It’s getting easier and easier to explore the Azores. Last summer, Delta began offering seasonal, nonstop flights between JFK Airport in New York and the Portuguese archipelago. They were extended all year in May. It’s finally time to plan a trip to the volcanic islands.
The Azores lie nearly a 1,000 miles west of Lisbon and more than 1,000 miles southeast of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic Ocean. The autonomous region, comprised of nine islands, is truly in the middle of nowhere. Most flights, including the Delta ones, land on São Miguel Island. So that’s the island most people explore. That leaves eight other islands on which you can leave the crowds behind.
Terceira Island is a good place to start. The archipelago’s third-largest island consists of four overlapping stratovolcanoes. The lush, green island—dotted with white houses capped with red-tiled roofs—is beautiful from above. Once you land on the island, you’ll see lots of farms inland; cows greatly outnumber people here. Volcanic caves, natural rock pools, and the islands’ largest beach dot the coast. It’s along the southern coast that you’ll also find Angra do Heroísmo, the oldest city in the Azores.
Angra, as the city is known, was established in the middle of the 15th century on a spot that looks like a natural amphitheater. It’s where two bays overlook Monte Brasil, an extinct volcano. The Portuguese exiled politicians here during the Napoleonic Wars. Queen Maria II found refuge here during the Liberal Wars. The small city is now one of the Azores’ three regional capitals (along with Ponta Delgada on São Miguel Island and Horta on Faial Island), as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The center of Angra is Praça Velha. The Old Square, where the city’s main streets converge, was one of the first Portuguese squares designed as a wide open space. The spot, covered with patterned white limestone and black basalt stones, is where a livestock market and public hangings were once held. It’s still a place where you can run with the bulls. Churches, palaces, and museums surround Praça Velha. The Cathedral of Angra do Heroísmo, which has twin bell towers, is the largest church in the archipelago. The Palace Bettencourt is now the public library. MAH, the Angra do Heroísmo Museum, displays the islands’ history in a former convent. While the ruins of Forte de São Sebastião, from the 16th century, stand guard along the cliffs.
High stone walls, two sentry posts, and the turret still stand at Forte de São Sebastião. A hotel now does, as well. Pousada Forte de São Sebastião added a modern building to the old stone walls. The bright rooms have balconies and sea views. So do the outdoor pool and the hot tub. Breakfast, which features cheese from Queijo Vaquinha, will fill you up for the day ahead. Plus a Sunday night dinner includes a four-course meal, unlimited wine and port, and Fado music. Despite your remote location, there’s no doubt that you’re in Portugal.