by Erin Davis
Once relatively unknown to tourists, Portugal’s Azores Islands are full of options for the adventure and wellness travel-seekers.
In this autonomous group of islands in the mid-Atlantic, you’ll find an experience that’s a far cry from your typical European beach vacation – one that’s filled with magical landscapes, scenic lookouts, active adventures, and no shortage of wellness activities to recharge and revitalize.
This spring, Azores Airlines – which now offers direct flights to the Azores from both Toronto and Boston – invited me to hop across the pond to check out the pristine pieces of paradise that waited in the islands of Terceira and Sao Miguel. On both breezy islands, it’s common to experience four seasons in one day (making layering essential), and the temperature never climbs above 30 degrees Celsius. If you’re in the market for a fresh air-filled wellness vacation, you’ll definitely find it in the Azores.
On the peaceful island of Terceira – the second most inhabited of the Azores – it’s easy to appreciate the lush greenery of all shades, rolling hills, pastures, charming local farm-to-table spots, view-filled hiking options, magnificent lookout points, dramatic cliffs, and volcanic landscapes. It’s the type of place that will entice you to take it down a notch (or ten) and take in simple pleasures like incredibly clean air, breathtaking nature, slow pace, and a fresh meal.
The best way to explore the lush island – where you can get anywhere by car in 20 minutes – is a combination of driving, biking, and hiking, the latter two of which are arranged by a handful of tour companies, like the knowledgable team at AzoresTouch.Tour companies also offer safari-like 4×4 journeys throughout the island (providing an adrenaline rush you didn’t know you were missing in your life), lead by seasoned guides who will show you all the must-hit spots for views, food, and a lesson in the island’s storied history.
If hiking is a wellness vacation must, you’ll definitely get your fix in Terceira – and many spots have views that are straight out of a storybook or painting. There are numerous trails throughout the island for various abilities, which are explored on your own or via a tour guide. Knowledgeable guides will offer insight on the island’s lush flora and fauna as they highlight the dramatic landscape – it’s definitely an inviting one for walkers and hikers. Hiking through Terceira, you’ll find everything from enchanting laurel forest areas, old dirt country paths, and dramatic cliffs, to vineyards, volcanoes, and fruit orchards. Word of advice: make sure your cameras are fully charged for these incredible hikes.
Your journeys on the island will lead you to stunning scenery, like the beautiful Algar do Carvão, located right in the middle of the island. Here, you’ll find a magical, fairytale-like ancient lava cave covered in dramatic vegetation that has formed as the result of two volcanic eruptions 3,000 and 1000 years ago – one of the few places in the world where you can walk inside of an extinct volcano. Algar do Carvão descends deep down a set of stone stairs into a lush, history-rich, and captivating chamber. A lagoon made of rainwater is found at its deepest point. The island is also full of numerous lookout points – the peaceful type that aren’t overrun with tourists – for both photo ops and times to pause and take in the moment.
If you would rather take in the island’s various shades of green and plunging cliffs from the water – and stay active while doing so – watersport rentals are simple on the island, the only issue being the chance that the weather won’t cooperate. Kayaks are available for rental from the island’s handful of outdoor adventure companies, as is everything you need for windsurfing (and there’s definitely no shortage of wind in Terceira).
For all the exploring, hiking, and biking, there are quality spa options in Terceira to help your unwinding cause. One in particular, Mythos Wellness Spa in the Hotel Caracol is often called “the best spa on the island.” If you’re in the market for a soothing massage, this is the place to get one, with options that include the bamboo massage, a Himalayan salt massage, candle massage, and cupping therapy. Also found within its walls are things like chocolate therapy, floatation therapy, and facials with volcanic minerals of the Azores. Another notable spa is the Alkimia Beleza e Equilibrio, a soothing spot with a full range of spa services to complete your vacation – from sound therapy and massage, to skin treatments and manicures.
Though the beaches are scarce on Terceira, a good option is Praia da Vitória, located near a marina and all kinds of local restaurants, shops, and a market with fresh fish and vegetables. As an added bonus, the surrounding hill has a massive stone staircase to climb up to the Miradouro Do Facho victory monument, offering a chance for great views and to work up a sweat before a dip in the chilly ocean below.
It’s easy to refuel on a fare that couldn’t be more local – if you’re looking for farm-to-table, Terceira is the spot for you. Although the region’s signature dishes include things like alcatra – a local specialty beef pot roast that is made slowly in a clay pot for 12 hours and served with sweetbread, rice and potatoes – and fresh local fish, there are plenty of spots throughout the island that offer a fresh vegetarian fare.
For a place to rest your head after a jam-packed day, the Terceira Mar Hotel – complete with ocean views and balconies in all rooms and a beautiful infinity pool – is a great (though a tad dated) option. Wellness-related talking points here include a health club with an indoor heated pool, gym, Turkish bath, and sauna to unwind.
Stay tuned to read about our experience on the island of Sao Miguel – just a short Azores Airlines flight away from Terceira.