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The Azores, Portugal: Europe's Secret Islands

submitted on 2 October 2023 by

The Middle of Nowhere Has a Name, and It's Portuguese

Just when I thought I'd seen every nook and cranny this beautiful and slightly insane world has to offer, I stumbled upon the Azores: Europe's best-kept secret islands, located a convenient 1,000 miles off the coast of Portugal. The Azores consist of nine volcanic islands where you can get lost and find yourself all at the same time. They're like the Bermuda Triangle's quirky cousin. You know, the one who shows up to family reunions with an eyepatch and regales everyone with tales of adventure and the occasional sea shanty.

How the Heck Did We End Up Here?

The Azores were formed by volcanic activity around 250,000 years ago, and the islands have been busy simmering away ever since. There's something deeply satisfying about visiting a place where the Earth is still in the process of creating itself. It's like watching a painter obsessively adding details to their masterpiece, or a baker slapping frosting on a cake while muttering about the inadequacies of their sugar-to-icing ratio. Portugal decided to claim these islands in the 15th century, presumably because they felt the need to add a dash of excitement to their maritime portfolio. Today, the Azores remain an autonomous region of Portugal, which means they enjoy all the benefits of Portuguese culture (superb wine, tantalizing cuisine, and an affinity for afternoon naps) without the pesky downside of actually being in Portugal.

Your Very Own Choose-Your-Adventure Novel

Visiting the Azores is like stepping into a choose-your-own-adventure novel, only with fewer trolls and more opportunities for whale watching. Each island has its own distinct personality, so you can mix and match your experiences to suit your own personal whims and desires. Here's a quick primer to get you started:
  • São Miguel: The largest and most populous island, São Miguel is your best bet if you're a city-dweller who needs a bit of urban hustle and bustle with your natural wonders. It's home to the city of Ponta Delgada, where you can wander the cobblestone streets, sample the local cuisine, and pretend you're a character in a Portuguese novel.
  • Pico: Got a thing for mountaintops? Pico is home to the highest peak in the Azores (and Portugal, for that matter), making it the perfect destination for hikers and bragging rights enthusiasts.
  • Faial: If you're a sailor or a wannabe sailor or you just appreciate a good nautical tale, Faial is the island for you. It's a popular stopover for transatlantic yachts, which means you'll be in good company when it's time to swap seafaring stories over a glass of port.
  • Flores: With a name that literally means "flowers," it's no surprise that Flores is the botanical jewel of the Azores. Come for the captivating flora, stay for the enchanting waterfalls and tranquil lagoons.

The Incredible, Edible Azores

One of the best things about the Azores is their commitment to sustainability and locally-sourced food. If you're the type of person who enjoys watching the sunset while sipping on a glass of wine that was produced just a few kilometers away, then congratulations: you've found your paradise. Seafood lovers will be in heaven, as the Azores are a prime spot for catching tuna, marlin, and other delectable marine life. Vegetarians, fear not: the islands are also home to an assortment of fresh produce, including some of the most divine pineapples and passion fruit you'll ever taste. And don't even get me started on the cheeses. I'd say the Azores are worth visiting for the cheeses alone, but that might be my dairy addiction talking.

Hot Springs and Hotter Adventures

As a volcanic archipelago, the Azores are a veritable playground for geothermal wonders. From bubbling mud pools to steaming hot springs, you'll find plenty of opportunities to indulge in Mother Nature's very own spa treatments. The island of São Miguel is particularly known for its geothermal activity, so if you're planning a visit, be prepared to luxuriate in the warm embrace of volcanic mineral water. Just don't get too close to the actual volcanoes; I hear they like their personal space. For adrenaline junkies in need of a fix, the Azores offer a bevy of outdoor activities to keep you entertained. Hiking, canyoning, diving, and even paragliding are all on the menu, so you can test your mettle and soak in the stunning landscapes all at once. Blissfully exhausted? You can always retreat to one of those hot springs I mentioned earlier. You've earned it.

Get There Before the Rest of the World Does

The Azores are like that obscure indie band you're always raving about but secretly hope never gets too popular so you can keep them all to yourself. Unfortunately for us, the secret is starting to get out. Tourism is on the rise, and it's only a matter of time before the Azores become the next must-see destination for every Instagram influencer and their well-traveled dog. So if you want to experience the untamed beauty and unspoiled charm of Europe's secret islands, now is the time to pack your bags, dust off your Portuguese phrasebook, and set sail for the Azores. Just remember: if we ever cross paths on one of those breathtaking volcanic peaks or idyllic sandy beaches, I'll deny ever having written this article. After all, some secrets are better left untold.
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