The Azores are probably Europe’s best kept secret. On a line between Lisbon and New York, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores were first settled in the 15th century and today still has a population of less than a quarter million, spread among the 9 islands. The average temperatures range between 13-22° C with sea temperatures slightly higher. Summer highs of 30°C and winter lows (especially on higher ground) of 10° C are possible.
The archipelago of the Azores is split into 3 groups. Faial and Pico, along with Terceira, Sao Jorge and Graciosa, form the Central Group. The groups are spread over a large area so, whilst you can take a passenger ferry between islands within the group, you must otherwise fly, using the inter-island planes of SATA.
For those that are attracted to a quieter and slower lifestyle, who enjoy lush gardens and exquisite views, buying property in the Azores has to be of paramount consideration. Faial (or Ilha Azul – the Blue Island – for the proliferation of blue hydrangeas covering the island) in particular has all the attributes of most of the other islands with a superb mix of rural tranquility and the major town of Horta (meaning vegetable garden) within easy access from any part of the island. The port of Horta is an important stopover for transatlantic yachts, with more than 1,000 visiting boats a year, plus many local boats and yachts moored in the two modern marinas.
For walkers the islands are a veritable paradise – you can wander the many tracks and trails at will, or follow the marked trails. The most popular walks are the crater rim, which offers a complete 360º view of Faial as you walk and the Capelinhos eruption site, the dramatic moonscape that produced a new piece of Faial in 1957. Another less well known walk is the lavada, which is a man-made water course, high up on the side of the crater, used for channeling water down to the pastures. You walk, alternately, through forest and field, making this a rare, hidden treat.
A short ferry ride gets you across to Pico Island and its 2351 metres high volcanic peak. The climb, starting at 1200 metres, provides for magnificent views, across all of the islands in the central group – Faial, São Jorge, Graciosa and Terceira. It is possible to camp in the crater for the night and sunrise viewed from the top of the peak is a spectacular and unforgettable sight. It can easily be climbed in a day and, as there are plenty of ferries, you could even have dinner in Madalena before returning to Faial. It is now obligatory to employ a guide, to protect yourselves and the nature reserve of the mountain.
Nature and maritime life are the key attractions of the islands; whale and dolphin watching trips have replaced the traditional whaling industry as a way to make a living from the sea. Boats leave the marina daily for whale watching, swimming with dolphins, sport fishing, line fishing, diving and sailing, or you can just take a cruise along our scenic coastline.
On Faial and Pico, there are a number of excellent hotels and B&B establishments, many of which operate year round. There are also plenty of self catering opportunities available.