How What and Why – Guide to Terceira, Azores

I fell in love with Azores, the nature, the ocean, the food, the people and the night sky. What is there not to love? It used to be one of those destinations I dreamed of visiting and as I finally did, I was not disappointed. I would like to see myself back in the Azores one day still.

In the meantime, as I am not there, I think you should be. So here is a guide on How, What and Why. This is an additional part to the previous posts Green Paradise and Volcanic Beauty, which describe our holiday more in the detail.

Terceira is not at all difficult to get to. Especially if you manage to get to Porto or Lisbon in the mainland Portugal. From there you can fly to Terceira with Tap, Sata or Ryanair with rather cheap prices and usually with direct connection. There are island linking connections as well, but by plane that might get pricey. Good thing to remember is, that Terceira has no boat connections to other islands during the winter season.

Once you have reached the island I do recommend renting a car. The car rentals are plentiful and you won’t loose much more than a 100 euros per week, plus of course the fuel. The traffic is nothing to be afraid of, although the rules seem to bend a little with the locals, the roads are calm and biggest causes for jams are cows. Theft and criminality is apparently minimal.

The island has an adequate offer on hotels, hostels and other accommodations. Also, the picnic and camping sites are gorgeous and easy to be found, some of the campings are also free to use! It is more or less tolerated to camp wild on the island, if you prefer that.

What to do there then? For us the main goal was of course hiking. The nature is amazing. The amount of green stuff sprouting from the rich volcanic ground is just ridiculous. Trails are mostly well marked and relatively easy, they are clearly investing into that area. The remnants of the volcanic past offer a lot of interesting sites all around the island. The volcanic caves and furnas are definitely worth visiting, as well as the coast.

The sea surrounding Terceira is full of life, so whale watching tours are offered widely. Some companies do better than others, so better keep your eyes open and read some comments. Usually you get a tour for 50 euros a pop. In the winter season it is not certain that you can sail, thanks to the storms, this is what happened to us. Might be better to not book online, but to confirm with the company first, whether it is even possible to have a tour.

The island also has the honor or having allegedly the most beautiful city in the Azores. That would be Angra do Heroismo. It is cute. Bigly cute. The houses are painted in pretty colors and they are decorated from top to bottom. Even the tiling on the streets is beautiful. I can’t compare with the other cities in the other islands, but I am convinced, it is difficult to get any prettier.

Angra is not the only beautiful place of civilization. Most of the smaller villages are also cute as candies. Terceira is known as the island of the Holy Spirit, so churches and chapels – or Impérios – can be found in every village. They are often painted in magnificent colors, to compete with the surrounding houses. During summertime there are also bull fights. On the streets, with a bull on a leash. Crazy people.

And the food! Fresh seafood is of course available, except for when the fishermen can’t sail, especially lapas and cracas. Look them up. Since cows are everywhere, you will expect nice milk and meat products. You most definitely won’t be disappointed.

Are we still wondering why on earth would I want to go to a small piece of land in the middle of the raging ocean? Well there you have a reason. It is a special place with a micro climate, nature like nowhere else and night sky to die for!

The people. They are great. Friendly and helpful, creating a welcoming atmosphere. They are proud of their home, proud of who they are and what they do. And they have every reason to be.

A unique experience. That was Terceira for us. That should be a reason enough to go there. If Terceira is not the number one for you, there are plenty of other islands to go around in the Azores. All special and unique in their own ways. We are planning to get all the way to Flores the next time.

The cost for our trip in total was about 700 – 800 euros. This includes the flights from Brussels (180€), to Porto and Terceira – and back. The car rental and  fuel (200€), food and the occasional hotel (250€) plus some extra goodies here and there. You can do it cheap, if you like camping outdoors.  

 

 

 

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Click here for the first part: Terceira – A Green Paradise 

To sleep with the sound of waves is the best thing there is to this world sometimes. We had slept comfortably on a grassy piece of ground until the rising sun woke up the birds, and consequently us. Soon our woodgas stove was smoking and an energy rich breakfast was in the making.

That day was going to take us to the massif of Santa Barbara and to the lake of Lagoa da Serreta, a small round thing of a lake in a crater. That would mean climbing and disappearing into the gloomy clouds. The walk started from the small town of Serreta, at first going through fields on a sandy road and soon disappearing into yet another old cedar forest.  The clouds were hanging low and soon the views disappeared into mist. the trail was clearly a more touristic one than the walks we had done earlier. The signing was done meticulously and we managed to meet some other tourists too.

The climb was steep enough to get us breathing, but at least the trail gained height quickly. Soon we were at the crossing to the lake. That trail was steep and eaten away by running stream, the fog was even denser up there and we were almost leaving the edge of the crater.

But then I noticed a glimmer of waves right beneath us.

We went down to the shore and the whole lake was right at our feet. The fog covered it so densely, that we could only see a few meters further, sometimes something darker appeared on the other side, jungle, I assume. The edges of the crater sheltered us from the wind, and the dampness swallowed all sound, leaving only the delicate sound of the rippling waves. We stood there for a while, enjoying the calm, mystical atmosphere before heading back down.

To top off the day, we went to see the sea again. Just to check if it still was there. On the way to our camping spot we spotted a sign in the center of the island, stating Furnas do Enxofre. It is a place where some sulfur is still burning and steaming away.

The next day brought some more volcanoes into our lives. There was a trail in our guidebook, that looped around the peaks that erupted into existence when the Santa Barbara massif erupted in 1730’s, they are called the Misterios Negros.

As the name might indicate, the Misterios Negros are odd looking black hills, with rough, rocky surfaces sticking out of the massif. They are covered in impenetrable bush, even our guidebook described the trail we took, as a real bush whackers path. It became soon apparent, that there had been quite some work done on the trail’s maintenance; new signs had been erected and the worst of the bush was gone.

The earth over there was just black volcanic rocks and boulders scattered around forcing us to climb and scramble.

Every now and then we met a lake that had poked a hole into the jungle. The landscape really gives an image of the erupting earth and the violence of volcanic activity. It was a short but very interesting and beautiful walk.

We still had energy and time left for another hike. The book promised some extraordinary volcanic landscapes and pasturelands, with the side note to look out for grazing fighting bulls. We started off from the volcanic cave of Algar do Carvão and headed up to the hills on a red sand road with heavy wind pushing us back and forth.

After walking over the hillsides and through some small craters we hit an obstacle. The trail disappeared behind a barbed wire fence and into a meadow  With a curious herd of cows. It did not look like there was any aids to help hikers cross the fence, nor guiding route markings to get us safely cross. After consideration we turned back the same way we came, anyways, we had had a beautiful walk already in the morning.

There still was one more highland walk in store for the following day. Again the trail started off as a road but quickly transformed into a narrow path which dived into the bushes. Soon the bush turned into cedar forest as we climbed higher.  We had been wondering about the very fresh route signs already for a while and in that forest we found the reason for the freshness. There was a bunch of men, walking around with hammers, posts and paint cans walking ahead of us.

Those men were eager to hear our opinion about their trail maintenance, and we were happy to give it to them. They are doing an excellent job!

All of a sudden we found ourselves from the edge of a cliff.

I almost walked over the border. The ground was disappearing down below for quite a bit. We were walking on the edge of a massive crater, on the bottom of it we could still see the shape of the cooled down lava, underneath the dense vegetation. Up there the wind found us again too, bringing in the clouds and the moist.

The trail followed the edge of the volcano for a while and we enjoyed the view as the wind beat us relentlessly, throwing water at our faces. On the return the trail took us down, away from the ridge, through some pastures where a farmer was bringing hey to his cows, no fighting bulls, luckily enough.

The walk was done and since the weather was rather windy and moist, we had booked a hotel for the night in Biscoitos, a small town in the northern edge of the island. Before getting there we visited the picnic site on the other side of the island once more, to have lunch.

The nice thing of the island is that it is so small, you drive around it in an hour. Making island crossings in search of windless places and sunshine is not much of a hassle. We returned via the western tip of the island, in the hope of catching the sunset too, but unfortunately there were clouds covering it. We did find yet another massively glorious picnic spot, right on top of the cliffs. These people sure know how to build a outdoor living room for the public!

All the longer hikes were hiked at that point, so the remaining two days we spent in more touristy activities. First in the line were the natural pools in Biscoitos. Rather famous they are, but the winter season was keeping them empty. They were a beautiful sight, nevertheless, with the sea throuwing waves and white bursts of foam over the pools and sun creating rainbows on top of it all. Afterwards it was time to do a little drive around in Praia da Vitoria and through the coast to Angra do Heroismo, for a change to find and post some postcards.

 

 

Since it was Friday, and the volcanic caves of the island were open for visiting we headed back to the higher grounds to visit Algar do Carvão, where we had already been walking at. During winter season it is open only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for a couple of hours in the afternoon and for a small fee, you get to visit it.

So we did. Feeling like true tourists with our cameras and rain clothes.

But it was a beautiful cave to explore. It was born when the erupting lava changed its mind and retreated back to the center of earth, it left after it a large cavity. Only one of its kind in Europe. It goes rather deep, and at the bottom of it there is a small pool of rainwater. The colors there are special with yellow of sulfur and crystalline white in the stalactites of silica.

For the last night we headed to the spot where we had slept the last night. The sky was clear and the stars above us were beautiful, seemingly so very close. We could even see the lights of the neighbouring island of Graciosa.

On the last day we did some sightseeing. Finally the air was clear enough over the whole island and the surrounding sea to actually see the full glory of Terceira. Even the peak of Pico was rising in the horizon, behind Sao Jorge. The green Terceira was glimmering in the sun and was a breathtaking sight to be seen from on top of Santa Barbara.

We had still time to hunt some Impérios too. They are these small chapels, painted in bright colors and patterns. Something very typical for Terceira, also know as the island of the Holy Spirit. Apparently all that spirit can’t fit only in churches.

We said our goodbyes to the island from on top of Serra do Cume, a volcanic ridge on the eastern side of the island. The sun was finding its way down already, lighting the green fields beneath us with an amazing shade of color. That was not an easy goodbye. I think we were both half imagining ourselves living on the island one day, in one of those white houses with brightly painted window frames and doorways.

We’ll be back there, one day!

 

 

 

Terceira – Volcanic Beauty

On a Saturday morning we woke up with way too little sleep. The atmosphere was cranky and sour even though we had a holiday waiting for us. Waffle had bought me a birthday present: flights to Terceira, one of the islands of the Azores.

It was a brand new connection with Ryanair from Porto to Terceira, with which we were flying. A good 5 hours in total from Brussels. As we approached the final landing, we got to enjoy a veeery long sunset, the plane was flying more or less directly to west, following the sun.

We ended up landing in the darkness, our first image of the place was warm and moist air, with a constant pounding of the Atlantic waves. In the morning we woke up to a very similar surroundings; the  warmth, moist and waves were still there. We had put our tent onto a free camping ground close to a view spot Miradouro do Raminho. As we crawled out the sun was hiding behind a grey cloud pack, but still the greenery of the nature surrounding us managed to be stunning.

 

We had again one of the Rother guidebooks with us, with 9 walks on the island of Terceira. one of those happened to start right from our doorstep. There was a fisherman’s trail  taking us down from the cliffs right to the rocky waterline, to a beautiful spot, where the spray of salt water makes your face wet and camera lens dirty. That was, believe it or not, my first ever close encounter with an ocean.  The power of that thing is amazing, the force with which it grinded the shores of the island somehow makes it feel impossible that the piece of land is still able to exist.

Finally we managed to tear ourselves away from the waves and started climbing  towards the inner parts of the island, through country lanes and in between cow paddocks.

Plenty of those in Terceira, cows, paddocks and country lanes.

The book guided us soon through a very jungle-like forest with red earth, positively prehistoric looking fern trees and tall eucalyptuses! The smell in the air was so very fresh with the ethereal scent rising from the trees the untamed forest.

The forecast was promising heavy rain and storm winds for the coming night. We agreed on finding a sturdier alternative for a tent and ended up going to the other side of the island, to the city of Angra do Heroismo. On the go we stopped on another picnic spot in the midst of a forest of tall cedar trees that disappeared from sight into a thick pack of cloud. The island had turned into something different in comparison to the coastal areas. The greenery was still there but in different shades and much more misty.

We had our dinner up there (hiking food), before heading towards what is said to be the most beautiful city in the Azores. I have a strong feeling they were not lying about that.

The place, oh dear, it is pretty.

We woke up early in the morning to a wailing wind and the sound of heavy rain pounding the roof window of our hostel room.  The rain wasn’t there to stay, and as it stopped the sun came out drying out the streets of the city together with warm wind. We wandered through the streets with our crumbling bellies in search of a breakfast and coffee.

Right next to a massive, cream colored church, apparently called Santíssimo Salvador da Sé, we found a small and cosy cafe, serving apparently home made pastries. We forgot the idea of a healthy breakfast and attacked quiches, muffins and cheesecake. We transported our bellies for a short stroll around the sunny town, peeking into churches and finding some surprising street art pieces. After that we felt like we would be able to commit to a real hike.

We drove again across the island, got stuck in a traffic jam of cows and finally reached the peninsulas close to the town of Quatro Ribeiras. In the book the walk didn’t look like much, but for the existing weather conditions it was a perfect choice.

Once again we met some cows as we descended to a small gorge, which took us further down to a bay where a bank of rocks was piled up by the raging ocean.  We got stuck there too for a while, looking at the waves and the color of the ocean, disappearing into the white shine of the horizon.

There sat a stone house, that I would very much like to live in.

When we finally managed to get moving again, the trail climbed higher to the edges of the cliffs. No white cliffs here, it is all volcanic rock with dense vegetation covering it all in green. We sat there for a while, getting beaten by the wind, and splattered by the salty water of the Atlantic, looking at the emptiness, and the cliffs and peninsulas surrounding us.

It was time to find another home for the night. The place of the first night would not do, since the wind had turned, and would be beating the picnic side like a mad man, so we did some googling. That operation left Waffle swearing, finding info on practically anything out of the general touristy attractions and sites is practically quantum physics. Nothing is findable by google. Some time later we did manage to get our hands onto a document, that listed the camping sites on the island. One seemed to be on a covered spot, so off we went again in a hurry, in order to not be late for the setting sun.

The site we were looking for was said to be in between Porto Martins and Sao Sebastio, right at the shore, it was a site looked after by the people of the Porto Martins village and completely free for an occasional camper.

The picnic sites of the island are amazing!

Even though we had a relatively small area to look into, the place was surprisingly difficult to find, but after we did, we were happy to be there. The bay was calm, wind was teasing someone else and starlings, robins and sparrows were having a beautiful concert. We cooked a fresh mint tea, out of mint we had found on our walk, before calling it a night. the following day would take us up to our first volcano!

You’ll be hearing more of the Terceira’s highlands, volcanoes, craters and all, maybe some cities too. I hope you enjoyed this so far!  A sneak peak on the photos you can get from here: Flickr.

Terceira – A Green Paradise