When asked what came to mind when they thought of taking a holiday to a set of beautiful islands, many would immediately see themselves on a tropical white sand beach with a large umbrella over their head, and a rum drink in their hand as a calm sea lapped at their feet.
Balmy temperatures and palm trees may be what most people fantasize, but when posed with this travel question, I believe we should think differently. Some fantastic sights lie out of this ingrained paradise if you know where to look.
Azores Island Hopping The 9 Pearls of the Atlantic Ocean
One suggestion would be a European group of islands by the name of the Azores, situated approximately 800 miles off the continental coast of Portugal.
The Azores are made up of 9 islands in total and are a part of a subtropical island chain that was created from volcanic eruptions. The largest of which being São Miguel Island followed by São Jorge Island, Flores Island, Graciosa Island, Terceira Island, Pico Island, Faial Island, Santa Maria Island, with Corvo Island being the smallest. These islands may not possess a tropical feel but do compensate with the charm and lure of the varying landscape which includes volcanoes, harsh cliff sides, lush green farmlands, crisp cedar forests and fragrant blue hydrangeas.
One island has been nicknamed the Blue Island for the number of these blue flowers that fashion its streets and hillsides. Just past all the lures of land in the great blue yonder is extraordinary sea life. Ocean caves and schools of majestic fish for those who like to explore below the surface. Tours for whale watching, dolphin, and sea-lion spotting for those who prefer to take in the view from above.
The Paradise Called Faial in the Islands of the Azores Portugal
Luckily for me, I had the pleasure of visiting Faial and spending four wonderful weeks on what I can only call a paradise that most people wouldn’t think of, possibly because they’ve never heard of it.
Known by the natives as Ilha do Faial, the island is known for its reverence towards the writings of Portuguese poet Raul Brandão, and the large number of hydrangeas that bloom during the summer months.
Getting here is not as difficult as one may imagine. There are three major airports between the islands with multiple flights per day and numerous long-distance ferries which run between the island group as they are spaced out between a hundred miles. I did have the rare opportunity of arriving on my yacht, a 34-foot sailboat named Serendipity. Although the 29 days at sea since my last port may have added to the mystery and the marvel of landfall, I would go back in a heartbeat by plane, submarine, or on the back of an albatross if that is what it would take me to get there.
The Picturesque Town of Horta for your Azores Holiday
After stepping on to land after what I can’t refer to as a gruelling passage since we drifted across the Atlantic while sitting in the Azores High, we were greeted with the picturesque town of Horta on Faial Island as it was hosting its yearly Sea Week. A tribute to the sailors who pass through this port on their way from one continent to another, filled with nights of music, food vendors, and traditional dancers.
Being the largest town on the island, one can find things to indulge in here. As a primary stop for yachts crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the walls of the marina are decorated with paintings made by the visitors that portray their vessel, people or year they visited Horta.
Be sure to visit Peter’s Cafe Sport, a bar that contains the island’s scrimshaw museum. “Scrimshaw” is a term that refers to carvings done in ivory or bone. In this case, whale jawbone and tooth.
The festivities fill ten full days and are always hosted on the first weekend of August through the following weekend. Full of regattas, parades and a large stage playing the country’s most popular bands, the celebration is brought to an end with a ‘fireworks’ display over the harbour. Fire lanterns set up in the sky by the dozens, perfectly outlined by the volcanic crest of Pico behind them.
Getting ourselves out of the main town for a bit, we spent one day on the back of a scooter (rental cars are also available) as we zipped around the island. A highly recommended method of transportation as the island is still small enough to see everything in 1-2 days, and you still have the opportunity to take in your surroundings easily.
Hiking the Capelinhos in the Azore Islands of Portugal
Some highlights to see on your trip around the island should include the caldera (a large volcanic crater) and the Capelinhos, a monogenetic volcano which is part of a complex that contains 20 scoria cones and lava fields. After you’ve done your hiking through the area there, a lovely enclosed pool of refreshing Atlantic water awaits a dip on your exit of the grounds.
Whether taking in the rugged sights of the volcanoes, strolling the open fields with views of Pico in the distance, or just sipping wine and grabbing a bite to eat at one of the many European cafés, Faial and its neighbouring islands have something to offer everyone.
So ditch the palm trees and rum drinks for once and experience something offbeat and exotic, full of moments that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.
Jessica is one half of the crew of s/v Serendipity, the “J” to MJ Sailing. Jessica and her husband Matt have taken off to see the world on their 34-foot sailboat, having left from Lake Michigan in 2012. In the last two and a half years they’ve covered parts of the Caribbean and Central America. The most recent leg of their journey had brought them across the Atlantic where Europe was in their grasp until they bought a new boat in the States and turned around to sail back to it.