Condé Nast Traveler once proclaimed the Azores to be “Europe’s most exotic islands” and it’s certainly true that this cluster of nine sub-tropical islands, representing the visible peaks of gigantic underwater mountains, are very different to any of the islands in the Mediterranean.
However, the Azores are not so easily summed up as exotic… in fact, they seem to be an enigma wrapped up in a relative mystery. For years, these nine islands were the undiscovered secret of Portugal, relatively unnoticed as a vacation destination, but with direct flights from North America now often available, that is changing.
It is almost impossible to envisage a place better suited for enthusiasts of adventure sports, nature, and environmental sustainability.
Fortunately, the 250,000 Azoreans that populate the islands remain passionate about the conservation of their unspoilt environment, with just 5% of the land subject to construction. This drive for sustainability means you can find a wealth of marine reserves and preserved zones thriving with tropical birds and alluring wildlife.
Terceira, the third largest island in the archipelago, has the greatest cultural and historical legacy, while Flores is the furthest away from mainland Europe and the most virgin of them all; it offers the nature lover dramatic landscapes that can’t be dissimilar to what explorers discovered when they arrived in the rain forest of the New World. But the largest and the best known of the islands – and certainly the location most suited for the luxury traveler – is the island of São Miguel.
After visiting the Azores a number of times, here we give our candid thoughts on the island we know best – São Miguel – to help you plan an unforgettable vacation.
When it comes to accommodation on São Miguel, it’s essential for the discerning traveler to have realistic expectations. Our job is to help manage those expectations! We can recommend where we think couples and families are going to be best off, based on individual preferences and budget.
Sitting in the middle of the Atlantic, it’s inevitable that the weather is not as consistent as the benign climates of the Balearic Islands. Even in summer, there are many days when clouds descend and when visibility can upset carefully planned activities.
There are great activities on the water which we can recommend to travelers. Some of the experiences Madrid & Beyond can arrange include whale and dolphin watching ; a private catamaran charter, which includes time at the islet just off São Miguel with swimming in the protected warmer waters of its ‘lagoon’; sunset catamaran cruises – on a clear evening, the sunsets in the Azores are stunning; big game fishing within 60 minutes of the island or coastal fishing 30 minutes away; or activities more suited to families such as surfing or scuba diving.
Back on the land, Sao Miguel is all about nature, landscapes and scenery and its vast green woodland is easily explored with bike trails and by foot. In close collaboration with our expert guides, we aim for travelers to experience the very best of the island in the most exclusive way possible. This is best done by hiking or combining hikes with scenic visits. Our favorite hike is the “Hell’s Fire Trek” which takes the walker through tunnels, Jurassic vegetation, and majestic scenery.
On less active days, we can arrange other activities such as 4×4 tours to Sete Cidades and Furnas; visits to the hot geysers and geothermal pools with the option of a swim; or a visit to the only tea plantation in Europe.
Arguably the best time to visit the Azores is from June to September when the weather is warm, and rain stays way – a great time for whale watching, sailing, or fishing. To see the island’s famous azaleas and hydrangeas in flower, June and July are best. Talk to the Madrid & Beyond team about planning your perfect Azorean getaway!