10 reasons to holiday in the Azores – from dolphin spotting to volcano walk

SAIL about a thousand miles west from Portugal and you’ll reach the Azores – a group of unspoilt islands plonked in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Terceira, nicknamed the Lilac Island because of the purple hydrangeas that line its streets in summer, was the third of the group to be discovered, around 1445.

Terceira is one of the unspoiled and remote islands in The Azores


Terceira is one of the unspoiled and remote islands in The AzoresCredit: Shutterstock

Rupert Parker shares ten reasons to holiday in this Portuguese outpost.

CLASSIC SIGHT: Capital Angra do Heroismo’s old town and port, with fortresses on each side, is an absolute must.

Treasure ships called here on their way back from India and the Americas and all the money was invested in building beautiful palaces, grand monasteries and spectacular churches.

Sadly, an earthquake destroyed 70 per cent of the town in 1980, but it has been faithfully rebuilt and now has Unesco World Heritate status.

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FUN NEIGHBOURHOOD: There’s a distinct holiday vibe in Praia da Vitoria, Terceira’s second largest town.

It has a sheltered bay and long sandy beach, plus a promenade that’s lined with charming cafes and restaurants.

Pedestrianised streets lead off the main square, Praca Francisco Ornelas da Camara, which is known for its fantastic shops and has a great market hall selling local produce.

THE WOW MOMENT: In the centre of the island, Algar do Carvao is one of the only volcanoes in the world where you can walk inside — and it is a magnificent site to behold.

The 100m long giant lava tube is the result of an eruption 2,000 years ago.

You enter through a vertical chimney, which leads to an immense cave known as the Cathedral.

Go even deeper and the walls begin to change colour until you reach a crystal-clear underground lake.

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NEW FOR 2022: Walk the new 23-mile long GR01 TER West Great Route, which covers the west of the island.

There are also a handful of circular short walks scattered around and an easy hike from Angra do Heroismo explores the extinct small volcano of Monte Brasil, just above the old town.

FANTASTIC FEAST: The dish Alcatra, which is beef slow-cooked in red wine in an earthenware pot, is the island’s speciality and it’s on the menu at Quinta do Martelo, in Sao Mateus da Caleta.

The harbour here also has excellent fish restaurants — the best is perhaps Beira Mar, which serves grouper, rock fish, squid and seafood aplenty.

In Angra, try cake Queijada da Dona Amelia at O Forno — it was originally baked for the Portuguese queen in 1901.

Local wines from Biscoitos area are particularly good.

Angra Harbour was once docked in by treasure ships as a stop off on their adventures


Angra Harbour was once docked in by treasure ships as a stop off on their adventuresCredit: Shutterstock

CULTURAL FIX: The Museu de Angra do Heroismo, in the old Convent of Sao Francisco, tells the city’s story through collections of armour, furniture and a hall full of carriages.

In the north, the Museu do Vinho dos Biscoitos, in the heart of the wine area, has small demonstration vineyards and free tastings.

TOP TOUR: The Azores are on the main whale and dolphin migration route and Terceira is a particularly good spot for sightings, as the ocean gets deep quickly.

From land you can spot 28 species of whales (about a third of all whales, dolphins, and porpoises), including blue whales.

Alternatively, book a tour from Angra do Heroismo or Praia da Vitoria, which operate year round.

WITH THE KIDS: Rock pools are scattered around the coast, but the most beautiful and shallow ones can be found at Biscoitos, which also has toilets and changing rooms.

While little ones are exploring, adults can bathe in the tranquil waters, watching the Atlantic rollers crash on to the rocks.

The largest sandy beach is in Praia da Vitoria, and there’s also a small beach in Angra, both of which are calm and protected.

The beach at Porto Martins is a spectacular setting


The beach at Porto Martins is a spectacular settingCredit: Shutterstock

ONE MORE TREAT: The Underwater Archaeological Park at the Bay of Angra is a subterranean world of history.

Organised dives will take you to the Cemetery Of Anchors, a watery graveyard. The bay is also littered with more than 70 shipwrecks.

THE GRAND HOTEL: The cliff-top Pousada Forte Angra do Heroismo combines history with luxury in the 1555 Castelo de Sao Sebastiao.

The 28 rooms surround an elegant swimming pool and Jacuzzi and the restaurant specialises in traditional cuisine, with wonderful views over the bay.

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