Nine charming volcanic islands

When you read about the Azores archipelago, these nine islands dotted in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean sound absolutely unreal. On a holiday there you can see cascading waterfalls and hike volcanic peaks, dip into thermal springs and cook food in the bubbling earth. Give way to herds of cows and eat local cheese, tuna and seafood, taste wine at a volcanic winery and go dolphin watching on the sea. The Azores is like nowhere else, com certeza.

Described as a cross between Iceland, New Zealand and Hawaii, the largest island São Miguel actually lives up to those claims. For now it’s the only island I’ve had the chance to visit, and we truly needed all five days to explore. Next trip I hope to make it a handful of smaller islands. The nine islands are split into three groups, and I hope to reach the central group with Faial, Graciosa, Pico, São Jorge and Terceira next. Each island is said to be as unique as the next and I imagine it’s all the more magic catching a ferry or small seaplane between them.

Then there’s just the tiny Santa Maria Island, which is near São Miguel, and the western group of islands, Corvo and Flores, to tick off.

The autonomous Portuguese region is located a two-and-a-bit hour flight from the mainland.

Best stops in the Azores Islands

The biggest island, São Miguel

Here expect 4-5 days of exploring forests, lagoons and lookouts, swimming in thermal pools and eating local steak or seafood.

Climb Portugal's highest peak, Pico

Surprise, Pico means peak and the top of the island is the highest in the country.

São Jorge for the cheese

And the surf. But mostly for the cheese.

Faial, for the views of Pico

There was an eruption in 1957 and the island gained 3km of land.

Best things to do on São Miguel

View the Sete Cidades lakes from the Vista do Rei lookout
Then go to the Boca do Inferno lookout
Boat out to Ilhéu de Vila Franca
Check the thermal activity at Furnas
Go whale watching
Swim in a forest at Caldeira Velha
Visit Lagoa do Fogo
Visit a tea plantation
Swim at Ponta da Ferraria at low tide
Kick back with black sand at Mosteiros
Eat Cozido das Furnas

What to eat in the Azores

Cozido dos Furnas – Cozido à Portuguesa is a classic and a Portuguese favourite. It’s a boiled stew with a variety of meats, sausages and cabbage. In the Azores they cook it in the hot volcanic earth at the town of Furnas. A big pot is submerged into the ground, covered over with dirt and left for half a day or more.

Limpets – keep an eye out for lapas grelhadasˆor grilled limpets. These are those conical shellfish you see attached to rocks by the beach. We were served them live at a lunch buffet by the owner!

Steak – As you criss-cross the island you’ll see plenty of cows roaming the gree pastures. Drop into the agricultural restaurant for an excellent steak.

São Jorge cheese – Usually aged for 12 months to three years, this hard cheese is sometimes referred to as Portugal’s parmesan.

Pineapple – grown on the island, these small and super sweet pineapples are expensive but delicious.

Tuna – A fresh tuna steak between bread is one of my favourite snacks. You can find it here served with yams too.

Bolo lêvedo – a flat, English muffin-like bread that is slightly sweet. Perfect for that tuna steak, or butter or jam or anything you like.

Alcatra  – a slow-cooked beef stew with red wine, onions, garlic, allspice and black peppercorns. Usually served with sweet, brioche-like bread.

Tea – It was the Portuguese that introduced the English to tea. And Europe’s only two tea plantations are found on São Miguel.

Wine – salty air and volcanic rock lend a unique character to Azorean wines bottled on Pico. The island has been producing wine for 500 years and is one of 14 Unesco World Heritage wine regions worldwide.

Where to stay

On São Miguel we split our time between the biggest city, Ponta Delgada, and small village in the northeast. I definitely recommend doing this. While out in the small village we got a great taste of local life and watched a horse-and-cart pass our window each morning, taking fresh milk to the town co-op.

How to get around

There are regular flights from mainland Portugal, the UK, US and some other European countries. Once you arrive at one of the bigger island airports, it’s possible to take a ferry or smaller plane to hop between the islands.

Once you are on an island, you’ll want to explore and since the Azores is known for its nature, hire a car so you can leave the cities and towns to seek it out. If you can’t drive, definitely join a tour to reach the more remote locations.

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I’m an Australian travel writer and food journalist who has been living in Lisbon since 2018. I started this blog as a place to share and record my love of Portugal.

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