Azores – a great place for a ‘walk on the quiet side!’

Philip Gilbert is a true specialist, having spent the last nine years leading tour groups to the Azores. He and his partner Ann still return from time to time for walking holidays. He says: “The spectacular scenery, the tranquillity, and the friendliness of the island folk make it a superb holiday destination for the adventurous over 50s”.

A visit to Sao Miguel – the largest island in the Azores Archipelago

View to Furnas Lake Just over a 3 hour direct flight, weekly from Gatwick, we are landing on Sao Miguel island – the largest of the 9 islands that make up the Azores archipelago, and it soon becomes clear why it is locally known as the ‘Green Island’. Once one leaves the capital city of Ponta Delgada, there is a wonderful mix of lowland green fields, housing a population of dairy cows which are as numerous as their human counterparts and the more rugged volcanic scenery of spectacular viewpoints, lakes and steaming, bubbling hot mud.

More than 50% of the population live in the main town of Ponta Delgada, which is an attractive port that on occasions attracts visits from the cruise ships that are returning from the Caribbean. The town itself has a safe and ‘laid back’ feel, enabling visitors to stroll with confidence in the streets of the old town and to explore the three superb botanical gardens sited within the city boundary. Perhaps make a visit as well to the old 17th century fort on the seafront, built originally to protect the island from the constant threat of pirate attack, but now operated as a military museum by the Portuguese army.

Small volcano in west of island However, for those who love beautiful green scenery, the joy is to explore the outreaches of the island. Over 1 million years ago, there were originally 2 islands that became joined together by further volcanic activity, so the visitors will see a clear difference when visiting the East and the West. For those who prefer to be independent, rather than joining an organised tour, hiring a car is easy (your hotel reception will help) and the quiet, well maintained roads make driving a stress free experience.

Our first trip out was to head east towards the village of Sete Cidades which sits on the shores of 2 magnificent volcanic lakes. To fully appreciate the beauty, and to see the phenomenon of seeing one blue, and one green lake, head for the viewpoint of Vista del Rei and soak up the ‘wow’ factor of looking into this giant volcano. This area is the Lake District of the island and has many hidden volcanic lakes, not all visible from the road, so for those who love walking, take your rucksack and boots and explore on foot, the paths being generally well marked. We tackled the 3 mile circuit that starts adjacent to Canary Lake (Largo do Canario) and were rewarded by views of 6 hidden volcanic lakes, plus panoramic coastal views, so this is one of the many walks to ‘go slow’ and savour  unspoilt, natural beauty at its best. If planning to walk, always take local advice about cloud, which can, on occasions, sit on the high ground, even when the weather is clear on the coast.

The author, Philip Gilbert, at Furnas Heading to the east of the island is another enchanting experience and must rate as one of the ‘not to be missed’ occasions! In the middle of the sleepy town of Furnas, a mild smell of sulphur hangs in the air and one comes across the fumeroles, boiling water and bubbling mud, that emphasises the volcanic nature of the land. Furnas is also home to the renowned Terra Nostra Gardens, where visitors can see one of Europe’s most comprehensive displays of trees and shrubs from around the world. Be sure to pack your swimming costume and try a dip in the volcanically heated natural pool, which is in the garden. The water is a delightful ‘hot bath’ temperature and the high mineral content leaves you feeling both relaxed and rejuvenated at the same time! If you want a special treat, spend a night in a garden-view room at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, arguably one of the best hotels on the island. In the afternoon, head towards the town of Nordeste, and you will drive through some lovely forested coastal areas, stopping perhaps at the gardens of Sossego to admire the flowers in this lovingly maintained garden and to see some impressive coastal views. Nowhere on the island is too far away – the total length of S. Miguel is just 63km – so we were able to fit in a lot of sightseeing yet still be back in our Ponta Delgada hotel comfortably well before the sun set over the yardarm.

'Blue and green' lake No Azores experience would be complete without a boat trip to see the whales and dolphins that abound in these waters, and there are several companies that offer well informed trips, with high safety standards and an agreement to work within the regulations that ensure that the animals are not stressed or disturbed by the whale watch boats. The better companies offer a pre-departure briefing and the on-board presence of a marine biologist to explain the characteristics of the particular whale or dolphin that has been seen. Luckily for us, the day we chose had calm seas, warm sunshine and, most importantly, the whales and dolphins decided to be out and about – especially the ‘showmen of the seas’, the dolphins!

At Fire Lake With the promise of clear weather in the mountains, our final trip of this holiday was to the majestic Fire Lake – another ‘must see’ for any visitor. Leaving the town of Ribiera Grande, on the north coast, the drive takes you up the mountain road which offers several spectacular viewpoints and passes the pollution-free geo-thermal electricity generating plants. Near the summit the reward is a magnificent view of this dramatic lake, seen from the roadside viewpoint. Even better, if you are feeling up to the physical challenge, you can climb down the steep path and find perfect tranquillity with a stroll on the lakeside.

All our friends have heard of the Azores, nobody, however has a clue where it is! Thankfully for us the islands have escaped the tourist masses and remain a green and unspoilt destination for the visitor who seeks peace and beauty, as opposed to the ‘disco lights and glitz’ of some mainstream holiday destinations.         

More information

  • Best time to visit: May to October.
  • Flights: SATA (The Azorean airline) offers weekly, direct flights from Gatwick.
  • Climate: Variable weather conditions. Sub-tropical, e.g. June temperatures approximately 22 degrees. 
  • What to pack: Comfortable footwear as many of the roads are cobbled and lightweight rainjacket.
  • Language: Portuguese.
  • Currency: Euro.
  • Island dimensions: 40 miles by 10 miles.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Sunvil

Or, for group visits contact
Agencia Acorianna de Viagems
Rua de Lisboa
Edif Varella
9500 – 216 Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores

109 people found this helpful

Share Article:

Philip Gilbert

Retired tour guide

Leave a comment


Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest travel tips on top destinations.

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Most Recent Articles

Ambassador offers unique ways to focus on health and wellness while enjoying the beauty of the sea….
Who can resist an invitation to a birthday party in Paris? Gillian Thornton celebrates 40 years of Riviera Travel, the…

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.