You can be forgiven for never having heard of the Azores. On the travel shelves of most bookstores, titles will skip straight from Australia to the Bahamas. But this tiny archipelago off the coast of Portugal is overdue to become a destination for travelers seeking unspoiled subtropical terrain that wears its history on its sleeve.
What to see
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The first thing you’ll notice are the many shades of Azorean blue: the clear sky, the persistently blooming hydrangeas and morning glories, and the deep turquoise ocean stretching undisturbed for more than a thousand miles in all directions. Each island has its own geographical marvels, such as the 7,713-foot-high dormant volcano that gives Pico Island its name and the hikeable lava tunnels beneath, and the steaming hot springs in Sao Miguel.
What to do
Because of the variety of terrain, there’s plenty to do, from hiking to scuba diving. If you’re drawn to the water, the Azores has plenty of public swimming areas carved into the craggy basalt shoreline. And this former whaling capital now draws some of the Atlantic’s best whale and dolphin watching.
With nine islands to explore, it helps to consult a company that customizes tours to your interests and abilities. We like Picos de Aventura (www.picosdeaventura.com) in Ponta Delgada and A Abegoaria (www.a-abegoaria.com), serving the island of Pico.
What to eat and drink
“Meat or fish?” is often the question come dinnertime. Because of its location, seafood is the centerpiece of many Azorean menus. But beef from the island’s free-roaming cattle is also a good bet. Some of the best restaurants are tiny, side-street cafes, where the prato do dia (dish of the day) and a glass of local wine will only set you back 5 euros. Spanish settlers brought grape plants to the islands at the end of the 15th century, and much of the original viniculture methods have been preserved, creating crisp whites and rich reds.
Where to stay
Aldeia da Fonte’s rambling seaside property includes a private seaside bathing area, a spa and an old whaling lookout tower. Be sure to enjoy a glass of local vino verdelho at the lovely outdoor bar (www.aldeiadafonte.com).