This is about my recent experiences on one of our Azores walking holidays.
For two years my colleague Jake has been telling me that I haven’t experienced the Azores if I haven’t eaten limpets. I can’t say they were at the top of my wish list (I imagined a chewy cross between mussels and oysters) but when Pedro, our fantastic guide, ordered some as a starter for us all to share, I couldn’t resist digging in. Tender and juicy with lashings of fresh garlic, it was obvious Jake had been right all along!
I was in the Azores to do our new lesser visited islands guided walking holiday which visits the islands of Flores, Terceira, Graciosa and Santa Maria. Limpets were for dinner on day nine. We were eating at Quinta das Grotas, a splendid old quinta on the outskirts of the pretty village of Guadaloupe on Graciosa. We enjoyed a bottle of Fatima’s Vineyard red wine from Pico too…all in the name of research, of course.
From left to right: Sandra, Ann, Caroline, Paul and Pedro
There were 6 of us on the holiday; Caroline, Paul and Sandra had previously enjoyed our guided walking holiday to the main islands of Sao Miguel, Pico, Faial, Sao Jorge and Terceira and Ann was joining us after doing our whale and dolphin research holiday on Faial. We were being led by Pedro who is an expert geologist and volcanologist – many of you will know him from our jeep tours and guided walks on Sao Miguel.
Most of us had flown to the main island, Sao Miguel, on SATA’s direct flight from Gatwick and on day two we took an inter-island flight to Flores, the most westerly island of the archipelago. Our first walk took us from the small village Lajedo in the south, along the wild coast to Faja Grande and served as a great introduction to the interesting geology, culture and economy of the island.
We enjoyed splendid and uninterrupted views across the Atlantic
A highlight on Flores was seeing tall waterfalls gushing from the cliffs in the distance and then walking right up to where they descended into flat calm pools below. The rainbows that formed in the spray were breathtaking – moments of pure magic!
The waterfalls at Poco do Bacalhau (Codfish Pools) just outside Faja Grande (you can stay in the self-catering house here!)
From Flores we flew to Terceira where we were based in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Angra do Heroismo. With it’s beautifully painted houses, balconies dripping with flowers and historical monuments at every turn, we fell in love with this energetic town whose significant history is still so freshly felt.
The colourful harbour at Angra do Heroismo
Our walks on Terceira meandered through villages and vineyards, past fig trees heavy with fruit ripe for the picking, and along roads stained with newly crushed grapes on their way into wine barrels. We ended one of our walks with a simple but delicious lunch of local cheese and sausage, freshly baked rolls and sweet fresh fruit; all topped off with a reviving dip in the natural rock pools at Biscoitos.
Lunch by the natural rock pools that nestle within the lava flow
Taking a refreshing after lunch dip
Bridges take you from pool to pool and you can choose how much cool fresh water you want coming into yours!
We waved a sad goodbye to Terceira after two lovely days, and flew onwards to Graciosa, just a short 15 minute hop across the Atlantic. Graciosa, meaning Gracious, is a tiny oval shaped island just 12.5 km long and 8.5 km wide. Our first walk took us coast to coast from north east to south west. We followed the trail between bright green pastures and around the rim of the crater ‘Caldeirinhas’ before carrying on into the interior.
Looking over Graciosa from Caldeirinhas
In a botanists paradise, we were constantly pausing to admire a flower or investigate an intriguing seed head. Poor Paul, a horticulturalist and general expert on anything green and growing, and Pedro, tirelessly answered our endless questions about the plants that we were finding. We finished our coast to coast adventure with a mer du lait, the short, milky coffee we’d become a little addicted to, and a glorious swim in the shallow sandy bay in the town of Praia.
The next day our walk took us to Volta a Caldeira, an enormous crater that dominates the south of the island.
Walking around Volta a Caldeira
We felt like we were in the Lord of the Rings as we looked over the crater from our lava tunnel view point at the top.
The view from the lava tunnel over the crater of Volta a Caldeira
The fun, and often under-estimated little island of Santa Maria, is less than 30 minutes flight from Sao Miguel. The oldest island of the archipelago, it boasts arguably the most fascinating geology; from pillow lava to the Red Desert and outcrops of sedimentary rocks dotted with sea shells high up above the current sea level.
Pedro was itching to show us the geological treasures but, as we’d arrived on the evening flight, the walking had to wait and we needed dinner. A feast awaited us! We dined at the local restaurant Garrouchada and were treated to a generous meal of freshly caught Atlantic cod, potatoes and vegetables served on a terracotta roof tile. Look out for the tile dishes on the menu on Graciosa and Terceira too…they often come with fresh fish in a creamy sauce, just right for dipping your fluffy Azorean bread into!
Up bright and breezy the next morning, our driver took us straight to the highest point on the island, Pico do Alto at 587m. From here we could see the distinct difference between the hilly and deeply indented eastern side of the island, and the flat west. From Pico do Alto our walk descended through tall forests thick with cryptomeria japonica, viburnum trees and Azores blueberry before meandering between pretty villages.
Pausing for a moment along the trail; we had started at Pico Alto, top right in the hills behind
We were awed by the Red Desert and wouldn’t have been at all surprized to see a thirsty camel, or kangaroo hopping past.
Crossing the Red Desert
The final part of this year’s Azores walking holidays was a glittering finale. We started in Santa Maria’s main town, Vila do Porto where we learnt of pirate attacks at Forte de Sao Bras and followed the trail past numerous interesting geological sites, to Prainha.
The trail from Vila do Porto, walking east along the coast
The sandy bays and deliciously clear water at Baia da Prainha
The view of the long yellow sandy bay and translucent turquoise sea was mouthwatering as we peeped over the cliffs towards the end of the warm, dusty trail. The view didn’t deceive us and there couldn’t have been a more luxurious reward to the end of our two week’s walking than floating our weary bodies in the warm Atlantic water.
Find out more about our Azores walking holidays
At Archipelago Choice, our small friendly team of island holiday specialists has been organising tailor-made holidays to the Azores since 1998 and more recently to Cape Verde, Saõ Tomé and Príncipe. Over this time we have developed the most comprehensive, flexible and fairly priced holidays to these beautiful islands.
All the holidays we organise are put together with great care using our extensive knowledge of the islands and our experience of travelling around them. We try very hard to give the most choice and flexibility possible combining activities, accommodation and island hopping so we put together holidays that best suit our clients.
So whether you want to go whale watching, walking, canyoning, kite surfing or just relaxing on the beach, you can be sure our team of island holiday specialists will be able to help.
Contact us now and we’ll help together one of our amazing Azores walking holidays tailored especially to you