THE AZORES: A year-round paradise for families and nature-lovers
Nine islands in the middle of the Atlantic making up the archipelago known as the Azores have a year-round, pleasant temperature which, when combined with the islands’ unparalleled nature, cover the two basic must-haves for a safe, fun family vacation or for those looking to relax and re-charge in isolation with nature.
Recognized and awarded as the “leading adventure tourism destination in Europe” and as “the world’s first leading sustainable tourism destination,” it’s no surprise that the Azores will become an off-the-beaten European destination on many Canadians’ bucket list this year.
Easy to reach in a bit over five hours flight time, nonstop flights from Toronto and Montreal bring Canadian travellers to Terceira and São Miguel with access to neighbouring islands by inter-island flights, ferries or private taxi. Flights are operated by SATA Azores Airlines using new Airbus A330 aircraft.
Travelling in the Azores is easy. Renting a car allows you to explore the island on your own timetable and make stops along the way to swim in volcanic craters, explore caves and lagoons, learn about the history and culture of the islands or take part in a pre-arranged sport activity.
The ocean around the islands are a permanent home and stop-off destination for more than 20 different types of whales and dolphin species which makes the Azores one of the world’s largest whale sanctuaries and fastest-growing whale watching destination.
A tour for whale watching is highly recommended for family fun. Cave tours are also popular attractions with families as they are safe, educational and spooky fun. There are even tours that offer the unique experience of exploring inside an ancient lava cave, swimming in a volcanic crater or hot thermal springs. There’s a wide choice of aquatic sports available in the Azores, ranging from paddleboarding, surfing, bathing, whale- and dolphin-watching tours to sailing and thrilling scuba diving.
The fun continues on land where the islands offer a total of 83 official hiking trails that range in difficulty from easy strolls, horse- and bike-riding trails to extreme hiking and canyoneering with harness, helmet and appropriate rope systems. These ancient trails are definitely one of the most popular activities in the island that offers peace and tranquility. They are the home of unspoiled nature, valleys, lakes, forests and volcanic craters.
Senior travellers, even those with wheelchairs, can find themselves on a trail at a viewing point looking over the ocean, into dormant volcanic craters or onto charming, small villages. The viewpoints are easy to access for incredible views of the island. In the background, the only noise you hear is the sound of cows at a nearby farm or one of thousands of migrating birds that make the islands a favourite for bird lovers. Alone, but safe; isolated in pure, clean nature. Many call it “communing with nature” or “forest bathing.”
Unwinding in the Azores also means enjoying an organic volcanic massage, a day of golf or at a spa resort, swimming in the natural hot springs found inland or along the rocky coasts and enjoying the culture and food.
Nature is not the only draw of the Azores. Ponta Delgada, the main city on the island of São Miguel, reminds one of charming European villages with cobblestoned streets, picturesque, colorful plazas and street cafes, botanical gardens, museums, year-round street festivals and a booming culinary scene. The city also offers a unique tourist attraction nearby: Cozido das Furnas, a volcano-cooked meat stew buried underground and cooked using natural heat.
On the island of Terceira, the city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site with must-see sites and beautiful promenades. Housed in a former Franciscan monastery, the museum of Angra do Heroísmo is a beautiful historical complex with informative exhibits that educate visitors on the rich history of the Azores due to its strategic geographical location and where NATO has placed a military airport. The Museu do Vinho (wine museum) is on the southern coast of the island in a gorgeous city with a beautiful vineyard landscape.
Ending a day of exploration, food is a main concern for families with picky eaters or health-conscious travellers. Rest assured, the kids will be asking for seconds. The Azores Islands are an epicurean delight for foodies. The archipelago’s many unique microclimates, an abundant supply of clean water and the volcanic nature make it possible to offer a variety of culinary experiences. Nearby farmers and local fishermen provide the salads, meat and fish you’ll enjoy in restaurants. Arrangements can also be made to enjoy an authentic, farm-to-table dining experience or visit the only tea plantation in Europe. There’s mouth-watering cheeses, delicious Portuguese-style pastries and local, organic wines to complete the meals.
The Azores are beautiful throughout the year but summer is the most popular time to visit. For those looking to explore natural beauty, and engage in many types of sports while enjoying excellent food, wine and culture, the Azores islands offer a vacation that’s sure to create extraordinary memories and epic Instagram posts.
First published at Travel Industry Today