I can’t remember where it was that I first read about the Azores, but it goes back many years. Açores, they say, here in Portugal, a softer sound; with a kind of reverence, and a far away look in their eyes. A chain of nine islands, adrift on the North Atlantic, and just loosely tethered to the mainland, their volcanic origins creating dramatic scenery, soothed by the Gulf Stream. That’s enough to stir the imagination, isn’t it?
I was born on an island, and have always loved the sea. That azure colour, glinting in the sunlight, sits permanently in the back of my mind, though many’s the time I’ve seen it leaden grey. I loved Portuguese Madeira and the volcanic aspects of the Spanish Canary Islands. I felt impelled to know more. Where exactly were they, and how could I get there?
850 miles west of mainland Portugal, and over a thousand miles south east of Newfoundland, Canada. An autonomous part of Portugal, they are divided, for convenience, into 3 groups : Grupo Oriental, to the east, with the largest of the islands, São Miguel, and much smaller, Santa Maria; Grupo Central comprises the ‘happy’ island of Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, with its volcanic cone- the highest mountain in Portugal, and Faial, with its port Horta, known for Peter’s Sport Cafe, the sailing capital of the Azores; and the most mysterious and far away, Grupo Ocidental, to the west, Flores and tiny Corvo. It was obvious, from the very beginning, that visiting all of the islands would be expensive, and time consuming. So, which ones, and when?
Whenever I read of the islands there would be reference to volcanic lakes, surrounded by hedges of hortensia, or Hydrangeas, as I know them. A ‘Granny’ plant, I always thought of them, filling the front gardens of old ladies’ houses. But the pictorial evidence showed lakes of blue and green, in Spring and Summer wrapped around with foaming, creamy blue mopheads, like nothing Granny had ever imagined. For years I brooded on these. Not given to extravagant holidays, whenever I caught sight of an offer I would avidly read the small print, wondering if this might be the one. But the timing was never right. Finally I suggested to my husband that it would make a brilliant 70th birthday present, but could ignite little interest from him. He was focused completely on our intended move to the Algarve. I knew that I could fly directly to the islands from Lisbon, so it made sense to be patient.
Meanwhile, I talked to everybody I could who might know anything of these islands. One of our Algarve walking friends had made a solo visit one winter, and been so enchanted with São Jorge that he planned to organise a group visit. It never happened. I joined the Seniors Club in Tavira, only to find that the 5 day Azores trip they were offering clashed with my son’s visit. I enthused so much that 2 other of our walking friends organised a celebratory visit to São Miguel for their daughter’s graduation present. Despite mixed weather in February, they loved it. Still others remembered swimming in thermal pools there, more than 15 years ago. Was I the only person never to have been? Whenever the subject was mentioned, eyes would light up, and memories be triggered.
I turned to the world of blogging and to Instagram to broaden my knowledge of where to go, and what there was to see. I was considering an organised walking holiday with Inntravel, or a cruise with Artisan, but I couldn’t quite get the balance right (or the price!) In the end I booked it all myself, using SATA, the Azores airline. Roughly following the Inntravel itinerary, I booked ferries and chose hotels with much deliberation. 13 nights, 4 islands, 6 flights, 2 ferries and 6 hotels. The date was chosen to coincide with the flowers being at their peak. It never even entered my head that I would be missing the French Open, and an amazing 12th title at Roland Garros for Rafa Nadal.
All a little daunting, I was desperate for it to come together seamlessly. Or with a minimum of hiccups. Much information on the islands and their history is available on Wikipedia. For me, this is the beginning of a memorable journey. Thanks to Cathy at Wander.essence for the opportunity to share it. Read of the determination that took her to a Call to place: the Sultanate of Oman.