Alex takes a trip to the Azores, read all about it
Until Steve Newman wrote about the Azores back in Special 143, I’d only heard of them in passing – and definitely couldn’t point them out on a map.
Before long, I was hearing about them everywhere – and when somebody described them as the “Hawaii of Europe”, we knew we had to go!
These bright green islands are about 850 miles off the Portugese coast, and only about 1200 miles away from Canada. Being volcanic, they’re steep and dramatic, riddled with high peaks and lush calderas – and hot springs, which we went to stew in on an almost daily basis.
Flying to the Azores
Just under four hours flight time from Manchester, the capital of the biggest island – Sao Miguel – is Ponta Delgada. With around 30,000 inhabitants, even that’s not huge, and the result is a really laid-back feeling town.
Normally, the first day of driving in a new place is a bit hairy, but despite expecting the traffic to suddenly appear around each and every corner, it never did. The roads aren’t empty, but they’re certainly not busy.
Nowhere’s far to drive, either – the other end of the island was less than an hour away from us. We could be in the supermarket one minute, up on the rim of a caldera for a sunset 20 minutes later, and back cooking tea in the kitchen 20 minutes after that.
Flowers in the Azores
Hydrangeas populate every hedgerow around the island, as does the ginger lily, which is a little less welcome, listed as a “weed of concern”. A local child showed us how to pluck the flowers of this plant and suck the nectar out from them – surprisingly tasty.
With a temperature that only varies between 18 and 24 deg. C. all year round (although we had one day up at 32.5, and it’s worth remembering the humidity is usually very high), it’s a great year-round destination and it’s no surprise that everything grows well.
Tea in the Azores
The islands are home to Europe’s only tea plantation, and cuttings from here were used to start the Tregothnan Estate in Cornwall. After the orange trade collapsed here, they decided to branch out into tea, enlisting the help of two Chinese tea masters to make sure they got it right. The leaves are picked with the help of a motor cutting machine held by four workers.
They also grow pineapples, though even somewhere this warm they still need greenhouses to get the best fruit. When they’re near ripeness, they smoke them in the greenhouses, and this brings them all to readiness at the same time.
Weather changes in the Azores
As Brits, we were endlessly fascinated with the weather. Forget Scotland’s reputation as a changeable country, the forecast out here couldn’t predict an hour ahead, let alone a day! The only land mass for miles around, clouds would snag on the mountain tops, and it could move between a heavy rain storm and clear blue skies within half an hour. Importantly, though, it was never cold!
Dolphin and Whale watching
The seas are full of whales and dolphins, which I was lucky enough to see before the big Atlantic rollers made me feel a bit queasy. It was a good thing, then, that we had decided not to travel by ferry to any of the other islands. They were too far to do in a week anyway – the farthest end of the archipelago is almost 250 miles distant.
It’s as lovely a place as it’s nearby sister island Madeira, and well worth a visit if you’re looking for a bit of sun at almost any time of year. Winter can get a bit rainy, but then all you have to do is wait half an hour! The growing reputation of these islands is well-deserved, but apparently things are changing fast – most travel writers are advising you visit while they still have their untouched charm.
I also discovered recently that we have subscribers to The People’s Friend who live in the Azores – hi!
If you live there or know someone that lives there and want a subscription I really should let you know that this is possible. A subscription to The People’s Friend is €128.82 (euros) you can either call us on Freephone 0800 318 846 (UK) or +44 (0)1382 575580 (Overseas) – note our Contact Centre is open from 8am to 6pm, Mon- Fri and 9am – 5pm, Saturday (UK times) you can buy in Euros. Or pop online to our shop (note online you will pay in sterling and it will be £114).