The Azores are an archipelago of volcanic islands that lie in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. These beautiful islands are home to a quarter of a million people, and remain largely off the beaten tourist track. From stunning scenery, to historically-important settlements and more geothermal springs than you can shake a stick at, you should get to the Azores before everybody else finds out about them! Take a look at the archipelago's top five attractions:
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5. Terra Nostra Garden
This thermal pool is located in Furnas on the island Sao Miguel, which is the largest in the Azores. Although it doesn't look particularly appealing at first sight, don't let your eyes deceive you - the murky brown color comes from iron dissolved in the water, which gushes from a volcanic spring at temperatures of between 35 and 40C. The Valley of Furnas is a hotspot of geological activity in an archipelago renowned for its hot springs, and the pool at Terra Nostra, which was first constructed in 1780, is the most famous place to reap the benefits of mineral-infused water.
4. Angra do Heroismo
This settlement of 35,000 people flourished during the Age of Discovery, and was an obligatory stop for Portuguese ships when they were traveling between the Old and New Worlds. As a result, it's dotted with well-preserved buildings dating back to the 16th and 17th Centuries, including a pair of unique maritime forts. Baroque cathedrals, churches and convents also abound in Angra, which is the seat of the Azorean Supreme Court. It's also the seat of the Azorean bishop. The historic center of Angra do Heroismo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1983.
3. Capelinhos Volcano
Off the coast of the island of Faial lies an underwater volcano that erupted spectacularly back in 1957, giving scientists the opportunity to study a rare geological phenomenon from the day of eruption to the day of dormancy. All of the knowledge that was garnered during that period is explained in great detail at the Capelinhos Volcano Interpretation Center. It can be found on the ground floor of the now-defunct lighthouse that stands on the site. In there, you'll find out about the 13-month-long eruption that prompted half of the island's population to emigrate to America, as well as learn about the tectonic forces that shaped the Azores' truly stunning landscape.
2. Mount Pico
Is this the most picture-perfect volcano in the world? It's highly likely that it is. This 7,700-foot-high volcano is nearly perfectly conical in shape, and rises straight from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. A hike up Mount Pico is the ultimate hiking experience you can enjoy in the Azores, but remember to register at the Visitors' Center at the start of the trail. The trek up to the crater is signposted, and will take you some two to four hours depending on your fitness level and experience. It's well worth the climb once you're up there, though - the views of neighboring islands are to die for.
1. Setes Cidades
The entire Azores archipelago is full of vistas great enough to stop you in your tracks, but Setes Cidades offers the most eye-popping of all. This enormous caldera consists of twin giant, sparkling lakes that are complete with a hydrangea-filled rim and thickly-forested cliffs. Legend has it that the lakes - one green, one blue - came into being from the tears of a shepherd and princess that shared a forbidden love. What's more is that there are some 12 kilometers of hiking trails for you to enjoy as you gawp at the unbelievable scenery.