São Miguel, Terceira, Pico and Faial
Back in the 15th century, in mid-Atlantic, the wind caught the sails of Henry the Navigator's mighty fleet just as a magnificent Buzzard wheeled overhead. 'Açor!' shouted the captain, thinking the bird to be a Goshawk. He ordered his sailors to follow it back to its breeding grounds and that is how they discovered the nine beautiful islands which were promptly names Açores, or Azores as the anglicised version has it.
Today very little has changed in The Azores. Buzzards still circle overhead while in the inter-island waters dolphins play with the boats and whales pass through the protected waters. There is wonderful scenery, each of the nine islands with its own personality and atmosphere. The archipelago lies some 950 miles west of Lisbon in the Atlantic and is a semi-autonomous province of Portugal. Volcanic by nature, the islands are a nature-lover's paradise, combining beautifully unspoilt scenery and a wonderful relaxed, old-fashioned rural charm. For generations they have been known by mariners as a stopping off point and today they are still popular with yachtsmen.
During our 9-night holiday we'll be staying on three of the nine islands and visiting another. We start on the largest, São Miguel, where we'll spend a four nights walking in the fabulous scenery and exploring the more remote parts of the island. The volcanic origins will soon become apparent and we'll have an expert geologist with us to interpret what we see. We'll also be looking for the islands' only endemic bird, the endangered Azores Bullfinch, known locally as the Priolo and have the chance to swim in the geothermally heated pools in the renowned botanical gardens of Furnas.
Our next base will be Terceira where the capital, Angro do Herismo, is a World Heritage Site. We'll spend two nights here staying in the lovingly restored Quinta do Martelo where we'll enjoy a traditional meal of Alcatra one night, going out to a brilliant fish restaurant in Angro the next.
Our last base will be on the island of Faial, renowned amongst international yachtsmen. Here we'll have a couple of half days at sea looking for the whales, dolphins and seabirds which are common in the area at this time of year and we'll also visit the new part of the island formed when a volcano erupted in 1957 as well as a day trip to the neighbouring island of Pico.
All the accommodation, meals and excursions are included in the price so you won't find any nasty 'hidden extras'.
Your Tour Leader
Libby Weir-Breen set up Island Holidays in 1987 with Shetland naturalist, the late Bobby Tulloch MBE. Her own experience in the travel industry goes back to 1977 when she left her job on The Scotsman newspaper to become a resort representative in St Anton in the Austrian Tyrol. She has travelled widely both researching and leading tours. A passionate conservationist and campaigner for trade justice, Libby has a love for the natural world and feels herself privileged to be able to express this through her work and to share it with so many like-minded people.
Our TAP Air Portugal flight to Lisbon leaves London Heathrow at 0830 hours (schedule to be confirmed) with an onward connection arriving in Ponta Delgada (the capital of the islands on São Miguel) in the evening. Upon arrival we transfer to the Hotel Camões, located in the historical heart of the city, which will be our base for the first four nights of our holiday.
In Azorean terms, São Miguel is a huge island so we'll be taking our time to explore small sections. Today, after yesterday's travel, we start with a 2 ½ hour walk with our local guide. The Sete Cidades area is one of the most beautiful settings in the Azores, comprising two lakes set in a 3-mile wide volcanic crater on the west side of the island. One lake looks blue (reflecting the sky) and is called Lagoa Azul and the other appears green (reflecting the surrounding vegetation) and is named Lagoa Verde. According to a legend, the differently coloured lakes were created when a princess and her lover, a young shepherd, had to part from each other. The tears they shed at their farewell became the two lakes, with the water coloured like their eyes. The afternoon is perhaps less romantic but equally enjoyable as, after a picnic lunch, we drop down to the coast for a spot of birding. Bird life in the Azores is not prolific but there's plenty to be found and enjoyed. We return to Hotel Camões for dinner and overnight.
Geologically, the Azores are unique and absolutely fascinating, even to the amateur. Compound volcanoes, domes, maars, cinder cones, tuff cones and stratovolcanoes were all part of the formation of the islands. Today we'll be joined by a specialist guide who will take us around the central part of the island showing us how Plinian, Strombolian and Surtseyan eruptions, pryroclastic and lava flows and avalanches have, over the millennia, formed the islands as we see them today. Don't worry - it won't get too technical, but it will be fascinating. We'll also be hoping to find the elusive Azorean Bullfinch (Priolo), a critically endangered species and the islands' only endemic bird. Our day ends at the east end of the island in Furnas where we check in to the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel for two nights.
Today will be unstructured to enable plenty of time to wander around the gorgeous Terra Nostra botanical garden and perhaps take a swim in the warm and healing hot thermal waters. We'll wander around the village and enjoy a cozida lunch, a really good all-in-one peasant dish cooked by thermal heat in holes in the ground.
This morning we check out of our hotel and head to Ponta Delgada where we'll have a couple of hours to look around before taking an early lunch and heading to the airport for our afternoon flight to the island of Terceira, the third largest in The Azores. Here our accommodation will be at the delightful Quinta do Martelo, a traditional farm which has been restored using traditional craftsmanship and which also is presented as a museum. The restaurant is famous for its Alcatra - a meat stew cooked in a clay pot in a wooden oven.
The city of Angra do Heroismo is a World Heritage Site, a great deal of which was destroyed by a huge earthquake in 1980 although much remains, including the beautiful cathedral. Having driven up to a viewpoint from where we can take in the whole panorama, we then have a walking tour of the city in the company of our local guide. After lunch we leave for a tour of the rest of the island, taking in all aspects of this lovely place. Take your swimming togs with you - if we have time there'll be the opportunity for a quick dip in the sea pools at Biscoitos.- no promises. Depending on how the grape season has gone, there may be an opportunity to watch families harvesting in the tiny vineyards which are unique to The Azores.
It's time to move on to our next island - Faial - where the capital, Horta is well known throughout the yachting fraternity as a transatlantic stopover and message centre. Having checked in to our hotel we'll head down to town for a light lunch (just sandwiches or something) before joining an afternoon whalewatch. The waters round the Azores are rich in nutrients and are now protected whereas, in the past, the whaling industry flourished. Here Sperm Whale, Short-finned Pilot whales, Bottlenose Dolphin, Common, Risso's and Spotted Dolphin are regularly seen throughout the summer. In addition, there's always the chance of some of the less common species to the area such as Killer Whales (Orca), Blue Whales, Humpback Whale and Rough-toothed Dolphin to name but a few. Please note that whalewatching is a weather dependent activity and that, when watching them, the welfare of the animals is paramount. Dinner tonight will be in Hotel Faial, where we'll be staying for three nights.
Today we take the morning ferry to the neighbouring island of Pico, named after its volcano which is the highest mountain in Portugal. We'll have a full day to explore, concentrating on the viniculture for which the island is renowned but also enjoying something of the cultural and historical aspects of the island. One of the highlights will be a visit to the famous Verdelho vineyards, now a World Heritage Site and we'll also be hoping to have time to go to the whaling museum in Lajes. We return to Horta on a late afternoon ferry to give us time to relax and freshen up before dinner in the hotel.
This morning we set off for our second whalewatch and then, after a light lunch, drive over to the other end of the island to Capelinhos to see the moonscape created by the eruption of 1957 where vegetation is beginning to take hold again, and to visit the visitor centre which houses a photo history of the eruption as well as an interpretative centre. We return to Horta for our last night when we'll be going out to a lasts restaurant to celebrate our holiday.
Our flight to Lisbon leaves at 1220 hours and the onward connection arrives in London Heathrow at 2105 hours (schedules to be confirmed).
Please note that this itinerary can be changed without notice at the sole discretion of Island Holidays or their representatives.