For families who want to spend their time outdoors reconnecting with Mother Nature, look no further than the Azores. Off the coast of Portugal and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores is comprised of nine islands, or “nine small worlds,” each with similarities to the others, yet with their differences that set them apart. One common thread on each, however, is the friendliness of those who call the islands home.
The largest of the Azores is São Miguel in the east, first settled in 1444 in Povoação. Not only will you find the island’s first capital in Vila Franca do Campo (later moved to Ponta Delgada), but geysers, hot thermal waters and volcanic lakes. It’s within these hot spots on the islands where locals prepare an island favorite, cozido das furnas. Pots filled with layers of pork, beef, cabbage, kale, potatoes, taro, carrots, chicken, chouriço and blood sausage are lowered into hot springs heated by volcanic steam. Over the course of about five hours, the food cooks slowly and all the flavors meld for a memorable dish.
The second of the East Islands is Santa Maria, known as the Sunshine Island. Santa Maria is an island of firsts — the first to be discovered by Portuguese explorers, the first to be settled and the first of the Azores to be formed. The island’s jagged coastline and rocky headlands give way to bays filled with calm, crystal-clear waters ripe for exploration. Exploration is key here — it is said Christopher Columbus attended mass at the Chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Anjos upon his return from America.
Most of the islands of the Azores fall within the Central group — Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial and Graciosa. The islands are filled with rich history, festivals, stunning landscapes and culinary delights. Vineyards are planted in black lava fields, whales and dolphins are spotted frolicking in the Atlantic Ocean, and yachtsmen from around the world set anchor in the marina on Faial.
The third set of islands is the two found in the Western group. Flores is known for its natural waterfalls and lakes carved over time by volcanoes. And the little island of Corvo is popular with migrating birds from Europe and America, and the ornithologists who follow their routes.
If you and your family are set on the Azores, island hopping is likely easiest by flying, but cruises are available, too.