The ultimate garden-lovers' destination
The Azorean Garden (in the new World of Gardens area at this year’s Hampton Court Flower Show) showcases all that makes the Azores so special as a garden-lovers’ holiday destination.
Exotic flowers growing wild, basalt-wall-protected vines, steaming fumaroles, waterfalls and blue-green lakes; tree ferns, dramatic red-leaved cannas, naturally-heated pools and cerulean-hued hydrangeas in the hedgerows; agapanthus heads bobbing, fuchsias self-propagating in dry-stone walls, and colours from every part of the spectrum across the nine islands – all are part of the Azorean experience.
Add to that the surprisingly blue Atlantic waters surrounding the islands, the pretty charcoal-and-cream cobbled pavements, the tiny chapels found everywhere, plus whale and dolphin watching, Europe’s mostly westerly tea plantation and glasshouses growing the sweetest pineapples, cows milked in their fields and a laid-back lifestyle that harks back to less harried times, and you have all the ingredients for a superb great-outdoors-style nature-lovers’ trip.
Sao Miguel, the green island, is the main island and offers a myriad of activities, from festivals a-plenty (see the streets covered with azaleas for the Festa Sr dos Enfermos, in April) to Jeep safaris, from horse riding to swimming in rock pools, from walking to whale and dolphin watching, from canoeing to cycling and from simply soaking up the sights to relaxation in a green paradise. Azorean pineapples are grown in Fajo de Baixo and geothermal pools bubble at Furnas. Try a geological history tour, visit the Terra Nostra Botanical Garden, dating from 1935, or learn about bird watching on the island.
Santa Maria, the island of the sun, is the oldest island of the archipelago, and is where Christopher Columbus sought refuge in 1493 on his return from voyaging to America. Enjoy the best beaches, a central mountainous area and a nature reserve.
Terceira, the lilac island, offers culture, too, in the form of UNESCO World Heritage Site Angra do Heroismo, dating from the late 15th century. Scattered across the island are no less than 68 ‘Imperias’, tiny chapels dedicated to the Holy Spirit.
Graciosa, the white island, is known for its windmills, famous for its cakes and the freshest of fish and shellfish – plus its own wine and cheese.
Sao Jorge, the brown island, supports 20,000 dairy cattle. Watch the farmers go from field to field with their milk churns to milk the cows, and enjoy visiting the modest cheese factory and tasting Sao Jorge’s signature cheddar-like cheese.
Pico, the grey island, features the volcano of Pico, Portugal’s highest point – climb it with a guide and enjoy sunrise over the islands. Try the wine and visit the fascinating whaling museum – and spot whales from old look-out points.
Faial, the blue island, is where the transatlantic yachties stop off en route during their trips – the buzzing port of Horta boasts Peter’s Café plus its signature gin and tonic! The island is blue with hydrangeas from June to August.
Flores and Corvo, the Atlantic’s Garden and the black island are the westernmost islands of the archipelago and thus the least-visited. On Flores, see 20 waterfalls tumbling down a high cliff and enjoy waymarked trails; on Corvo, see a huge 3.5 km wide caldera, plus migrating birds - and meet some of its mere 400 inhabitants.
Grand Tour of the Azores – link six or more islands in one trip – tailor-made options available.
Direct flights operate (via SATA, the Azorean airline) from London Gatwick from April to October – the islands of the Azores are less than four hours away
from the UK.
Lead in prices from £582 pp (two sharing) including flights, transfers and seven nights’ B&B accommodation. Car hire available, plus plenty of guided (but individual) trip options.
For more information, visit sunvil.co.uk/azores or meet the team at the Hampton Court Flower Show, 3rd to 8th July, 2012.