One of the reasons I enjoy writing this blog is that it brings back memories and gives me the feeling that I re-live the experience. So, in the middle of these crazy times I am so grateful that once upon a time I was able to explore the world freely with my family. I am unsure of the future of traveling, so, as long as we are home, I travel back to places I haven’t told you about.
Since early 2019 we are a family of 4. I was first reluctant to try any form of vacation that involved a lot of discovery. Our first trip was to Halkidiki (Greece) where we spent 10 days in an amazing All-Inclusive Hotel. I will probably write about that trip as well since it was one of the best all-inclusive experiences we had. After a ‘laid back’ (do not take this term literally when it comes to vacations with babies) experience like this I wouldn’t have ever imagined going anywhere more adventurous.
Just a few weeks before the summer break we were looking for new places where we could spend about 1 week. We were looking for a destination where we hadn’t been, not too hot in July, not too many flying hours away, not too pricey (I had no idea that going anywhere during the official school breaks is so much more expensive!) that was also not crowded. Visiting the Azores was in the back of my mind for many years already, but I never took the time to research in depth the possibility of going there. For what we were looking for, Azores was the perfect option. We booked a hotel with breakfast and a flight with TUI to Sao Miguel. It’s certainly a gorgeous, family friendly, hidden gem.
Here is what we loved the most:
We spent a day strolling on the picturesque black and white streets of Ponte Delgada (this is where we had our accommodation as well). We loved its unique architecture, charm, narrow streets and the absence of tourists. The streets we incredibly quiet.
DAY 2 Terra Nostra Park and Furnas
On the 2nd day we rented a car (with IlhaVerde / GreenIsland Rent a Car) and we went to Terra Nostra Park, which in my view is the most beautiful nature park I have ever seen. It also features a huge thermal pool (30-40 degrees) which was a lot of fun for my husband and son to try out. Besides the many incredible species of trees and plants, the location of the Terra Nostra park is itself special, nestled within a volcanic crater that is dormant since 1630. One important aspect before you start to explore this island is that the Azores has a crazy, unpredictable climate with very quickly changing weather. Even if you establish in advance an itinerary it will be quite difficult to strictly follow it. What helped us organise our days was the SpotAzores free phone application. SpotAzores has cameras in the main places to visit throughout the island and in this way you can check the weather and the level of cloudiness at each site. Of course, there is the theory and the practice. After the fun thermal pool experience, the weather changed for the worse, and we had to choose between going back for the car and continuing into the park. Feeling adventurous and unwilling to accept the bad weather, we went into the park. What followed went from bad to worse, hopping through the rain showers from one dry patch to the next, getting increasingly soaked along the way.
Calderias das furnas and Fumaroles
We briefly visited the Caldeiras hot springs where the famous local dish Cozido das Furnas (a stew with vegetables and meat) is cooked. In Furnas, the cozido is special because it’s prepared in a large pot placed underground and cooked by the steam from the hot springs for about 5 hours. It’s quite delicious.
The abundance of blue hydrangeas. It felt like driving through a cloud of royal blue hydrangeas, just surreal. My husband dryly observed that the millions of flowers decorating the sides of the roads on this island could give people hydrangeaphobia 😊.
DAY 3 Arnel Lighthouse and the Cha Goreana tea plantation
There is a very steep spiral road leading to the lighthouse. It’s been quite a challenging exercise, especially with the baby in the carrier. Our older son really wanted to see the lighthouse and he did not mind the difficult climb and descent. In theory you could do that by car as well, however the spiral road down is exceptionally narrow and steep.
The Cha Goreana tea plantation has been an interesting experience as well especially since this is the only remaining European tea plantation. We were offered a guided tour through the manufacturing process. You can also do a hike through the beautiful tea plantation hills.
DAY 4 Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades is the postcard image of the Azores. The viewing points, especially Boca do Inferno are just mesmerizing. It’s been somewhat difficult to find the Boca do Inferno viewing point. As a tip, once you see the Lagoa Do Canario sign, turn down the road. From here the it’s a 5 to 10 minutes’ walk to the viewing point. This is the most popular spot on the island and normally there are lots of cars parked, so it is easy to find. When we went it was very quiet, so we first missed the entrance.
DAY 5 Lagoa do Fogo viewpoint was for me the highlight of this experience. Besides the stunning views of the Lagoa do Fogo viewpoint, we also took the path from the viewpoint to the lake. It’s a hike of about 30-40-minute one way. The views and the beautiful shoreline are indescribable.
We stopped by at the Caldeira Velha to try out the hot springs. Such a fantastic experience, especially after the hike. The park has two stone-walled naturally heated pools surrounded by lush vegetation.
DAY 6 Villa Franca Island
In order to take the boat to this island you need to book a few days in advance as they limit the number of visitors per day. The island is located opposite the town of Vila Franca do Campo. This tiny island (about 300 m) was formed as result of the crater of an ancient volcano. Once we arrived to Vila Franca marina there was already a huge queue for the boat. We were almost giving up since outside it was already very hot, we had the baby in the carrier, and we counted on having to wait about 2 hours. However, it turned out that families with young kids have priority, which was an amazing surprise. We could board on the first boat. Even though I was looking forward to visiting this island and swim there, I left with mixed feelings. I really loved the scenery but I did not find it particularly safe to swim with young kids. We did not bring water shoes and in order to get to the beach area where our son could have played you had to climb over slippery rocks. Also, there is only one spot with shadow, which was packed with people.
I would certainly recommend visiting the Azores with young kids. Besides the places above there are endless hiking possibilities. Azores still feels like a place off the beaten track. Its lush vegetation and the abundance of hydrangeas make it unforgettable. We are planning to return to another Azorean island at some point in time.