Last month I did something pretty unheard of for me when it comes to travel – I returned to somewhere I have been before!
I love to visit new places and for me when I go somewhere I don’t like to sit still for long. Don’t get me wrong I can lounge on a beach for an afternoon, especially if a good book is involved, but another activity has to take place at some point that day be it a walk, sport, sightseeing, etc.
For this reason, I don’t often see the point in going back to somewhere as I have most likely done all of the activities I intended to do when I was there.
I loved the Azores last time I went, so much so I wrote two posts on it – the first on the hotel, food and drink, and the second on what there is to do there! Again I had a fabulous time there and thought I’d update you on the different things I got up to.
As with last time the Azores were chosen as my dad was already there with work and could meet my mum and I afterwards for a holiday.
We took the four-hour flight with RyanAir from Stanstead Airport to Ponta Delgada on a Saturday (the only day for direct flights with them), costing around £230 per person. Unlike last time, we had a wide choice of airports and airlines to fly with. The flight was easy and I love that RyanAir allows 2 pieces of hand luggage, perfect as we were only taking one hold case between us.
Stanstead is fast becoming one of my favourite airports as it is nearby, really well connected and I find the airport itself is hassle free.
One thing that annoyed me with RyanAir was we had already paid for priority boarding at about £8, yet as we approached the gate people were trying to sell it to us for £5 – fine. However when we got to the gate the priority boarding has already boarded, luckily we were let in the queue, but had we bought it for £5 it would have been a rip off as we never would have gotten to use it.
Unfortunately the hotel we stayed in last time was fully booked so we chose one nearby, the São Miguel Park. There were three main criteria to our hotel: location – Ponta Delgada (the main town), an indoor pool (as the weather is unpredictable) and free wifi (which is not often included in hotels out there!).
Overall our hotel was lovely and did exactly what we wanted. As my dad was not supposed to be staying with us overnight we chose a family room, luckily we did as his plans changed and he had to fly out and meet us later in the trip! The room and the balcony were huge with a fantastic view over the city and the Atlantic Ocean. The bathroom was a little dated, but the shower was incredible.
My only bugbear with the hotel was breakfast, which was included in the price. I could not fault the amount there was to choose from and was able eat enough to tide me over until well past lunch time. However, whenever we went down to the restaurant for it the staff were always clearing the tables for dinner, we even tried getting there just after it opened and it was the same.
This made us feel very awkward and as if we were not supposed to be there, especially when the only breakfast tables left for the three of us to sit on were set for two! We never tried dinner at the hotel as we felt they may be setting the tables for breakfast around us.
At the start of the trip here was a lot of rain so the indoor pool was a lifesaver.
Food & Drink:
As I mentioned last time the food there is really reasonable and is mainly steak and seafood, both of which are to die for.
One of my favourite foods is squid, but it is hard to find in the UK and when you do it is often very expensive and not all that tasty. Squid is on offer in most restaurants in São Miguel, for around €10 so I was in heaven. Alternating each night between steak and squid!
We visited a couple of our favourite restaurants from last time;
The Yacht Club – which was as exceptional as before, my mum and dad had Earth & Sea which is veal and langoustines on a skewer (a popular way to serve meat there) all to die for and I had squid which was fantastic.
Casa da Rosa – our favourite from last time disappointed us, the service was not all that quick, to the extent the couple behind us walked out. The wine they recommended was beautiful but the menu and the food were not as good as we remembered.
We also tried a couple of new restaurants, the one that stands out the most to me is Rotas do Vinho. We popped in for dinner one night thinking it was a restaurant, but in fact it’s a wine bar that does food on the side. Something we would not have known, had we not looked on TripAdvisor afterwards. The food here was incredible, so good we went back two nights in a row!
The first time we had limpets (a local delicacy – they taste a bit like muscles) to start followed by steak, pork belly and pineapple on a skewer. Both were to die for, I wish you could get limpets over here. Paired with a beautiful red wine from the Alentejo region called Gambo Zinos.
The second time we went for chorizo and langoustines to start followed by the skewer for my parents and squid in pesto for myself, it was the best I have ever had. This was paired with a wine from the Dão wine region, I forget the name. For desert we had pineapple and port, I tried Madeira wine for the first time and had a big hangover in the morning. Both times dinner was al little over €100, which is very good going considering the quality of what we had! A firm new favourite.
My parents and I are partial to sharing a bottle of wine or three and the wine while we away did not disappoint on price or quality. A good bottle of wine in a restaurant is about €12-€18 and this is by no means the cheapest. In the supermarket, you could pick up a bottle of wine for as little as €1.20! I found a new favourite red while I was away – a merlot & cabernet sauvignon called Faria’s Vinyard from the island of Pico. Available in most restaurants and only €3.39 in the supermarket! Let me know if you ever spot this anywhere.
The first few days with my mum were very chilled we went on walks read our books and just caught up with one another. My dad was having none of this, as soon as he arrived it was hands to action stations, every day needed a plan and an activity!
We went with ANC Moto Rent for half a day to see Sete Cidades one of the volcanic calderias on the island, which was beautiful. Last time we went it was misty so we saw nothing – this can happen quite often up there and it does get chilly. When up there you can also see the famous Monte Palace Hotel, which is derelict but is a tourist attraction in itself, with an interesting tale. The ride was great fun we saw some other breathtaking scenery, we went off-roading and stopped in a cafe for a coffee and a snack. This was quite expensive at €56 per quad bike, but taxis and tours up there can cost a lot too. If you do go I recommend you rent there coats for €2 each as they do save your clothes from the dust and it can get a bit nippy. A shout out must go to our guide Vera who was very informative and attentive.
This was one of the things we didn’t do last time we went, I have been very fortunate to see whales and dolphins in the wild a lot as a child. Plus last time we were on the island we went swimming with dolphins in the wild – an incredible experience I cannot recommend highly enough. I’d heard a rumour while on the island that a blue whale was in the area and naturally I wanted to go and see this incredible mammal.
The company we went with Futurismo were thought to be the best on the island, they recommended we went in the morning as typically they see more whales then. Frustratingly due to the wild nature of the animals and the need to not disturb them, I saw the back end of a fairly unentertaining fin whale from about 20 metres away. He wasn’t playing ball and clearly did not want to perform the Seaworld special show to music I had planned in my head and quite rightly so seen as we were disturbing him on his way to breakfast!
We did see some common dolphin, which despite having seen them copious times before when we lived in Gibraltar were still pretty mesmerising. This cost €55 per person, so quite expensive. I overheard people on the plane who tried other boats to more success and less cost, so I’d recommend shopping around.
Last time we did not have a hire car, which was a large oversight on our part. It was not that expensive at €80 for four days. It made getting around much easier, especially as my parents were moving inland once I left for the next two days of their trip.
Terra Nostra Thermal Pool:
I love this place, it’s set in the botanical gardens and is a real hidden paradise withing paradise itself! They are thermal pools heated from the volcanoes. Don’t be put off by the brown colour of the main pool this is due to the iron that is dissolved in it. The second pool is much clearer but is a lot smaller and quite shallow. They are both refreshing at between 35-40 degrees centigrade and are a perfect place to spend an afternoon, especially if it is raining. Plus your skin feels super soft after even if you do look like you’ve had a proper Essex spray tan until you shower. Just make sure you were a black costume to avoid looking like you have had an accident. It costs €5 each for entry and €5 for towel hire, you get €3 back on return – this is much easier than messing around getting your own towel dirty!
Arruda Pineapple Plantation:
The Azores used to be famous for pineapples and they were one of their main exports up until World War Two, it’s a cool place to visit. Plus they also have a great gift shop selling all sorts, the scarves there are beautiful and hand woven. A steal at €15, I bought three this time, I also bought some pearl bracelets at €14 and my dad bought a pineapple root so he can try and grow one at home!
Anything else wish I’d done while I was there?:
- The natural thermal pools set inside a rainforest, I remember how beautiful they were last time.
- Swam in the sea or even dipped my toes in.
- I’d definitely wish I’d seen some of the other islands.
- Finally, I wish I had visited Lagoa do Fogo a crater lake often called the Fire Lake, this was one of my favourite sights in the world.
I cannot recommend this hidden gem of the Atlantic Ocean enough, especially if you want to get away from it all without a long haul flight. The people are really friendly the beer, wine and food are cheap, the accommodation is good and the views are utterly breathtaking. There is something for everyone, whether you’re a beach babe, hiker, thrill seeker or want to do a bit of everything. I’ve been twice and can’t wait to go back again in a few years and for someone who never likes to re-visit places that’s really something! The one thing to be aware of is the unpredictability of the weather, when it rains in the Azores it hammers it down so always take a raincoat with you. That said we had a pretty rainy first few days, yet I still managed to get sunburnt as once the rain clears it is glorious sunshine.
Have you ever been to the Azores? Are you thinking of visiting São Miguel Island?