The Azores are a chain of nine volcanic islands 850 miles West of Continental Portugal, nearly smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic. They are mostly agrarian with a growing tourism industry, and are known for their natural beauty, cheese, and wine. Three things I happen to love. Visiting the Azores has been on our bucket list for the last few years but because of their location, and previous flight restrictions, it seemed out of reach with our current budget and time constrictions.
That was until one day Kevin sent me a link to a TravelZoo deal for a week on Terceira Island, including round trip flights direct from Boston. Sold. I bought the tickets about 20 minutes later and text Kevin to let him know we were spending Christmas in the Azores.
We got an overnight flight, landing in early morning on Terciera where we picked up our rental car and drove what would be our base camp at Hotel Pousada Angra do Heroismo. The hotel is located in (you guessed it!) Angra do Heroismo, built inside the walls of an old Portuguese sea fort providing the rooms with unique ocean views.
We planned on spending most of our time in Angra with a trip to Soa Miguel taking up only 2 nights. Angra do Heroismo was charming, reminding both of us of the town where we met: Monterey, California. It was a quiet coastal town catering to tourists, but with enough local charisma to make it seem down to earth. We spent our days eating, drinking excellent coffee and wine, and enjoying the sleepy atmosphere of the island during the off-season.
Sao Miguel, being the largest island and most popular for vacations, was more lively than Terceira. We stayed at Terra Nostra Garden Hotel in Furnas over Christmas. We decided to splurge on the hotel so we could have access to the on site gardens and thermal pools past their public hours, and more practically not to have to worry about finding food over the holiday. It was worth the money just to have the access to the thermal pools, which were my favorite part of this trip. Set inside vast gardens, the natural volcanic thermal pools provide a serene place to relax, only steps away from the hotel.
Adega Simas, Biscoitos
At first glace this place looks like any other home on the island, partially because that’s what it is. but the family who lives there runs a small winery out of their home and will invite you in to taste and purchase their vintages, as well as some homemade jams and preserves.
Angra do Heroismo
If you only have one day on Terciera, spend it in Angra do Heroismo. It’s narrow stone paved streets open up to the harbor where you can see schools of brightly colored fish swimming in the crystal clear water. Monte Brasil provides a dramatic backdrop for the town as well as some great walking trails with stunning views of the coastal towns on either side.
Restaurante Snack-Bar Rocha, Porto Judeu
The best meal we had on Terciera. Order the octopus cooked in a tile.
Miradouro Da Serra Do Cume
A scenic viewpoint overlooking Praia da Vitoria and the largest, flattest part of the island. It doesn’t sound cool, but check out the view
Fresh local cheese. If you ask to taste a few varieties plan on it counting as lunch, the serving sizes are large. Enjoy your cheese with an espresso on their deck overlooking the ocean.
Misterios Negros Trail
A decent hike that winds through the black volcanic hills of the island.
Sao Miguel Highlights
Terra Nostra Garden and Hotel, Furnas
Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, it’s worth visiting the gardens and thermal pools. They are open to the public daily, but they can get crowded some come early. While you’re there, have lunch at the hotel restaurant. They serve traditional food cooked in the caldeiras. If eating food cooked via volcanic activity isn’t you’re forte, they have plenty of other fare to chose from.
Caldeira das Sete Cidades, Sete Cidades
The views of Lagoa Azul, nestled in the bottom of a volcanic crater, are spectacular. You can hike the whole rim, or just take in the highlights.
Gorreana, Plantações de Chá Gorreana
The oldest and only surviving tea plantation in all of Europe