IMG 0851I do like to share my travel experiences with you! This is how we discover new places to explore that perhaps you wouldn't have considered before. A friend was raving about the Azores, hence we booked our trip there this summer, and now I in turn want to spread the word. It is possible to fly direct from Gatwick or Stanstead to Sao Miguel in summer. This is the largest island and, although you could explore others, actually this island has so much to offer you could easily just stick with that.

Not sure where the Azores are? I needed to check a map too. They do belong to Portugal but are out in the Atlantic and therefore can have a bit of a changeable climate - but we found the weather very pleasant in July despite the occasional drizzle and cloud. This is an adventureous holiday afterall with volcano hikes, crater lakes and waterfalls, thermal springs to dip in and black sand beaches to be explored. If you are a real foody you will need to plan a bit. There are not so many good restaurants on the island so work your trips around the ones with good reviews.

As the island is fairly small you can do pretty extensive exploring in a week. We started in Ponta Delgada for a couple of nights - but found the town pretty deserted on a Sunday. I suggest you pick up a car at the airport and avoid the taxi queue. There is so much to see around the island you need to get out there as soon as possible. From here, after our first sleep and delicious breakfast at historic boutique hotel Casa das Palmeiras, we took off to the East to visit Sete Cidades - a blue and green lake next to each other. 

Something we hadn't expected (having had no time to read up on our trip before we arrived) is that the hydrangea rules on San Miguel, mostly in the shade of blue. They escort you on every journey. It was such a lovely surprise to see the flower lined roads on our first outing. After a few days you happily accustomed to it, but the first time you see this it really blows you away. 

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Actually when we go to the coloured lakes the view point was obscured by cloud, but we didn't let that stop our fun. We took out a kayak and SUP board and did races around the lake, the kids happily falling in. After this we went on to the coast at Mosteiros and drove along until we saw a beachside cafe to stop for a burger. Such a pretty spot at the black beach of Praia dos Moinhos. Feeling refueled we went to Piscina naturales di Ferreira at Ginete for a thermal bath swim. The natural pool mixes sea water with the boiling source creating a bathe in your perfect temperature - go nearer the source if you want more heat, or go towards the sea to cool it a bit.

 

 

IMG 0707 min 3 compressedWe went back to Ponta Delgada for dinner - there seemed to be no restaurants on route - and got a good nights sleep before heading off next day to see more of this wonderous island. We stopped inland from Vila Franca do Campo and hiked to the top of the dormant volcano to the crater lake of Lagoa do Fogo. The velvet blanket of green that surrounds you is impressive, and we were grateful of the little drizzle to take the heat out of the air as we climbed. On reaching the waters edge we took to the left over the rocky 'beach' to get to a point we could go in for a dip and have our picnic before we continued on our circular walk. Climbing then up on the path going to the right (where there was access to another amazing lakeside swimming spot) we took the picturesque route back down and to the car. 

For hikers do get the WalkmeAzores app or get hike ideas from their website here.

 

We went on to our next hotel - a bit of a treat for my 50th birthday - Furnas Boutique Hotel & Thermal Spa. I loved this place! In Furnas there is another lake and there and the town itself are constantly bubblying and letting off steam from fierce underground volcanic activity. At our hotel we had a thermal spa, amazing food and were in the perfect place to explore the West side of the island. We spent time relaxing, and out and about with particular highlights being visits to the waterfall at Salto de Prego by Faial da Terra (a rewarding and very cold dip broke up a lovely circular walk) and the black beach at Praia do Lombo Gordo (which was a bit of find). Also go in to Parque Terra Nostra and spend time at the lake at Furnas too, you can hire bikes or peddloes, and you can order a special stew meal cooked underground by the heat of the volcano.

 

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There was more to our time on Sao Miguel but I will leave you to discover your own favourite spots when you get there. That's part of the fun afterall.

From here we went on to Porto for a couple of nights and fell in love all over again. In contrast but complimenting our time in the Azores, we were further impressed with what Portugal has to offer. The friendliness of the people (who all seem to speak good English), good value for money, and in Porto port tasting and a good selection of restaurants with character and charm. 

In Porto we visited the library bookshop at Livraria Lello, which you need to pre-book a 5 euro ticket and queue for but it is a really interesting place which apparently J K Rowling was inspired by for the Harry Potter books. Also we climbed a bridge - not so daring as it sounds actually as you are in a safety harness and are never near the edge. We would have liked a little more feeling of danger!! (Is that weird?)  But it is the only bridge climb in Europe and we took a quaint tram ride to get there. It is in the direction of the beach so you could combine it with a meal out there afterwards. But just being down by the river, in the hustle and bustle, is pretty amazing. Its historic core is a World Heritage Site set around the Douro River. The teens, who often don't like a city break, were very keen on Porto too!

 

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