A Call to place : the Azores

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.

142 comments

  1. I just read the previous post, where comments are closed (I get it!) and have to say how funny it is, the parallels. We moved about 9 months ago and have also come to a place tourists enjoy in the summer, and I’m watching the changes – from no one on my favorite trails to avoiding them altogether because they’re be too busy at peak season. But the summer people bring good things too, and I’m fine with it. We also made a big trip after only having been here 6 months, which on some level was crazy, but it was great in the end, as I’m sure yours was. And I resonated with what you said about wanting a warm response but holding back, dipping in and out, etc. You have moved to a “warm response” part of the world, which, once you get more of the language, will be good. Not the case for me, but we work with what we’ve got, right? And we’re not complaining! 🙂

    1. Absolutely no cause for complaint, Lynn! The town is full for the celebrations and fireworks tonight, but who wouldn’t be proud to live somewhere like this? We’ll eat at home and then join the throng and the atmosphere will be wonderful. Thanks so much for your time and appreciation. 🙂 🙂

  2. Great post! Oh the planning! Having planned three weeks in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany by ourselves – air, trains, trams, rental car, hotel, airbnb’s, etc. – I know it’s time consuming. At one point I was just sick of it! 😉 But it was worth it, and obviously your trip was too. I would love to visit Portugal, for starters, and….

    1. Yes! Next trip… I’m determined to go back for more of the islands, but not just yet. Michael is still recovering, and telling stories 🙂 🙂 But it worked as well as I ever could have expected or hoped.

  3. My friend went to Azores a year ago and when she showed me the pictures I was in shock. Now I am planning my own trip to Azores soon!

  4. Nice post with your feedback! 😀
    Next time you have the possibility to visit the Azores islands, try to spend more time for each island. Now, with this trip, for sure, you’re in love with the beauty. But to make sure you spend 5 stars days here to discover every spot, every detail of our culture, at least, you need 1 week (for the larger islands).

    It’s always nice to read about what our visitors think about the islands. 😀

    1. Thanks a lot, Nuno. I thought of you. 😆 I do hope to visit Terceira and Flores at some point but right now I can’t say when 🚣🌲⛅🌂🌊💕

  5. Beautiful in very direction Jo, it must have been beyond your expectations. Well done for booking independently, I was pleased with myself for booking Malaysia, three stops and flights, transfers and hotels partly for two people and partly for four who came from a different direction.

    1. It’s a bit nerve wracking in case it goes wrong, Gilly, and Mick thought I was slightly mad. But then, he does! 🙂 🙂 Thanks, darlin! I loved it.

  6. I heard a lot about the Azores as well, but have never been. The Canaries seemed more in reach from Belgium when I grew up.

    I blew up your photos of messages and murals left by sailors in Horta, just in case you captured one of my friends’ drawings and boat names. I can see why the trip was a bit daunting. Looking forward to more photos and stories!

    1. Hi Liesbet 🙂 I took quite a lot of photos of the messages in Horta and they will appear in a future post. These are in Ponto Delgada on Sáo Miguel. I’ll give you a buzz when I post in case you miss them. Probably make a good six worder 🙂

  7. This is the stuff of dreams Jo. I am delighted that yours finally came true and hope my visit lies somewhere in the near future. The misty mountains viewed through the daisies and Sete Cidades viewed through the Hydrangeas are both beyond perfection. Honestly, it seems easier to cruise over there on a sailboat than to organize all those hotels, ferries, and airplanes. Your planning skills are impressive. I’ve got it easy by comparison.

  8. Wonderful that you were able to organise your dream holiday Jo – it sounds like a lot of planning but well worth it! I love the photos of the gorgeous views and the profusion of flowers. The soft lemon shades in the first photo are especially pretty! Look forward to hearing more about your travels there xx 🙂

    1. Still narrowing down the photos, Rosemay, but it’s so lovely to look back on. Hope your wrist is getting better. Darn nuisance! 😕✈🚣🌂🌈💕

      1. Thanks so much Jo – yes much better now thanks it was obviously packing up all those boxes! It’s been utter chaos here for the past week and a half – walls being demolished, dust everywhere, power out and water off yesterday (we went out!). The cat is coping well, the dog is very anxious and we have him looked after by friends when we can. However the builders are fast workers and the new kitchen goes in early next week 🙂 Thanks so much for including my York walk in your Monday Walk this week – that is so sweet of you and I will be checking out all the walks this morning. Some relaxing blog reading will be a good distraction! Yes holiday photos are lovely to look back on – I take so many but it is nice to reminisce! Hope you’re having a lovely week xx 🙂

      2. Yes it’s not easy living with the mess and workmen in your house all the time though they are very considerate. It’s been cold too and with the ceilings half off you really feel the draught even with the heating and the wood fire burning! Looking forward to the end result though! 🙂 🙂

  9. The name and the place also conjure up intrigue for me … but I’m a little farther away! So happy you finally got to go, and kudos to you for assembling your own trip. It’s a lot of work but, in my experience, one of the most gratifying ways to travel. I laughed at your description of hydrangeas as granny plants because that’s how I always thought of them, too (I think my real grandma had a bunch). About ten years ago, though, we planted some in our yard in Chicago, and they were magnificent! (Could it be we are getting to be old ladies ourselves? Noooooo)

    1. The thought had occurred to me, Lexie, but I swept it aside 😆. The islands were all I hoped for and I’m already scheming for next year 😍🌈🌂🌊💕

  10. >Whenever the subject was mentioned, eyes would light up, and memories be triggered.
    I had a similar reaction, with a smile, especially when I saw your photos of the ship and boat mementos on the docks. I was only there for a day, as a stop while we were sailing in Tenacious from Bermuda to Southampton, but loved it. Stunning scenery. Did you visit the old whaling station? Very sobering, especially the slope to drag the whales up for processing.

    1. We visited 2- one at Porto Pim in Horta which I had to avert my eyes from, and another at Lajes on Pico where I didn’t go inside. Grim but as I understand it a necessity of survival on the islands in those days. Glad it made you smile. It did me too 😍💕 Much to follow.

  11. Your photos, especially that first one, Jo, are absolutely gorgeous! I have always heard of the beauty of the Azores, but really didn’t know that much about them. How fantastic that you had the opportunity to fulfill a long-held desire. I think by your description your travel plans were a little complex, but you did your research well, and mission accomplished! 🙂 Good for you!!

    1. It couldn’t have worked out much better, Debbie, though with a husband who doesn’t like flying- or clouds!- it was always going to be a challenge. I’m so happy we made it! 🙂 🙂 Thank you!

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