From UNESCO-listed vineyards to extreme watersports, Nicola Trup explores the best of the Azores, one island at a time
The largest of the nine islands, Sao Miguel’s headline attraction is Setes Cidades — twin lakes sitting within the crater of a dormant volcano. The village of Furnas boasts a crater lake, bubbling hot springs and fumaroles; locals even cook stews in the geothermal ground.
Don’t miss: Walk from spring to spring in Furnas tasting the water — each has a slightly different flavour.
The southernmost island is arguably blessed with the best beaches and has warmer waters too. Praia Formosa is one of the most popular, with clear waters and fine sand, while Sao Lourenco is a beautiful bay backed by terraced vineyards. Santa Maria was the first of the Azores to be discovered by the Portuguese.
Don’t miss: The Barreiro da Faneca, also known as the ‘Red Desert’. The stretching, arid, red-orange claypits are unlike anywhere else in the Azores.
With just one village and 400 or so inhabitants, the smallest island is the most unique, with the people here speaking a medieval dialect of Portuguese. It’s a hit among birdwatchers, who gather in the autumn to spot migratory species. The island’s standout feature is Caldeirao, a collapsed volcano with a shallow lagoon at its centre.
Don’t miss: Corvo is surrounded by sheer cliffs, so the best way to appreciate its coast and explore inaccessible areas is by boat.
Flores is dotted with lagoons, crater lakes and waterfalls. The most dramatic falls — 20 of them, to be precise — are to be found in Fajazinha, where the highest is Ribeira Grande, at almost 1,000ft. Adrenalin junkies can try canyoning and cave diving, while anglers can cast their lines into waters rich with conger eels, groupers and snappers.
Don’t miss: Rocha dos Bordoes is one of the best-known sights on the Azores: a geological wonder of a rock face with tall basalt columns.
The second largest of the Azores, Pico’s centrepiece is the 7,713ft-high mountain of the same name. Keen hikers can take on this challenging climb, and some guides will even lead you up at night to enjoy sunrise at the summit. In its foothills, you’ll find picturesque UNESCO-listed vineyards, which can be explored on the Caminhos de Santa Luzia route.
Don’t miss: At three miles long, Gruta das Torres is one of the world’s longest lava caves — the first 1,476ft are accessible to visitors.
Capelinhos was the most recent volcano to erupt in the Azores (1957-58), causing an evacuation at the time. In the island’s capital, Horta, the marina is decorated with artwork created by passing sailors to ward off bad luck.
Don’t miss: The waters around Faial are popular with cetaceans between April and October.
Sao Jorge has a mountain range running almost its entire length, lakes, sheer cliffs, islets and more than 40 ‘fajas’ — small plains formed by lava or landslides. It’s a hikers’ and mountain bikers’ paradise, with the chance to try canyoning, climbing and caving. Natural pools like those at Faja do Ouvidor and Faja Grande are perfect for swimming.
Don’t miss: Join the surfers who flock to Faja da Caldeira de Santo Cristo to catch a wave.
Graciosa is rich in traditional architecture, with pretty churches and basalt windmills, and has a photogenic main town, Santa Cruz. It’s not short of natural beauty either; Furna do Enxofre is a 131ft-high cave with stalactites and a sulphurous lake, while Caldeira is a volcano with views across the island.
Don’t miss: The great dive sites, such as the Terceirense shipwreck.
Terceira is home to the oldest city in the Azores, Angra do Heroismo. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic centre encompasses some well-preserved Renaissance architecture and an imposing 16th-century fortress.
Don’t miss: The Festas de Praia (August) on Vitoria beach, with music and parades.