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 in the middle of the Atlantic is overdue to become a destination for travelers seeking unspoiled subtropical terrain that wears its history on its sleeve.
What to see
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. The islands have a similar history with wine's best friend: Each island produces its own excellent regional cheese.
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).
How to get there
Portuguese airline SATA offers direct flights from Boston to the islands of Terceira and Sao Miguel, as well as 6-night fly-and-stay packages starting at $999. Visit www.sata.pt or call 800-762-9995 to make your reservation.
Where to eat
Ancoradouro in Magdalena, Pico Island: Traditional fare and local wine served with views of the ocean
Anfiteatro in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel island: Modernist remixes of regional dishes, such as cinnamon-spiked blood sausage
O Gato Mia in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel island: A hip, intimate bistro in the Azores' most cosmopolitan city
O Venancio in Angra do Heroisma, Terceira island: A cafe where locals spend Sunday afternoons chatting over the catch of the day
Peter Cafe Sport in Faial, Horta island: A cozy bar that attracts sailors from all over the world and is famous for its gin and tonic