Often known as the Eden of Europe or Hawaii of the Atlantic, the idyllic but previously relatively unknown Azores Islands are slowly beginning to wake up to tourism. An autonomous region of Portugal, this volcanic archipelago is rich in natural beauty, with paradise-on-earth style landscapes that will leave you quite simply awestruck. First-time visitors should head to its main island, São Miguel – an incredibly scenic land resplendent with lush greenery and picture-perfect lagoons.
Hiring a car is the best way to explore São Miguel and soak up the island’s breathtaking landscapes; the jewel in its crown are the twin lakes of Sete Cidades – no pictures can do this stunning place justice. Head to the Miradouro da Boca do Inferno viewpoint for another sight you’ll never forget: sprawling spectacular views across the entire island.
Make another stop at Vista do Rei to see another view of the island’s legendary twin lakes. The Lagoa do Fogo crater lake near the centre of the island is also well worth a visit, for a sublime moment of total serenity amidst a wild and fascinating landscape.
On the eastern side of the island is the active volcanic complex of Furnas. Follow the smell of sulphur to the Caldeiras das Furnas and admire the many boiling water and steamy mud springs; make sure to take a dip in the geothermal hot springs at the famous Terra Nostra Garden too.
There are also plenty of other immersive activities on offer at São Miguel, including whale watching, scuba diving, surfing and hiking.
With such a high cow count on the island (fun fact: there are more cows than humans here), São Miguel is the place for tender beef, fresh milk and quality cheese. The Azores’ location in the Atlantic Ocean also means it has access to an abundance of fresh seafood – try the tuna steak at A Tasca in Ponta Delgada.
If you’re visiting the area of Furnas, be sure to order the cozido, a traditional Portuguese stew that is prepared by lowering a pot full of meat and vegetables into a hot spring heated by volcanic steam; you’ll find that the ingredients get seasoned by the slight taste of sulphur… in a good way, I promise!
The new Starwood-affiliated Azor Hotel is located in the island’s main city, Ponta Delgada. Inspired by the surrounding nature, this hip hotel celebrates the property’s remote location whilst also boasting some seriously wow-worthy modern design.