It is possible to experience Europe without having to endure a grueling international flight, or if you live in Eurpoe, an island paradise comfortably close to home. The Azores, a chain of nine Portuguese islands, are located in the middle of the North Atlantic, half-way between America and Europe, and only a four-hour flight from Boston. In 2016, the Dutch edition of the National Geographic Traveller said these islands were the most beautiful place in the world. And their year-round mild climate means that you can visit any time of year — and you can even brave the water for some great surfing.
Terceira is the second most inhabited island of the Azores, with 56,437 inhabitants. While it is only 12 miles wide and 19 miles long, it is packed with attractions. Its capital, Angra do Heroísmo, was established in the middle of the fifteenth century, and is a world heritage site where gorgeous, two and three-story buildings, with wrought iron balconies, slope down to the ocean and the harbor. The hilly streets, (testimony to the Azores’ volcanic origins,) are paved with patterned mosaics in white limestone and black basalt.
The Azores’ location in the mid-Atlantic, straddling the historic sailing routes to India, made them strategic provisioning stops. The enormous forts and intimidating walls did not deter the Spanish and many battles were fought to win control of the island’s resources.
During the summer months, Angra, the picturesque fishing villages, and Terceira’s inland towns let loose bulls in the plazas, recalling the ‘running of the bulls’ in Pamplona, Spain. Young men taunt the bull with anything from brightly colored capes to parasols and many are gored or trampled. However, the bulls are not harmed or destroyed.
There is lots to do outside the villages, too. Surrounded by deep ocean, the Azores is a favorite destination for big-game fishing. Enormous blue and white marlins and several varieties of tuna are commonly caught. Island-wide, fresh, delicious fish is always on the menu.
The Azores are currently one of the world’s largest whale sanctuaries and more than 20 different types of cetaceans can be spotted. Daily dolphin and whale watching tours are popular, too.
There are well-marked hiking trails in the verdant countryside and birdwatching will reward the patient twitcher with sightings of rare migratory and local species.
Traveling within the Azores is very easy. Its streets, restaurants and hotels are very clean, public bathrooms are available everywhere. While the inhabitants speak Portuguese, it is very easy to travel here because nearly everyone speaks at least some English, and the younger people speak it very well.