Azores: São Miguel, Pico, Terceira

Old May 25th, 2024, 05:37 PM
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Thanks KarenWoo. The reason is the usual one, I wanted to go one place and my husband wanted to go another! But seriously, we both wanted to go to the Azores AND to Andalucia. Point to point airfares were exorbitant from the West Coast so I searched until I hit upon Sata Airlines (codeshare with Westjet) special roundtrip fare, in our case from Vancouver via Toronto to Madrid with return Lisbon via Toronto to Vancouver. This fare allowed a stopover of up to I think it was 7 days in the Azores, in either or both directions. Bingo! The 2 destinations we picked for our stopovers were São Miguel (on the way) and Terceira (on the way back).

Within Spain we traveled by train and car then added on a one-way on TAP from Sevilla to Lisbon where we stayed for a few days (we had already enjoyed a trip to Portugal a few years ago) then Sata to Pico, and Sata Pico to Terceira. Somehow it worked out reasonably well, 9 flights in total.

We left Vancouver mid April as I insisted we be in Spain before the hot weather hit which was funny since it was unseasonably cool while we were there!



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Old May 25th, 2024, 05:58 PM
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Marbel, you mentioned Pico named of course for the often snow capped peak that dominates the island. There are two primary reasons to visit Pico. It has very diverse plant life and don't miss the section called mysteriouso with strange plant life. You will need a car on the island.Another thing about Pico is whale watching. The narrow channel between Pico and Faial is a whale migration path. You will see whales up close. Speaking of narrow channels, you are only a 15 minute ferry ride from Faial which has the better places to stay in Horta. Faial is a stopover for yachts and thus has some really good restaurants. BTW should you decide to ascend the mountain it is imperative to have a guide.

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Old May 25th, 2024, 06:53 PM
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Great report! It looks very beautiful but seems as though a car would really be necessary.
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Old May 25th, 2024, 07:06 PM
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Originally Posted by SusanP
Great report! It looks very beautiful but seems as though a car would really be necessary.
A car is a huge plus in the Azores with or without a hired driver. However, driving there is very easy and drivers are polite. In general it is hard to get lost since the islands are volcanic and except for Sao Miguel are fairly small.
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Old May 25th, 2024, 07:42 PM
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basingstoke2, good to know. I'm not so much worried about getting lost, more like having car trouble somewhere away from town that doesn't have cell service, especially traveling alone.
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Old May 26th, 2024, 07:05 AM
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Enjoyed your TR and all the details with my morning coffee.
Another place to put on my bucket list. Thanks for posting.
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Old May 26th, 2024, 02:44 PM
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If possible, spend a couple of days in Ilha das Flores. Beautiful!!
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Old May 26th, 2024, 04:50 PM
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Azores part 2, early May

After a very busy few days in Lisbon we arrived by Sata (on time, snack/cookies on Pico Island for 4 full days. It was a balm to the soul after very busy Lisbon. Ours was the only plane at the airport. We picked up our car from Tropical Rent-a-Car and were soon making our way through Madelena to Candelaria for 3 nights in an Atlantic view apartment at the Vinhas do Calhau https://www.vinhasdocalhau.eu/

* Regarding Susan P’s question about cell service, I would not worry about losing coverage on any of the main roads along the coast. I would, however, avoid the rugged secondary roads where service is sketchy and perhaps the upper roads through the middle of the island.*

We were not sure we would have enough to do and see on Pico but we were wrong. Originally we thought we would spend a day in Faial but in her very direct way Ana at the front desk talked us out of that idea: “The only good thing about Faial is their view of Pico!” I’m sure if we had another day however we would have gone to Faial, or to São Jorge (the cheese!).

Ana arranged a whale watching trip for us and gave us driving tour ideas. This blog had some good info too: https://randomtrip.net/pico-azores-travel-guide/

Pico did not offer any outstanding dining options (probably Faial caters more to that preference) but we would recommend the restaurant Magma in Santo Amaro and the Cella Bar near Madelena for drinks. Magma reminded us of something you’d see in Big Sur, California. Gorgeous view, nice food, we heard it’s very busy in high season. The Cella Bar is unique with a location smack dab on the ocean.

Madelena had a casual restaurant called Cinco where my husband had the traditional Porto hot sandwich called francesinha. Not a dish that looks appealing but stick-to-your-ribs filling. The fish was fresh at Ancorodouro, also in Madelena. After the whale watching trip the Baleias Café in Lajes do Pico we had a very good lunch.

Magma

Cella Bar

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Old May 26th, 2024, 05:09 PM
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We walked from the Vinhas on a quiet road with the sea on one side and the UNESCO heritage Criação Velha where stone walls called currais protect the vines, all the way to the Cooperativa Vitivinicola Da Ilha Do Pico for wine tasting with the delightful Maria. She spoke in detail about the challenges and rewards of the industry on Pico Island. We sampled these wines.



We drove to the base of Pico Mountain where the climbers begin their ascent and then backtracked to follow the lovely straight road to some beautiful views of São Jorge.



Coming to a crossroads we continued on the upper ridge secondary roads which were washed out from winter storms and lacking useful directional signs. This cow had an opinion about that; ‘dumb tourists’!



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Old May 26th, 2024, 05:38 PM
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We drove to Lajes do Pico for our morning whale watching tour. We were in a group of about 20 along with a naturalist and the skipper. It was a clear day but very windy and the rollers were large. We made the mistake of not sitting at the very stern of the zodiac which I would recommend doing for anyone with back issues as we suffered the consequences. We did not experience seasickness but others in the group did.

We saw 3 sperm whales and a number of risso dolphins along with some great views of Pico Island and the mountain from the sea.


Sperm Whale going for a deep dive

The views of Pico Mountain from Lajes are beautiful
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Old May 26th, 2024, 06:19 PM
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Our last day on Pico we drove to Lajido. The House of the Volcanos was closed for lunch as was the Interpretive Centre of the Vinyards Culture, but we walked through the narrow streets to see the black lava cottages with their lava red contrasting shutters and doors.


​​​​​​Later, the Gruta das Torres was an interesting visit. We were able to join a tour in English. Helmets on and carrying flashlights we were led by a knowledgeable guide down into the lava tube to learn how they were formed. At one point we were asked to remain silent for a few minutes and turn off our flashlights in order to experience the perfect darkness of the cave, with only the sound of dripping water. Amazing experience. If interested I would make sure to book this visit on their website well in advance.


Gruta da Torres

After a last glass of Pico wine at the Cella Bar and a last look at Pico Mountain it was time to go to the airport for our flight to Terceira. A small airport with one very long line for security allowed us to watch an emotional scene; deeply felt goodbyes between a group of young people and their friends; boyfriends and girlfriends clutching each other, with some adult family members standing by. Why were they leaving, were they going back to Lisbon for school? An athletic tournament? We never found out but emotions were running high and there were many hugs, kisses, tears and last waves goodbye.






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Old May 26th, 2024, 06:22 PM
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Thanks for the cell service info.
Love the picture of the diving whale!
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Old May 26th, 2024, 06:38 PM
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Ultra fabulous trip report, and some of the most dramatic travel photos I've seen recently. The one at the end of the twisty road with the waves crashing took my breath away.

I had a lovely conversation recently with a restaurant owner in Newark, NJ who was from Sao Miguel. He said that in Sao Miguel you can experience all four seasons in a single day: a downpour in the morning followed by hail. Beach weather from 12-2pm, and then having to put on a jacket to go out to dinner. Sounds like we should all run away.

How does that compare with what you experienced?
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Old May 27th, 2024, 06:59 AM
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Originally Posted by shelemm
Ultra fabulous trip report, and some of the most dramatic travel photos I've seen recently. The one at the end of the twisty road with the waves crashing took my breath away.

I had a lovely conversation recently with a restaurant owner in Newark, NJ who was from Sao Miguel. He said that in Sao Miguel you can experience all four seasons in a single day: a downpour in the morning followed by hail. Beach weather from 12-2pm, and then having to put on a jacket to go out to dinner. Sounds like we should all run away.

How does that compare with what you experienced?
It's true. The weather we experienced was varied, but we never saw hail!

We knew the best chance for sunshine and warm weather wasn't when we we going, but we also enjoy the benefits of shoulder season travel so it's a trade off.

Mostly we were in long pants or hiking shorts with layers on top, running shoes, we always had a waterproof jacket on hand and I could have used a lightweight scarf, but we also needed sun hats and sunscreen. It did rain off and on most days but temperatures were pleasant most of the time and just as often sunny and warm. It could be cloudy on one end of the island and sunny at the other.

My husband went ocean swimming 3 times and said it was about the same temperature as we see in the Gulf Island waters here in B.C., ie. tolerable
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Old May 27th, 2024, 08:47 AM
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I'm really loving your report and beautiful photos.
Vinhas do Calhou was our choice for Pico, reserved and paid for (4 nights, non-refundable), and unfortunately we had to cancel but hope to return in the near future.
Which was your apartment, if you don't mind sharing?
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Old May 27th, 2024, 09:02 AM
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Maribel, We had Apartment #1. The terrace offered a spectacular view of the ocean and sunset views.


We had a visitor who came in the open door and made themselves comfortable.
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Old May 27th, 2024, 09:04 AM
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Wow! Thanks!
Such nice views! I had excellent communications with Vinhas do Calhau and am eager finally to experience it.
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Old May 27th, 2024, 09:36 AM
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Part 3: Terceira

After a short early evening flight on Sata from Pico to Terceira (on-time, no cookies) we picked up our car from Angra Car Rental. Their location is a short walk from the arrivals exit, so outside of the terminal.The first car we were assigned was a real beater that should never have been offered as a rental and we said no to that. After some discussion we left with a nice Citroen just like the one we had in Pico.

The UNESCO designated city of Angra do Heroismo was our favourite city in the Azores with a wonderful museum, scenic walking trails on Monte Brasil, colourful ermidas, and with easy access by car to some nice miradouros and natural reserves.

Our first stay was 2 nights in Angra do Heroismo at the Hotel Cruzeiro: good location, a reasonable rate and a decent buffet breakfast. There was weird neon green lighting in the hallway, no idea what designer thought that was a good idea!

Our second, a 3 night stay at an Airbnb in quiet Serreta.

Of the places we dined in Terceira our recommendations would be Beira Mar in São Mateus for seafood and Ti Choa in Serreta for alcatra.


Angra do Heroismo


Lovely views from Monte Brasil


Colourful ermida


The Duque da Terceira garden


Paving repairs are not simple in a Unesco heritage designated city


View from the choir loft of this church within the Angra museum which itself is housed in a former Franciscan monastery. Highly recommended even for those who may not be museum goers, it's very interesting. On a rainy day you could spend a lot of time here and when we went we were almost the only visitors.
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Old May 27th, 2024, 09:58 AM
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The panoramic vista of Miradouro da Serra do Cume in contrast with the below-ground Algar do Carvão. Both are within easy driving distance of Angra. It is impossible to do justice to either in photos.




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Old May 27th, 2024, 10:17 AM
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Our last few days in Terceira we stayed in an Airbnb that was right beside the Mata de Serreta Nature Reserve on the north end of the island.

The road ran by the cottage but was closed not far down the road due to a landslide so we had no traffic to speak of. The location would not appeal to everyone as there are no restaurants nearby and we had trouble finding a grocery store. It did mean having to go the long way around to visit Biscoitos, but that was not an issue. We liked the peace and quiet and did not even mind cooking for ourselves for a change.

It was a great way to spend our last few days in the Azores, walking, reading, relaxing and looking out to sea.








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