Travel writer Ianthe Butt shares a snapshot of the best that São Miguel and Terceira have to offer…
We’ll jump at any chance to soak up the last of the summer sun, and if it’s somewhere off the beaten track, even better. Sitting 1400km west of Lisbon in the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores are certainly that. The so-called Hawaii of Europe, this chain of nine volcanic islands is a wild-at-heart, wildly underrated destination that’s (somewhat unbelievably) just a four-hour flight from London. With jagged basalt peaks and fumarolic fields spewing hot smoke into the air, Azorean scenery is straight-out-of-Jurassic-Park stuff – see it for yourself with travel writer Ianthe Butt’s mini guide.
In a nutshell: Nicknamed ‘The Green Island’, the Azores’ largest isle is all mist-shrouded mountains, subtropical gardens and thermal pools – an outdoor lovers’ dream.
What to do
Go crater lake hopping
São Miguel’s crater lakes are phenomenal and have been named one of Portugal’s seven natural wonders (the Azores are an autonomous Portuguese region). Don’t miss the sapphire and emerald-hued twin lake Sete Cidades, shimmering Lagoa do Fogo, and Lagoa das Furnas, where hydrothermal steam rises from the surrounding landscape.
(Scuba) dive in
The azure water here is so vivid, it’s hyperreal. Descend with the knowledgeable team at Season Challenge in Ponta Delgada to discover the Dori shipwreck and dark volcanic landscapes where silvery bogues and triggerfish dart. Prefer above-the-waves-action? Spot sperm whales by speedboat with Picos de Aventura instead.
Where to dine and drink
For farm-to-table feasts, Santa Barbara Eco Beach Resort
Above the north coast’s fizzing surf, chef André Fragoeiro whips up work-of-art meals, leaning on produce from the on-site farm. Think carrot and parsnip tureen with smoked oat yoghurt, silky beetroot risotto, and hazelnut tart with a five spice mousse.
For spa and sundowners, Octant Ponta Delgada
This hotel on the Ponta Delgada waterfront has a dinky spa, with a gilt-tiled pool and unknotting massage treatments that use Azorean laurel-infused essential oil. Afterwards, hit the cool rooftop Whale Watching bar for unrivalled marina views, and round things off with supper at A Terra, where chef Paulo Leite and pastry whizz Carlos Fernandes show off local ingredients with flair.
For gin lovers, The Gin Library
A tiny island in the Atlantic might seem an unlikely spot for Europe’s largest gin collection, but as it turns out, this cute spot inside the Solar Branco Eco Estate – run by gin aficionados Ali and Caroline Bullock — has shelves heaving with 603 different gins running the gamut from Surrey’s Silent Pool gin to the couples’ own Azorean creation, Baleia Gin. To really gin up, book in for a guided tasting.
Where to stay
For calm elegance, Sul Villas & SPA
A boutique bolthole on the south coast in Lagoa, which serves up swims with sweeping views of Santa Cruz church and ocean glimmer. Appealing villas have a smart seaside aesthetic with bamboo towel racks and driftwood artwork.
For decadent slumbers, WHITE Suites and Villas
Close by is ultra-luxe affair WHITE. It's previously all-white decor has been recently jazzed up; expect humbug-striped, daybeds ‘floating’ on the cliffside infinity pool, top-notch service, and spoiling suites with cloud-like beds and killer sea views.
For coworking getaways, Dwell Azores
Taking advantage of flexible working? Book in to community-focussed Dwell Azores in Fenais da Luz for Atlantic Ocean views and flashpacker-style accommodation.
In a nutshell: Rural pastures painted in broad brushstrokes across the volcanic landscape, a go-slow pace rubs up against heaps of maritime history.
What to do
Enjoy dreamy architecture
Historically an important stop-off for 16th-century ships seeking sanctuary, Angra do Heroísmo is all coastal charm. Whitewashed buildings rub up against facades in pistachio green and rose pink, along quaint cobblestone streets; don’t miss the 18th-century, baby blue Church of Misericórdia.
Take a dip
For next-level wild swimming, make for Biscoitos, where lava rock formations seem to melt into the sea. Here, hollowed out portions filled with the chilly ocean waves create refreshing natural bathing pools.
Where to drink and dine
For step-back-in-time dining, Quinta do Martelo
This cluster of restored farmhouses-turned-boutique accommodation offers a glimpse into days-gone-by life and fantastic food. Nibble on Terceiran cheese and pepper-drizzled potatoes, before lunching in the dining room, where vegetable soup, alcatra – a meaty pot roast – and orange custard cake are served.
For elevated local fare, Zenite Boutique Hotel and SPA
Make for the glitzy bar in this manor house turned hotel in Angra do Heroísmo and sip Azorean wines before tasting local specialities at the restaurant; the French toast with caramelised banana is a must-try.
Where to stay
For bay views, Terceira Mar
Sitting pretty in Fanal Bay, five minutes from Angra do Heroísmo, this coral-coloured property has a sunkissed, nostalgic vibe. Comfortable bedrooms have forest-green headboards and snuggly blankets, plus there’s a vast flower-shaped outdoor pool.
For sustainable, sky high thrills, Quinta do Abacate
Slumber suspended four metres in the air in a sky cocoon at a glampsite in the countryside not far from Angra do Heroísmo. Run by Joana and Frederico Ázera, choose from a selection of kooky domes erected in the farmland surrounding their off-grid home. Expect a picturesque pool, a wood-fired hot tub, and, an eco-friendly ethos.
To book flights from London Heathrow to São Miguel and Terceira visit ba.com.