Beautiful, lush islands with an abundance of wildlife and marine life and lots of volcanic features (sulphuric pools and grottoes) to delight the kids on family holidays, the Azores are a great spot to combine whale- and dolphin-watching with island-hopping and exploring. Not quite as much a beach destination as you might expect, this small string of volcanic islands in the Atlantic between Portugal and the east coast of the USA was discovered, uninhabited, in the 15th century, and has been variously occupied and colonised by Spain, Portugal, Flanders and several north African nations, all of whom have left traces in the food, culture and language. Since the 19th century they have been a protectorate of Portugal, and the official language is Portuguese.
|Flying Time||5 hours|
|Carbon Footprint||2.2 tonnes CO2|
Go whale-watching. Tours from Pico or Faial last about 3–4hrs and are great value. You can even help the local oceanography department by photographing each whale you see for identification. The islands, once dependent on whale-hunting, are converting old whaling stations into museums and old whalers into tour guides.
Hire a car and explore São Miguel, the largest and greenest of the islands, with a lovely mix of volcanic peaks, tiny villages and flower-strewn meadows, making it a great place for family walks or picnics.
Visit the extinct volcano on lovely Graciosa – you can climb down to the very bottom of the crater, then treat yourself to a treatment in the Carapacho thermal spa with its family Jacuzzi.
Portuguese food – great seafood, including limpets, octopus and fish chowders – is the speciality of the Azores, although the cuisine differs from island to island. The larger islands offer more beef dishes (the land being large enough to house cows), while salted cod is more of a staple on smaller ones. Excellent cheeses, delicious Portuguese sweetbreads and very good wine should also be on the menu for family holidays.
The Azores are best visited, especially on family holidays, between May and Sept, when days are warm and generally sunny. September is especially good for wildlife-lovers, with a high chance of seeing sperm whales, bottlenose, common and spotted dolphins and a wide variety of seabirds.
As the islands are so far out in the Atlantic, you should expect showers at any time of year (hence the beautiful flowers and other plants).
There are weekly flights to the Azores' main island of São Miguel (Ponta Delgada airport) from Manchester, with a second pick-up at London Gatwick. The flying time is just over 5hrs. Spaces book up fast so you need to plan well in advance. There are also daily scheduled flights year-round to the islands of São Miguel, Faial and Terceira from London Heathrow and Gatwick, with a stop in Lisbon, also with a flying time of about 5hrs.
The Azores are on GMT (GMT-1 in summertime) so you won't suffer any jet-lag.
Travel to the Azores isn't cheap, but once you're there, relatively inexpensive family holidays are possible – a 2-course meal with wine costs about €14-20 in a restaurant, less in a café, and a double room in a mid-range hotel is about €80-90/night.
Ponta Delgada, the capital, is a good base for exploring both São Miguel and some of the others islands, as island-hopping boats leave from here.
Graciosa has very little accommodation but the Graciosa Resort & Business Hotel is worth checking out for its family villas and outdoor pool.
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