Azores: inside the volcanic crater

Pulsa para español

Written by: Rodri

It may sound strange, but we ended up in Azores by chance, it was not a planned trip. We were going somewhere else, we didn’t even fly on that direction, we didn’t even plan to go to that same continent… But we landed at Terceira island and we surrendered to its charm. Do you want to know what happened?

Of course, this deserves an explanation. One of our travel dreams has always been (and still is) going to Egypt. We had everything booked and then, three days before flying, an unexpected event occurred. A coup d’Etat shock Egypt and destroyed our travel expectations. While tanks went down Cairo streets, the embassy said it was just A PARTY and that we would be totally safe, but Spanish government advised against travelling to Egypt for now. Hundreds of women were being raped, tourists were confined inside hotels…

It hurt so bad, but we decided to cancel the trip because it wasn’t the best time to go. We had to fight a bit to get our money back, but finally, the agency accepted all refund requests from people who were as concerned as us because the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs took part on the negotiation with the agency and forced it to offer full refund based on the safety of tourists.

We had our free days and our money back but still no destination (remember, this was just three days before our holidays). So we had to look for a new destination and we had to do it fast, because we were just hours away from our first day of holidays.

And then, she appeared, so green, so full of life. She was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, between Europe and America, just surrounded by water and by her sister islands. Terceira appeared in our lives to never be forgotten.

It was a last minute offer, valid exactly for the days we needed. For about 200 €, we had direct flights and accommodation for 7 nights at the only 5 star hotel of Azores. We had the time of our lives, it was amazing! Let me take you there:

ANGRA DO HEROÍSMO

Angra was our base camp. Our 5 star hotel, Angra Marina, was located at the top of a cliff, so all rooms had sea views. You could also enjoy the sight of Monte do Brasil from the room. I’ll tell you a few things about this small mountain later on.

 

 

 

 

By that time, the main entrance of the hotel was located on the highest floor, so we had to get used to go down instead of up to get to our room from the hall of the hotel. They were, of course, building a new entrance on the lowest level, so I guess that new entrance will be the current main door nowadays.

Let me tell you a few things about Angra. It’s the capital city of Terceira Island and it’s located on the South. It’s a very unique city. Actually, it was stated as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1983. Three years before that, the island suffered a big earthquake and it took many time for the place to be fully recovered.

DSCF1455

WHAT TO DO IN ANGRA

We explain in detail all the activities and tours we’ve done around the island, including exploring a volcano and whale watching, but before exploring the whole island, we recomend just walking the city. As simply as that. Have you ever heard the best thing about Venice is wandering around. There’s no canals in Angra, but the city also invites you to simply walk down and up its streets.

Discover amazing spots, enjoy the kindness of its people, let its streets surprise you. Soon or later, you’ll get to Praça Velha, the city center since the Middle Age. Its name means, literally, Old Square.

azores_angra_do_heroismo_shutterstock

The port is also a good option if you feel like walking around. You’ll find lots of yachts and boats from all over the world. Being in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean means it’s the port of the world.

Wandering around and getting lost on its streets, we found, also by chance, the amazing garden of Jardim Duque da Terceira. It’s located next to Praça Velha, right behind Hotel Angra Garden.

We thought we could spend a few minutes there and we ended up spending  a couple of hours walking around the garden, taking some pics and just smelling the plants and flowers. We’ve even suffered an attack by some pigeons! Just a normal day at Angra…

I don’t know why this place is not included in professional or amateur travel guides of Terceira, because I swear it worth’s it. It’s one of the most beautiful spots of the city and it’s really big.

 

 

 

 

It is home of plants from all over the world and if you are in the mood for climbing all of the stairs, you’ll get to Alto da Memória, where you can enjoy the best view of the city. You can also find a monument called Outeiro da Memória.

DSCF1460

As for the beach… I guess it’s on the list just because when you travel to an island, you expect to find at least a beach. It’s hard to find a decent beach at Terceira. You can find a small one in Angra. It’s not the most beautiful beach of the world, but at least it’s something. I recommend you to look for natural pools instead. Because it’s a volcanic island, you’ll find many natural volcanic pools.

WHERE TO EAT

You’ll find lots of good restaurants in Angra, most of them are cheap and good quality. When we where there, we discovered a few restaurants that we found impressive:

MARCELINO’S BAR E STEAK HOUSE

The ground level is just a regular bar, but next to the door you’ll find some stairs up. If you go upstairs, you’ll find the restaurant saloon, decorated as an old house, with wooden ceilings. One of the best things about this restaurants is that you get to actually see how some dishes and desserts are made because Marcelino itself makes them in front of you thanks to a trolley he brings from table to table.

IMG_0774

It’s amazing how carefully he makes every dish and with how much love he prepares the food. The taste reflects all this love and care. You should definitely try alcatra, the traditional dish of the island. To make it, they cook beef on a clay pot for over six hours and they add some herbs and vegetables. It tastes amazing and the meat melts in your mouth!

DSCF1464

AMBIENTES CON SABORES

While I was writing this guide, I’ve seen that sadly, this restaurant is permanently closed. It’s a pity because it was one of our favorites. It was on the same street as Marcelino’s and the food was very good quality and completely ecofriendly.

The restaurant was in an old house and you could still see the different rooms that composed it. Each room was painted in a different color and there was an indoor terrace. We hope it will reopen soon as we loved this place and food was great.

MONTE DO BRASIL AND SAO JOAO FORTRESS

It’s a place that called for our attention from the very first moment we’ve landed in Angra. It’s seen from almost every corner of the city, even from our room. We’ve discovered it was possible to do some trekking and, since we love to trek, we decided to go on adventure. One morning, we woke up and bought some sandwiches to spend the day trekking. That moment changed my life because I’ve discovered that in that island  it was normal to eat chickpea sandwiches. My brain almost collapsed. Anyway, after packing the sandwiches, we went to Monte do Brasil to enjoy a bit of adventure.

Before starting the trek itself, we found the Sao Joao Fortress. It’s a defensive fortress built centuries ago as a response to attacks of pirates from all over the world. It’s the most western military building of Europe. It’s still fully operational and you can visit it, of course! For your visit, you are assigned to a soldier and he walks you around guiding you through the fortress.

We kept on our adventure and head to the base of Monte do Brasil. A sing advised that the trek should take about two or three hours but, as always, the Stormtrotters wanted to discover every inch of the mountain, so it took us about five and a half hours. Luckily, we had enough water and food. Remember to always bring water and some food when doing this kind of activities because you never know.

 

 

 

 

It’s a round tour, so you will always get back to the same place you’ve started your adventure. You’ll find a fork way at the beginning of the trail, but it doesn’t matter if you go lef or right, because you’ll finish your walk at that exact point, but the best way to start is heading  left.

During the trail, you’ll see the San Antonio Chapel and after going up a bit, you’ll find the picnic area. There’s always many people around there because cars are allowed to that point  and some people go there by car to spend the day with kids, family and friends.

The trail will also take you up to two peaks, the Facho Peak and the Cruzinhas Peak. It’s quite easy to get up there and the walk worth’s it, because you get a panoramic view of the mountain and you realize you are actually walking around the crater of an extinguish volcano, covered by plants and nature.

IMG_0498

You can also find alternative routes that takes you to very interesting spots, such as the remains of an old fortification with sea views, the place we chose to stop and eat our sandwiches.

IMG_0491

If you follow this routes you’ll find also a whale watching spot and bunkers from the Second World War. And if you are lucky, you might even see some deers and some inoffensive fauna.

ACTIVITIES AND TOURS

Angra do Heroísmo is full of life, but we just couldn’t stay there all our holidays. Terceira is an small island, but it has many charms. It deserves a round trip around the island and although there is public transportation, the best way to enjoy your ride is renting a car or booking a tour. We’ve chosen the second option because back then, we didn’t have driving license.

We’ve booked all our tours with Aguiatur. You can easily find its headquarter at the port. Just show up there your first day at Terceira and have a look at their tours so you can plan your week. They are charming and treated us as family. We felt cared and welcomed during every tour we booked with them. It’s been already five years since we left the island, but we still remember Sara, Miguel, and Nuno, the Aguiatur guides. And there was also a lovely lady, who we think was the boss. We don’t remember her name, but she was very kind too.

WHALE WATCHING

Nuno took us to do some whale watching on a small zodiac. We had a morning tour booked on one of the two available zodiacs, but one of them broke and since they were both full, some people had to stay and wait for the second turn. Nobody wanted to give up and wait for the next turn and the company was in trouble, so we decided to help. We offered to wait for the second turn and we convinced a few more people to do so.

When the first turn arrived at the port, they were delightful because they’ve seen all kind of sea animals. We went to try and see some, but at that time of the day, dolphins and other sea animals were already away. We’ve seen two small whales but the rest of the time was just the sea and us. When we were back at the port, we’ve talked to some of the guides and they offered us to repeat the tour another day for free, since we were the ones that gave up our spot at the morning tour. This was very kind of them and the next day we’ve seen all kinds of dolphins, whales and sea animals.

 

 

 

 

It was amazing to see them free and happy on their natural environment. We could almost touch some dolphins because they were swimming and jumping very close from the zodiac, just a few centimeters away. Aquariums and zoos can’t compare with the feeling of seeing them free.

During the tour, you get to see Ilhéus das Cabras (Goat Island). It’s a small island close to Angra. It’s a very curious piece of land because after a volcano exploded, the small island broke in half. You can navigate between the two halves.

IMG_0545

ALGAR DO CARVAO, FURNAS DO ENXOFRE AND GRUTA DO NATAL

Have you ever wondered how it feels to be inside a volcano? That’s what you’ll feel here. This is the only volcano in Europe that can be explored from the inside. Do you dare to walk the home of the ancient lava?

At the very heart of Terceira, the Algar do Carvao sleeps and awaits your visit. You’ll enter through a narrow underground passageway. When you are finally inside the volcano, the sight takes your breath away. You see yourself inside the volcano. You look up and you see the sky through the crater, full of plants after years of inactivity. It’s an amazing feeling.

 

 

 

 

Your guide will explain everything and you star realizing you are stepping on the same spot where explosions occurred centuries ago. Now, those explosions are carved in the stone forever.

At its lower part, 100 meters under, you’ll find a small lagoon. The water seems crystal, it’s so pure. Depending of the time of the year, you’ll find more or less water on it.

IMG_0396

It’s an amazing experience. I’ve tried my best, but it’s impossible to describe, you’ll have to live the experience. It even worth’s a second visit. We went back there just a few days after our first contact with the volcano.

It also has two extras. The Furnas do Enxofre, which are some kind of sulfide fumaroles not very far away from the volcano. Watching the smoke out of the fumaroles is amazing.  You can walk around them at a safe distance. Do not cross the lines as the floor is weak and you could fall inside a fumaroles.

 

 

 

 

The second extra is Gruta do Natal. It’s an underground activity. You get a security helmet and you are assigned a guide that will take you inside an underground cave. Sometimes, you’ll have to t bend your knees a bit to keep on walking, but it’s not hard.

 

 

 

 

If you are brave, the guide will encourage you to enter a very narrow passageway where you’ll need to crawl. It’s fun and totally safe!

A TOUR AROUND THE ISLAND

Despite its small size, Terceira offers many plans and places to explore. One of the activities we were sure we wanted to do was a tour around the island. During this tour, we could probe that what people say about the island is true: you can see the four seasons of the year in just one day.

After a short visit to Monte Do Brasil, we left Angra behind heading East. The first stop is just a kilometers away to see some natural pools. They are great but the sun was not shining and it was actually raining, so no swim for us.

Then, we followed the coast to the next main town of the island, Praia da Vitória. It has nothing special, it’s just a regular city, focused on tourists. There’s a port, shopping avenues… We still find Angra much more charming and special.

After walking a bit around Praia, we kept on our journey to the North, till Biscoitos, a small town with amazing natural pools. It seemed impossible, but when we got there it was sunny and very hot. There was many locals swimming and picnicking by the sea. It was like a rocky beach! Nadia jumped into the water instantly! The pools have stairs to get in and out safely, but the rest is totally natural and wild.

 

 

 

 

After relaxing a bit at Biscoitos, we kept on and stopped to have lunch Serreta, a very charming town. We had lunch at a restaurant called Ti Choa, very well known for its traditional dishes. Of course, we had alcatra. You can’t leave the island without trying it at least once.

After lunch, we went to do some trekking over the mountains to get a panoramic view of the island. Views were impressive!

 

 

 

 

Then, we head to Algar do Carvao. As you know, we’ve been there before but we didn’t mind to get back because it was one of the most amazing experiences in our lives. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but people in Azores are very nice, kind and charming. So much that the staff from Algar do Carvao remembered us from days ago and they let us in for free as it was our second time there!  That was the best way to finish our day!

Well, did I say “finish”? We still had one surprise left! The guide took us to a cheese factory and they offered a cheese and wine tasting, which was amazing!

TOUR TO OTHER ISLAND

Aguiatur also offers a tour to any of the other islands, treks over their mountains and many cool activities. We didn’t had the chance to do this tours, but let us know if you do!

As you can see, our experience at Azores was amazing and we’ve discovered a land full of life, kindness, fun and nature! Exploring the inside of a volcano is something we’ll never forget!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Responder

Introduce tus datos o haz clic en un icono para iniciar sesión:

Logo de WordPress.com

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de WordPress.com. Cerrar sesión /  Cambiar )

Google photo

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Google. Cerrar sesión /  Cambiar )

Imagen de Twitter

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Twitter. Cerrar sesión /  Cambiar )

Foto de Facebook

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Facebook. Cerrar sesión /  Cambiar )

Conectando a %s