Islands of the Azores

27 May 2016

The Azores are a great destination in their own right and a highlight for many participants during ARC Europe. The fleet spend ten days cruising the islands, exploring ashore with organised tours and social functions. 

Located 850NM off the Portuguese coast this archipelago is not somewhere easily sailed to and their green, unspoilt beauty is a welcome landfall. There are three groups of islands, the eastern group of São Miguel and Santa Maria, the central group of Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico and Faial and the western group of Flores and Corvo.  Each island is very different to the next and it is great to explore these islands rather than see it as just a re-fuelling stop part way across the Atlantic. 

Here are some of the highlights:

Faial, Horta: Horta is renowned as the place to make landfall in the Azores, including a visit by Joshua Slocum in 1895 on the early stages of his three year circumnavigation. The harbour has a very special buzz about it, as you’d expect at a meeting point of so many yachts that have just crossed the Atlantic, with stories to tell, clothes to dry, provisions to be loaded, repairs completed, before heading on the final stage of the passage to Europe.

On arrival plenty of sailors are more than ready to be ashore and head straight for Peter Café Sport to celebrate!  They aslo find time to add to the colourful harbour wall as it is considered bad luck to leave without first having painted your boat mural. Sights to explore ashore include the ’Ponta dos Caplinhos’, site of the most recent volcanic eruption in 1957, and the ‘Caldeira’ an enormous crater at the top of the island.

Madalena, Pico: Only a 30 minute ferry ride away from Horta is the quiet town of Madalena from where bicycles can be hired and the nearby vineyards explored or taxis arranged for island tours to the lava tubes, cheese factories and whaling museums. The more adventurous scale the summit of Pico which at 2,351m offers incredible views but a guide is a must.

Angra do Heroismo, Terceira: A day sail brings you to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Angra, home to many boutique stores and nearby villages host street bullfights. Unique and amongst the most popular and traditional festivities on the island, dating back to around 1622, these are staged each night during certain weeks of the year. Take guidance from the locals watching from a safe place - only the men remain on the streets, with the ladies cheering from the safety of the balconies and terraces. 

Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel: An overnight sail takes you to Ponta Delgada, the bustling capital of the Azores. With a population of 50,000 it’s often the first city visited by ocean-crossers in a while, all the trappings of which are a short walk from the marina.The island also boasts spectacular scenery.

Vila do Porto, Santa Maria: A short day sail takes you to the small fishing village of Vila do Porto on Santa Maria. Known locally as the ‘sunny island’ it is the southern most island and the only one with white sandy beaches. An ideal place to relax before setting sail again. 

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