimont.com/Adobe Stock

This coast attracts surfers who come for the Point Break Wave. The island, however, is most famous for a culinary dish: their tangy cow’s milk cheese.

Queijo São Jorge is still produced by the method many centuries ago. This delicious cheese – it can be powdered with honey – is served not only in S সাo Jর্r (me (e.g. Fernোs de lava), but also in other Azorian islands and mainland Portugal.

Merciful

The many signature sights of Graciosa provide a dramatic lesson about the origins of the island’s volcanoes.

The active volcanic lava spirals about 200 steps into the cave Furna do Enxophre. It is uncomfortable that, before the stairs were built, the locals lowered them with ropes for drinking water for their cattle.
Furna do Enxofre is an impressive lava cave on the island of Graciosa.

Furna do Enxofre is an impressive lava cave on the island of Graciosa.

Stefano / Adobe stock

The scene below is surreal. In contrast to the early lakes filled with cold rainwater, the cave air is filled with the sulfur odor and the mud continues to bubble bubbles and erupt at 180 Fahrenheit (82 centigrade). Sunlight pours through the oakuli on the roof, revealing yellow crystals on the muddy slope of the rock.

In the village of Carapacho Spa, geothermal energy is used to heat the wet pool at the Termas do Carapacho resort, providing numerous treatments, including a hot stone massage, depending on the volcanic rocks of the island.

Third

Although Pico’s black basalt gives the island a black-and-white brushstroke look, Teresira uses a Creola crayon palette in many ways.

The colorful facades of the capital’s streets, the Angra do Hiroismo, and the strikingly painted – even purple – Imperios (chapels), scatter the green landscape.
Angra do Heroismo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, features brightly painted historic buildings.

Angra do Heroismo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, features brightly painted historic buildings.

Jose A. Barnett Bassett / Moment RF / Getty Images

On the north coast, the village of Bisquitos shows the source of its volcanoes where natural pools of all sizes and depths pierce the hard black lava that pervades the harbor. Beside these, beach towels, umbrellas and loungers can be set for sunny and wet days.

The town also has a family-owned wine museum where exhibits of their more than 100-year-old winemaking activities are on display inside and in the garden.
Terceira’s Caparica Azores Ecolodge offers six modern cabins nestled in a laurel forest. Art minimalist interior accents from local women.

Eastern Islands

Sao Miguel

Sao Miguel is the largest Azorian island and is home to Ponta Delgada, the capital of the Azores Autonomous Region. The island is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) long and 9 miles (15 kilometers) wide.
Ponta delgada is the capital of the Azores Autonomous Region.

Ponta delgada is the capital of the Azores Autonomous Region.

Daliu / Adobe stock

It is said to be home to the world’s oldest commercial greenhouse pineapple and Europe’s oldest tea garden.

One of the island’s most recognizable landscapes is the Farnas Valley, a dormant hole lined with foliage and inviting dotted hot springs with reminders of past volcanoes.

In this valley, the century-old Terra Nostra Garden is particularly magical. The shady path winds along a serpentine canal, groto and local and exotic vegetation, some more than a century old.

Naturally stunning, 18-hole Furnas Golf Club located 1,700 feet above sea level, with volcanic sand-filled tree ferns and bunkers.

In Ponta Delgada, guests at the boutique property Senhora da Rosa feel far away from the hustle and bustle of this capital city, especially when soaking in a small pool set in a pineapple greenhouse.

Santa Maria

Santa Maria is the southernmost island of the Azores, with proud sun and golden sand beaches.

Santa Maria is the southernmost island of the Azores, with proud sun and golden sand beaches.

Klara Bakalarova / Adobe Stock

Santa Maria, the southernmost of the Azores, is not only the most sunny of the islands, it is also the only golden sand beach.

The green and blue of the sea, the sky and the valley merge into the Miradouro da Pedra Riza, one of the many sights that make for a beautiful picnic spot. Japanese cedar forests encircle jig-jagging roads, sometimes along paths surrounded by Azorian blueberries and small orchids.

The village of S সাo Lorenco is especially popular in the summer for its photogenic sandy expanses supported by old vineyard tapestries surrounded by black lava stone walls.

The favorite seaside village of Anjos has a quiet, natural pool and the local water hole Bar dos Anjos offers great views of the sunset to enjoy while swallowing the grilled limpet (sea snail).

Jeanine Baron is a New York City-based travel writer who specializes in Portugal and has visited Azore many times.

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