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The Azores: Nine island gems with a volcanic past and a magical present

(CNN) — Traveling to a paradise on Earth does not essentially require a lengthy, arduous or perilous journey.

In reality, an unspoiled panorama paying homage to a fairytale is barely 5 hours from Boston and about 4 hours from the United Kingdom. It’s a land the place waterfalls cascade down iridescent inexperienced slopes; the place roads are rimmed with hydrangea hedges; and the place craggy coasts are blanketed with black sand seashores.

A lost-in-time high quality prevails, whether or not it is a hamlet of stone dwellings linked by cobbled paths, or locals who stay true to the outdated methods of planting crops on fertile plains on the base of sheer cliffs, or driving horse-drawn carts to ship milk to the cheese manufacturing facility.

Welcome to the Azores, a necklace of 9 enchanting islands that huddle in the course of the Atlantic however are a part of Portugal. The archipelago is an autonomous area positioned roughly 1,000 miles from the Portuguese mainland. The islands’ thermal swimming pools, lush calderas, crater lakes and steaming geysers all bear testomony to the violent volcanic forces that birthed them, but every isle has a distinctive character the place nature in its wildest state prevails.

Azores Airlines flies continuous to Ponta Delgada on São Miguel Island from Boston, and to Lajes on Terceira with a stopover in Ponta Delgada year-round. United (from Newark) and Azores Airlines (from JFK, on choose days) each have summer season nonstop service to Ponta Delgada. British Airways gives nonstop, summer season service on Saturdays.

After a direct hop to an archipelago seemingly a world away, here is what to anticipate on every island:



Flores is the westernmost island of the Azores. Though its title interprets to “flowers,” it is the plentiful our bodies of water that almost all outline this shockingly emerald inexperienced isle that is often shrouded in fog.

There are seven crater lakes speckling the undulating inside, together with the the forest inexperienced Lagoa Negra that sits proper beside the cobalt blue Lagoa Comprida, with a completely positioned miradouro (viewpoint) between them.

The side-by-side Lagoa Negra, left, and Lagoa Comprida make for a putting scene on Flores.

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Among the island’s verdant cliff partitions dripping with waterfalls, the highly effective Poco do Bacalhau cascades down 300 toes to a petite, swimmable pool.

Visitors who keep at Aldeia da Cuada, a centuries-old hamlet transformed into an atmospheric lodging of stone cottages furnished with native antiques and patchwork quilts, will take pleasure in views of plummeting waterfalls at their backdoor. This sanctuary embraces the straightforward pleasures of life, together with stargazing from a personal backyard.


With fewer than 500 inhabitants and one solitary city positioned on the one parcel of land at sea stage, Corvo is the smallest (and most distant) Azorean island, simply 4 miles lengthy and not even three miles huge.

Bird-watching is a popular activity on tiny Corvo.

Bird-watching is a common exercise on tiny Corvo.

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Still, this wee island (a remnant of an historic volcano about 10 miles north of Flores) is a famend paradise for bird-watchers, who gravitate right here particularly within the fall, hoping to identify yellow-billed cuckoos, Cory’s shearwaters and many different species.



For tons of of years, crusing vessels have made the capital port of Horta — famous for its boldly painted seawall — a stopover, together with people who navigated between the New and Old Worlds within the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Anchoring their yachts, many present-day skippers and crew nonetheless drop in on the close by Peter Cafe Sport, a greater than 100-year-old institution the place nautical memorabilia plasters the comfy inside. Their scrimshaw museum, devoted to the artform of carving and engraving whale tooth and bones, accommodates objects relationship way back to the late 1800s.
Vivid hydrangeas border roads along the route to Faial's western end.

Vivid hydrangeas border roads alongside the path to Faial’s western finish.

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Soccer ball-sized globes of sky-blue hydrangeas border roads and body homes alongside the path to the island’s western finish. This desolate, monochromatic space stands in stark distinction to buzzing, colourful Horta.

An total hamlet is buried in charcoal-black ash and different volcanic materials spewed a long time in the past from a prolonged undersea eruption. Capelinhos Volcano Interpretation Center has reveals telling the tales of this and different volcanoes.


The nearly 8,000-foot-tall Mt. Pico, Portugal’s highest peak, dominates the panorama on this island.

Mount Pico is Portugal's highest peak at 7,713 feet (2,351 meters).

Mount Pico is Portugal’s highest peak at 7,713 toes (2,351 meters).

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Here, it appears nearly the whole lot is constructed of black basalt lava stone, together with the mosaic of corrals surrounding the native grape vines which have warmed and protected them from the island’s blustery, salty breezes for hundreds of years.

It’s the fertile, mineral-rich volcanic soil that has put Pico on each true oenophile’s listing. The Cooperativa Vitivinicola, a greater than 70-year-old wine co-op in Madalena, the island’s capital, gives casual tastings that embrace verdelho, a crisp white produced from grapes endemic to this island.
In retaining with Pico’s close-to-the-land sensibility, the village-like Lava Homes resort relied on native stone and wooden within the building of its 14, many-windowed, modern villas.

São Jorge

Snaking by a panorama of untamed heather and Japanese cedar are scenic footpaths that terminate at fajãs, or cliff-backed fertile plains that had been shaped from landslides and historic lava flows.

One of probably the most beguiling is Fajã de Santo Cristo, accessed by way of a six-mile-long walkable donkey path that winds down from the cloud-covered summit of Serra de Topo. The route meanders past outdated watermills and gates of gnarled branches to the remoted, waterfront hamlet Fajã de Santo Cristo. Here residents have a tendency terraced gardens rising yams, cabbage, spinach and tomatoes.

Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo is a fertile plain at the base of a steep slope.

Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo is a fertile plain on the base of a steep slope.

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This coast attracts surfers who come for the purpose break waves. The island, nevertheless, is most famed for a culinary delicacy: their tangy cow’s milk cheese.

Queijo São Jorge remains to be produced by strategies relationship again centuries. This delectable cheese — it could be drizzled with honey — is served in eating places not solely on São Jorge (reminiscent of Fornos de Lava) but in addition on the opposite Azorean islands and mainland Portugal as properly.


Many of the signature sights on Graciosa present a dramatic schooling into the island’s volcanic origins.

Almost 200 steps spiral down into Furna do Enxofre, a lava cave of an lively volcano. It’s unsettling to search out out that, earlier than this stairway was constructed, locals lowered themselves down with ropes to entry ingesting water for his or her cattle.
Furna Do Enxofre on Graciosa island is an impressive lava cave.

Furna Do Enxofre on Graciosa island is a formidable lava cave.

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The sight on the backside is surreal. In distinction to the lake on the base brimming with chilly rainwater, the cave’s air is saturated with the odor of sulfur, and mud fumaroles bubble and boil at 180 F (82 C). Sunlight pours in by oculi within the ceiling, revealing yellow crystals shining on the boulder-riddled slopes.

In the spa village of Carapacho, geothermal vitality is used to warmth soaking swimming pools at Termas do Carapacho resort, which gives quite a few remedies, together with a sizzling stone therapeutic massage that depends on the island’s volcanic rocks.


While Pico’s black basalt provides that island the looks of black and white brushstrokes, Terceira in some ways makes use of a Crayola crayon palette.

Colorful facades entrance the streets within the capital, Angra do Heroismo, and shockingly painted — even violet-hued — imperios (chapels), sprinkle the verdant panorama.
Angra do Heroismo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, features brightly painted historic buildings.

Angra do Heroismo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, options brightly painted historic buildings.

Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Moment RF/Getty Images

On the north coast, the village of Biscoitos reveals off its volcanic origins with pure swimming pools of all sizes and depths puncturing the hardened black lava stretching throughout the port. Beside these, seashore towels, umbrellas and loungers may be set out for a day of sunning and soaking.

This city can also be dwelling to the family-owned Wine Museum the place artifacts from their greater than 100-year-old wine-making operation are on show inside and within the gardens.
Terceira’s Caparica Azores Ecolodge gives six trendy cabins huddled in a laurel forest. Art from native girls accents the minimalist interiors.


São Miguel

São Miguel is the most important Azorean isle and the place Ponta Delgada, the capital of the autonomous area of the Azores, is positioned. The island is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) lengthy and 9 miles (15 km) huge.
Ponta Delgada is the capital of the autonomous region of the Azores.

Ponta Delgada is the capital of the autonomous area of the Azores.

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It’s dwelling to what’s mentioned to be the world’s oldest business greenhouses rising pineapples and Europe’s oldest working tea plantation.

One of the island’s most heralded panorama is the Furnas Valley, a dormant crater that is draped with foliage and dotted with reminders of its volcanic past, together with inviting sizzling springs.

Within this valley, the centuries-old Terra Nostra Garden is especially magical. Shaded paths wind beside a serpentine canal, grottoes and endemic and unique vegetation, some greater than a century outdated.

Also scenically beautiful, with tree ferns and bunkers crammed with volcanic sand, is the 18-hole Furnas Golf Club that sits at 1,700 toes above sea stage.

In Ponta Delgada, friends staying at boutique property Senhora da Rosa really feel removed from the bustle of this capital metropolis, particularly when soaking in a small pool that is set in a pineapple greenhouse.

Santa Maria

Santa Maria is the most southern island in the Azores, boasting sunshine and golden sand beaches.

Santa Maria is probably the most southern island within the Azores, boasting sunshine and golden sand seashores.

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Santa Maria, probably the most southern of the Azores, will not be solely the sunniest of the islands, nevertheless it’s additionally the one one graced with golden sand seashores.

The greens and blues of the ocean, sky and valleys mingle at Miradouro da Pedra Rija, one in every of many viewpoints that makes for a pretty picnic spot. Forests of Japanese cedar cover the zig-zagging roads, generally beside paths bordered by Azorean blueberries and small orchids.

The hamlet of São Lourenco is particularly common in the summertime for its photogenic sandy stretch that is backed by a tapestry of outdated vineyards enclosed by black lava stone partitions.

The endearing seafront village of Anjos has a calm, pure pool, and the native watering gap Bar dos Anjos gives stellar views of the sundown to take pleasure in whereas nibbling grilled limpets (sea snails).

Jeanine Barone is a New York City-based journey author who focuses on Portugal and has visited the Azores many instances.



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