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Just Back From The Azores - Stop Looking for Atlantis I Think I've Found It

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May 6th, 2009, 09:02 AM
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Just Back From The Azores - Stop Looking for Atlantis I Think I've Found It

The legend of a lost Utopian civilization of great mariners lost in time, has spurred exploration of the ocean's depths for decades. I think it's time to look above sea level - the islands of The Azores, off the coast of Portugal, have jaw dropping pristine beauty and a lifestyle right out of Al Gore's how to live green handbook. I've just returned from a 10 day tour, visiting the islands of Sao Miguel, Pico and Faial - each island dazzles, and the Azoreans couldn't be more welcoming. Rather than recount our day to day itinerary (put together by AzoresExpress.com), let me tell you 10 reasons why you should put The Azores on your 'must see' list:
#1 They are close to the USA - our non-stop flight out of Boston took 4 1/2 hours. They are in fact the closest European land fall from the east coast of the USA. They have been a stopping off spot for mariners crossing the Atlantic since Columbus' time.
#2 The climate is warm all year round thanks to the gulf stream bringing warm currents up from the Caribbean.
#3 Package tour prices are very reasonable. Most of the year you can put together a one week package for about $1,000 per person including air.
#4 Everyone speaks English and Portuguese (probably German as well). Most of the folks we met have relatives in Massachusetts or Rhode Island (or they have lived there themselves). They like Americans! And, we felt safe everywhere we roamed.
#5 The scenery is stunningly beautiful with black volcanic cliffs fringed with white crashing waves, vivid green hillsides dotted with grazing cows, white washed fishing villages with terracotta roofs, pristine mountain lakes and waterfalls. I could go on and on - but you get the picture - just gorgeous, pristine and interesting.
#6 They are living the "green" lifestyle we've all been grasping for. Cows graze contentedly on the mountainsides - never in need of a barn because it doesn't get cold, and the farmers come to them for milking. They produce their own organic wine, figs, fruit, cheese, meats, tea, pineapples and then there's the fresh FISH - wow.
#7 Power for the islands comes from thermal electric plants, wave harnessing outposts, windmills, and yes, some diesel as well.
#8 Flowers, flowers, flowers EVERYWHERE. These island literally explode with color. In April we were treated to miles and miles of azalea bushes in full bloom. In mid-summer hydrangea bushes pop all over the hillsides and along every road. We saw whole hillsides covered with wild nasturtiums and painted daisies. Glorious.
#9 The Tourist Bureau (Azores.com) has charted hundreds of hiking trails throughout all nine islands. Hikers and bikers take to the trails all year round.
#10 There is a terrific ferry system for traveling from island to island. From May to October you can book passage on the ferries and take your rental car with you. Three islands, Faial, Pico and Sao Jorge are within sight of each other and make for a great triangle visit. Stay on one island (Faial would be my pick) and then take a day ferry to the others. Or visit Sao Miguel, the capital, staying both in the city of Ponta Delgada and in the thermal town of Furnas, then ferry across the bay to Santa Maria Island to visit its beautiful beaches.

No matter which islands you select you can't go wrong. Visiting The Azores is like stepping back in time to a simpler age when caring for the land and helping out your neighbors, guided everyone's aspirations. We totally loved our trip and encourage you to think about visiting the Azores before this technology age changes everything!

If you'd like to read more about our day to day activities and see some pictures, you can find my full trip report at http://www.wickedgoodtraveltips.com/?p=1617
Happy Travels!
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May 6th, 2009, 09:16 AM
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Thanks for this very interesting report and suggestions. I've been thinking of going to the Azores myself, because I think it is the closest place where one can reliably see sperm whales. Did you go whale watching?

I had heard about the low fares from Boston. Wondered why there were none from Newark, which also has a large Portuguese population.
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May 6th, 2009, 09:33 AM
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Packed2Go - That is a very good description - I have been there fourteen times in all seasons and love the place. I tend to stay on Terciera, but love staying on Faial too - my fovorite for exploring though is Pico - it is wild and unspoiled with little villages of black houses built from lava rock.

The people have invariably been friendly and welcoming. The Azores is pretty much off the tourist route, except for boats stopping at Faial to reprovision, so visitors are treated as welcome guests.

The 4 mile wide passage between Faial and Pico is a prime whale watching place because it is part of the sperm whale migration route. We saw 30 whales last time we went. If you are there during migration season, be sure to arrange a whale watching trip - you will be in a 12 person rubber raft up close and personal.

Thanks for the report. I have some trip reports posted a couple of years ago that go into more detail for anyone who is planning a trip or wants to know more about the Islands. Just put "Azores" in the search window.
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May 6th, 2009, 09:46 AM
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Hi there,
My guess is that Azores Express does their air route from Boston because Fall River and New Bedford have the largest Azorean population in the US. The Northshore fishing towns like Gloucester have large populations as well. In the 50's when there was a huge volcanic explosion on Faial, there was a large immigration from the Azores to New England.

But on to the whales. It was a bit too choppy while we were there - the whale watching season hadn't really gotten underway yet. And they go out in pretty small boats (mostly large inflatables) so it's important to have calm seas. Good news/bad news. You get to pull right up along side the whales, but you'll want to plan a good weather day. The island of Pico is the closest to the area where the whales congregate, although we saw a good number whale watching companies operating in Faial as well. The pictures of the outings were incredible. We're definitely planning to return again - thinking September would be the perfect month to visit, after the summer crowds are gone, but still nice and warm, with all the flowers still in full bloom.
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May 6th, 2009, 09:52 AM
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September is great, but don't worry about summer crowds. There aren't any.
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May 6th, 2009, 04:05 PM
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From my own visit: there are a lot of German retirees living on Sao Miguel, the largest of the Azores archipeligo. Maybe it's because there's a Brewery on Sao Miguel that turns out a very good brew. Unfortunately, I don't think they export bottles or cans (like Sagres).

I enjoyed my early morning stroll around the Port, watching a 17ft 'cross the port' ferry taking people from the Fort area (near the Capitania) to where the 'high rise' Tourist destinations are.

Some of the ceramics I bought on Terceira are really beautiful.
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Mar 12th, 2011, 05:40 AM
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basingstoke2- I can not find your Azores trip report. I looked in your profile as well as the search box. Help! We are planning a trip to Sao Miguel May of 12. Any and all advice welcomed. Looking for a water side house to rent, too.
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Mar 12th, 2011, 06:18 AM
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lynclarke - strange, I can't find it either although there is a lot on the Azores. Sao Miguel is one island that I have yet to visit so anything I have to say would be general to the Azores but not specific to Sao Miguel. Do you plan to visit other Islands? With the above in mind, I can try to answer any questions you may have. BTW the weather in May should be glorious.
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Mar 17th, 2011, 04:03 AM
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Basingstoke2- We will only have one week in Sao Miguel so I doubt that we will get to the other islands. It looks like there will plenty to do. Does anyone know the name of the brewery? I have not found that yet.
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Mar 17th, 2011, 06:41 AM
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One work of advice. Rent a car, get out of town and explore the countyside and villages - that is where the beauty and charm of the Azores lie. Concentrate on the Volcanoes (signs would say "Furnace" or "Caldiera" the lakes, Lagoa Verde, Logoa Azul and Lagoa do Fogo are well known for their beauty and Mountains such as Pico do Carvao and Pico de Fierro, both known for their settings and beautiful views. If you like seafood, the Azores is the place for you. Meat stews, chicken and bread soup are also excellent.

If you have time, inter-island flights within the Sao Miguel group tend to be short and not very expensive.

Please do a TR when you return. Have a great time.
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Mar 31st, 2011, 06:47 PM
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We are thinking about a week in the azores the last week of June First week of July. I was stricken by the mountains covered in hydrangea. Any recommendations on which island to stay on and we would also like to rent an apartment with great views of the ocean( we would like to spend around 150 American dollars per night. I hear the economy is suffering so we hope to catch a deal. Any info would be greatly appreciated.
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Jun 2nd, 2011, 10:24 PM
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basingstoke2 We plan to be in the Azores...several islands,for about a month. Do you recommend renting a car spontaneously,for the day,as you go along and find the need? Is it best to just rent after arrival? Do you have a recommended company? Please give me an idea of what to expect to pay. My book says about $70 per day. I am hoping there is a cheaper way! Taxi about $20/hr for a tour sounds doable now and then. Comments?
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Jun 3rd, 2011, 06:42 AM
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makinghay - you should be able to get a weekly rate of 300 euro +-. The rate would vary by island and company and if you are island hopping, a daily rental might work better. Like anywhere else, you are likely to find a better rate for an in-town pickup. There are also numerous small rental companies on the island that often charge less - I have used them with no problems. Since the islands tend to be small and streets in villages often narrow, I would get the smallest car that is practical for you and you do not need AC. One thing that you do not need is a car capable of autobahn speeds. As is the case for anywhere in Europe you will save with a standard shift. The company that I have most used is Ilhas 3 but I not know if they are on any island other than Terceira which is the Island I know the best.
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Jun 3rd, 2011, 05:20 PM
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All good advice. Close to $450/wk US would be pretty steep! I think we'll wait and play it by ear, renting by the day as needed, for starters. We love to walk,buses are fine, etc. I'm thinking quiet, relaxing roads, small scale everything...
Thanks for the prompt reply.
I have one estimate on the total air costs from Boston to an island plus several inter-island flights. Not too bad, all things considered. In your experience, will the rate increase as it gets closer to September? Does SATA run specials if I keep watching? I hate to firm things up too soon.
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Jun 3rd, 2011, 06:35 PM
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makinghay, the problem with depending on public transportation is that it is fine for visiting towns, but the best sights and much of the beauty is not on public transportation routes and you would be missing much what the Azores have to offer. Another choice is taxi, which for a few hours may cost less than a rental and you might well have a built in guide. Although I usually rent in advance when going to Europe, the Azores are the exception to that rule and I have always done well renting in the towns from one of the smaller companies. You probably won't get a new car, but who cares.
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Jun 3rd, 2011, 07:21 PM
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BTW I can't be of help regarding flights because I have always gone on military flights - there is a base on Terceira. As far as SATA, I have used them inter-island but more on an impulse than plan. Don't forget inter-island ferries, reasonable and pleasant.
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Jun 3rd, 2011, 08:25 PM
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Thank you basingstoke2 and thank you Fodors for bringing these unknown places to our attention.

The Azores look fantastic and are something I never would have thought of visiting. I am looking into it now.

All of us Fodorites have our favorites and love posting about them. Once in a while when you scan down the new Europe threads, an unusual one jumps out at you and you think "we might like that." This posting did that----Thank you again!!!
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Jun 4th, 2011, 07:31 AM
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TPAYT Fantastic is a good description for the Azores, with one caveat. If you are looking for night life you are not likely to find much in the Azores with the exceptions of Sao Miguel, the largest island and where the university is and on a smaller scale, Faial. One goes to the Azores for its natural beauty - dramatic landscapes, and stunning vistas. If you enjoy driving for miles on narrow roads lined on both sides with azaleas, hydrangeas and roses bushes all taller than than you are, if you enjoy watching the surf pound against dramatic lava formations, if you enjoy exploring inside the craters of volcanoes, it is the place for you. Also, even though they are islands, decent beaches are scarce. I like to visit because they are completely stress free and my only decisions are where to explore and where to eat. The latter is no problem because almost every restaurant I have come across is very good with a few outstanding. The islands in general are also surprisingly inexpensive since they are not heavily touristed, although that has changed somewhat since they entered the eurozone - still you are not likely to go broke on a visit. Driving is easy and really the best way to see what the islands offer - the best places are not on public transportation. The best part is you are not likely to get lost anywhere - just keep on going and you will come back to a main road.
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Jun 4th, 2011, 07:32 AM
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I forgot to mention, of all of the places where my kids have been, the Azores are their favorite.
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Aug 27th, 2011, 10:51 AM
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Would the Azores be a good spot for a Christmas vacation or would everything be closed during the week between Christmas and New Years?
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