Adventure Compass spoke about the beauty and adventure of the Azores with the friendliest folks at Azores Tourism Authority.
What would you consider to be the top attraction or attractions that drive tourists to Azores Islands?
The 9 Islands of the Azores are considered to be one of the most sustainable tourism destinations in the world and in fact the destination has recently received awards for its sustainability. It has been awarded Top 100 Most Sustainable World Destinations in 2017 and won the Best Atlantic Award as a Top Sustainable Destinations at ITB 2018.
The Azores have also been awarded the platinum quality coast destination in the world. With some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe, it is no wonder it has been listed in the key places to visit on the ‘European Best Destination’ website. Nature is at the core of products across the archipelago — the wonderful seaside and volcanic landscapes, the outdoor activities among beautiful and untouched nature, the safety and the hospitality of the local population. All of this makes the Azores a paradise still awaiting to be fully explored.
More specifically, the main attractions driving tourists to the destination are: the charming and colourful Angra do Heroismo, with its historic centre recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage. Sete Cidades, one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It is one basin with two lakes with different colours, a certain delight for the eyes. Its surroundings are a perfect playground for adventurous travellers to explore. Mount Pico, the highest point in Portugal, is another hotspot offering the best view of the islands around Pico and the perfect point to enjoy breathtaking sunrises and sunsets.
Which locations would you recommend visiting?
What is your favourite local area where you like spending weekends?
Western area of Terceira island where the landscape is shaped by the activity of the Serra de Santa Barbara’s volcano, with volcanic domes and lava flows. Also, here it is possible to enjoy the view of the other islands, such as Pico and São Jorge. From the top of Serra de Santa Bárbara, the sunset between São Jorge, Pico and Graciosa, surrounded with all the endemic vegetation can be an amazing experience for nature lovers.
Which adventures are most popular —hiking, boat, anything else?
The most popular activities are whale watching, hiking, and scuba diving.
There are also other great activities such as yachting, surfing, soaking in natural hot springs, golf, geo-tourism, canyoning, bird watching, big game fishing, and bike tours. Azores offer an incredible variety of activities; all travellers can find their ideal adventure here.
Which type of sports activities are most popular? Any extreme sports worth noting?
Trail running events are getting more and more popular every year, with several events taking place every year on different islands. Azores Trail Run – Faial island – in 2018 will have more than 700 participants, with more than 20 different nationalities.
As for the extreme sports, there are some worth noting:
What are the specialties of local cuisine? Which dishes you can recommend personally? Any restaurant you are recommending to your visitors?
Azorean cuisine is a rich, hearty and peasant-based style of cooking. Seafood, spicy stews, sweet desserts and rich dairy products are popular in the Azores. Some specialities of the local cuisine are: the Kale Soup the Azorean way with big chunks of kale, potatoes and linguiça (spicy pork sausage), whereas the Caldo Verde made on the mainland is creamy and smooth, with thin strips of kale and maybe one or two slices of chouriço in each bowl. Also popular is Cozido das Furnas (volcanic stew). This is a sort of one-pot meal that is actually cooked by digging a hole in the ground near the famous caldeiras (hot springs) of Furnas (which, not surprisingly, means “furnace” in Portuguese).
Alcatra is another popular Azorean dish that hails from the island of Terceira. This pot roast style of dish can be made from pork, beef, chicken, rabbit, and beans and is slow baked with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and oriental spices.
The Azorean cuisine is rich in seafood. While in the mainland, bacalhau (cod) and other fish figures heavily in the mix, in the Azores, there is a heavier use of polvo (octopus), lamprey and limpets.
Massa Sovada, or Portuguese sweet bread is originated in the Azores and is an ever-present delicacie during Christmas and Easter. For Easter it is often baked with hard-boiled eggs in the centre of the loaf.
Malasadas, round balls of dough that are deep fried and rolled in granulated sugar, almost like a donut and believed to be originated in the island of São Miguel.
Personally, I really like Cozido das Furnas (volcanic stew) and I also like Alcatra de peixe from Terceira which is fish stewed in a claypot with local wine. This gives you a taste of the hearty and rich flavours of Azorean cooking. The visitor is unlikely to go hungry on these islands. Whether you are eating in a restaurant or in someone’s home, the portions will be large and you will be encouraged to have seconds or thirds.
Which seasons are most popular? Why? What are seasonal activities or events that you recommend visiting?
You can travel to the Azores all year around, however there are some activities that can only be experienced during certain periods; an example is scuba diving: from May to September; whale watching: from April to September; Yachting: May to September; bird watching: October and November to see American passerines, and the summer for the sea birds.
Could you tell us about your personal favourite adventure locally?
My favourite adventure it is to sail around the islands. With good winds, all the islands offer amazing conditions to undertake this activity. It is spectacular to see the beautiful coastline from the yacht and encounter playful dolphins providing great company.
Another favourite is hiking from the top of Serra do Topo to the famous Fajãs of Santo Cristo and Fajãs of Cubres can be one of the most exciting and breathtaking experiences in the Azores. The dramatic landscapes, the waterfalls, the luxurious endemic vegetation and the picturesque views of the houses located on the fajãs, surrounded with high cliffs, are just some of the highlights.
What is your favourite and most notable experience at the Azores?
The most notable experience for me is to climb the mountain of Pico, 2351 meters high and camp on the top of the mountain to see the wonderful sunset or sunrise. From Pico Mountain, the view of the Azores is just unreal, the most amazing you can experience among the islands.
What travel trends are you noticing?
Adventure travel is becoming more important with greater participation from the over 50’s market as they are becoming more adventurous. Activity holidays are exploding with operators offering walking holidays, cycling tours, diving holidays and Azores are the perfect response for the more active travellers, looking to explore the islands through trekking or cycling.
People are looking to re-connect with nature and appreciate the untouched and wild landscapes the Azores provide. The islands host great wildlife and whale-watching is definitely an activity many visitors want to experience.
The interest in Responsible Tourism is growing and people are becoming more conscious about the importance of this aspect of tourism. There is a growing need for authenticity and the desire for unique experiences – travelling like a local.
What future do you think Azores’ travel agents will have, bearing in mind the growing popularity of online travel booking?
Even though the Azores are part of Portugal, the islands’ distance from the continent and it being a place people don’t know very much about means that travellers will still look at booking with agents, needing the support and knowledge that is difficult to convey online. Online travel booking is still practical, however the amount of choices and the number of websites the travellers have access to can sometimes be overwhelming. Travel agents can definitely help take the planning pressure off the travellers, making the whole experience more enjoyable and inspiring.
Which popular blogs on adventure travel do you follow?
Could you please give us your favourite quote about adventure travel or tourism/travel in general?
Who of us, when reading the Greek myths, would not dream to see the mountain awing the ancient Greeks? Even these days Mytikas’s (Mount Olympus’s modern name) peak can be rarely seen as it is almost always hidden behind the dense clouds. Due to this reason, the ancient people believed Mount Olympus to be the place of residence of Gods, unreachable and invisible to human. Mytikas means "nose" and takes the name from its shape reminding of a human’s nose. Every proud-hearted Greek should at least once ascend the mountain; it is almost a duty, an unwritten rule, so to say, and numerous Greeks, sometimes in big groups, often ascend the mountains without wearing any special shoes or helmets.