A visit to the Azores with Sunvil
Put quite simply the Azores are stunning. I
had never visited before and I guess like most people I only knew about them from
the weather forecast with the usual “High over the Azores” announcement. Only a
three and a half hour flight from the UK the nine islands that rise from the
middle of the Atlantic are bathed in the warmth of the Gulf Stream and so have
good weather all year around.
An autonomous region of Portugal the
islands are characterized by dramatic landscapes, fishing villages, green pastures
and hedgerows of blue hydrangeas but each one is totally different. With the
people being so friendly and food so cheap, I frequently had meals for less
than 12 Euros with wine. With relatively few tourists the islands reminded me
of Mallorca fifty years ago.
I went with Sunvil
who I found offered excellent service from organising inter island flights to
car hire and representatives who I found to be extremely helpful. I was just
there to visit two of the islands but I met couples who Sunvil had arranged for
them to visit five or even six over a two-week period.
Landing on Sao Miguel, the main Island, the
capital Ponta Delgada reminds you of Lisbon with its mosaics patterned pavements
and squares and white colonial buildings that seem to have been plucked from
the hillside above Oporto and dropped here.
Sao Miguel is the biggest island of the
archipelago, some 40 miles in length and 9 miles at its maximum width it is
dominated by beautiful highlands. All the islands have so much to offer from
casual exploration of their incredible volcanic scenery, history and culture to
special activities such as birdwatching, riding and walking. In fact, the islands
give amazing walking whether it be on the clifftop paths or looking down on the
tree lined lakes that now fill the old volcanic craters. They are also a popular
destination for cycling/mountain biking and whale watching.
The latter is what most people who come to
the Azores try to do as it is one of the best destinations in the world for
this activity with Sperm, Blue and Humpback whales all seen. I took a trip on a
rib with seven other people that skipped across into the Atlantic and were soon
joined by a pod of some sixty dolphins, some with young, that played, breached
and leapt from the water and seemed to be smiling at us and so close that’s at
times I felt I could touch them. Indeed, some people in other boats were
snorkelling with them!
Later that day Sunvil had arranged for me
to visit Quinta De Terca who offer tour rides in the spectacular island
landscape - for horse and nature lovers, this is paradise. If you want to spend
a week or just a few days exploring the island on horseback they will arrange
it for you. I hadn’t ridden a horse for
some twenty years and there is no doubt for those of you who enjoy riding one
of the best ways to discover, explore and enjoy this exciting island is on
They will be happy to make a special
program just for you and your group. Experienced riders or beginners, everyone
is welcome. What I particularly like is that many of the horses have been
rescued from farms around the island, brought back to health and now enjoy a
happy existence with others.
That night I strolled out in the streets of
the capital for a beer and a meal in the bars that line the old area around the
centre. As a general rule, Azorean cuisine tends to be much more country rustic
than mainland Portugal’s (this is not a hard and fast rule, but is generally
The cheeses are superb and there are
different types all of which you have to try. Pineapples, are grown on Sao Miguel, you can get a really good tour of
the plantation, and they are frequently seen on the menu of restaurants for
dessert and are a nice alternative to to the richly sweet flans and tarts that
are very yummy!
The next morning, I was taken to the
airport to board my flight to stay on the western most island, Flores some
ninety minutes away. Top tip here, do get yourself a window seat, you can’t
book one you just have to get near the front of the queue, as you fly over the
five islands that form the central group of the archipelago and it’s an amazing
Flores is truly beautiful island, its name
means flowers and if you come here in June or July you’ll see why. Even in
September I was amazed by the colours and indeed I can only image what the
Hydrangea hedgerows must be like. Only 9 miles long and seven miles wide this
tiny speck in the Atlantic has a population of about 3,000 and very few cars!
The capital Santa Cruz is the size of a
large UK village and has a fascinating whaling museum, once the mains source of
income for the island. There are one to two bars and restaurants but the gems
are there if you look. We found a restaurant tucked away behind a supermarket
which you approached by a long alley. With
its Formica tables and metal chairs it reminded me the roadside cafes of my
youth but the food was outstanding and so cheap. A cheese starter for two Euros
consisted of a soft white cheese the size of a small Christmas pudding, half a
loaf of delicious locally baked bread and a spicy tomato sauce!
There are boat trips you can take with the
local fisherman and hotels who will take you round the island and a ferry goes
to the neighbouring island of Corvo, essentially the top of a volcano that is
peeping out of the ocean, for the day. Sunvil can organise a jeep tour or taxi
of the island for you which is amazing as the views and waterfalls are
Flores and Corvo are very popular with birdwatchers
in autumn and spring especially as the wind can bring America species. However the
beauty of this place is that it is the most westerly point of Europe and still
isolated and underdeveloped from the tourist point of view. The same is true of
all the other islands so do and go and visit before it’s too late and they catch up with.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Sunvil.