An Island Destination Where People ‘Live the Good Life’
By Mary Hawkins
Ever since life started to “normalize” over the past few months and we’re finally starting to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, it’s safe to say that travel is on everyone’s minds. After being cooped up and unable to jet off at a moment’s notice, people are more eager than ever to get back on the vacation bandwagon.
If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that time is fleeting, and you have to take advantage of the opportunity to explore when you can get it. For many of us, that means stepping outside of our comfort zones and seeking out destinations that are full of adventure that go beyond renting a beach house on the New England coast. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that if that’s your cup of tea.) Often, this means employing the services of an expert in the travel field, someone like Fay Dehaas of Kreative World Travel, LLC., to help you find and plan the perfect vacation. And there’s one place in particular that she thinks you might not have heard of, or might not know a lot about, but should definitely travel to.
The Azores: So Far Yet So Close
About a 5-hour direct flight from Boston or JFK, the Azores archipelago are a group of nine volcanically made islands that sit off the coast of Portugal, which are also owned by Portugal. According to Erika Gustafson of Quest Travel Adventures, an expert in travel to the Azores, “If you were to draw a line from the northeast coast of the United States to Lisbon, travel two thirds of the way from Boston to Lisbon and you’d arrive in the Azores Islands.” The location is ideal, considering the Azores are part of Europe, yet it takes less time flying there from the east coast than getting to California or the west coast.
As a luxury travel planner, Fay Dehaas partners with travel experts from specific destinations to make sure her clients have the best experience. She has partnered with Quest Travel Adventures to create customized itineraries to this magical destination, unknown to most travelers. She notes, “Many times, the Azores are not in the picture, but then I hear my clients are looking for hiking, or a relaxing honeymoon, and the destination just fits.” And while some people book week-long vacations to these islands, the short duration of the flights, coupled with them being non-stop, make the Azores an easy long-weekend getaway as well.
Understated Luxury on Island Time
It’s important to keep in mind that while the Azores are, in fact, islands, they’re volcanic, so they don’t have miles of pristine beaches like islands in the Caribbean. As Gustafson explains, “This is not a destination to go to if you want to sip your pina colada on a beach. The Azores are about being outdoors, living the good life, and being totally relaxed, with everything just slowing down. There is no hurry in the Azores.”
On top of being a place where life is truly lived on “island time,” Gustafson also describes the vibe of the Azores as “being in Europe 20 years ago.” While all the hotels do have modern conveniences like WiFi, don’t expect the 5-star luxury that you’re used to finding at a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons. They have so many environmental rules in the Azores because it is an outdoor and a nature destination, so building a new hotel is challenging. This is not a destination where you’re going to find a Marriott, or a Sheraton, or Hilton.
However, the lack of name-brand hotels doesn’t mean you won’t wind up with a gorgeous ocean-view room or a boutique property along cobbled streets in the old town. You’ll just find more of an understated, less fussy experience in this laid-back destination. Gustafson notes, “The islands are known for nature and outdoors, adventure, food, wine, and relaxation, just the slower pace of life.” She adds, “A 5-star property in the Azores celebrates luxury, just in a different way. You might have a balcony that’s facing the ocean, or maybe you have a hammock that’s on the balcony, or perhaps there’s a little natural bathing pool out in front where they’ve carved it out from the lava rock. It feels higher-end, but without the higher-end prices.”
She goes on to explain that while most people visit the island of São Miguel, there’s an opportunity to island hop as well. She says, “The flights from the U.S. come into the main island, which is São Miguel, and that is where a lot of our tours are, because a lot of people can see a lot in a long weekend getaway for four or five nights. And then from there, if you have more time and want to visit other islands, or perhaps have heritage that you want to research to see where your family came from, you can fly to some of the other islands.”
“Each island has its own characteristic. The main island of São Miguel is called the Green Island. It could rain every single day of the year and that’s why it’s so green. Very green. Often it rains for half an hour in the morning and then is sunny the rest of the day. There is always something in bloom. And it’s just gorgeous to be outside,” Gustafson says.
Choose Your Own Adventure
While the Azores might be a wonderful place to go to unplug and unwind, there’s no shortage of activities and adventures to suit everyone’s tastes. The islands have a mild climate, to the point where even in the winter months, the temperature doesn’t drop below about 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather makes it an ideal spot for hiking, kayaking, canyoning, rappelling, biking, canoeing, or just exploring the old cobblestone streets of the islands’ towns.
Kreative World Travel LLC., in partnership with Quest Travel Adventures, offers several different itineraries to choose from, including spa getaways, cultural exploration, nature lovers’ hiking excursions, and even an island culinary experience.
Gustafson notes, “Two of our most popular itineraries are in the active sector. Nature Lovers Hiking is a four-night program that has three hikes exploring different parts of the island. Then there’s the Azores Adventure Seeker, which has three different activities in the week – kayaking or canoeing, hiking and biking. We can also add a whale and dolphin watching boat excursion to round out the week.”
For those who want to kick things up a notch, there’s also the opportunity to go canyoning and rappelling. She explains, “Canyoning and rappelling is basically where they outfit you in a wetsuit, then you hike up to a point in the forest where the river beds have carved out a pathway. Then you hike down along these river beds, and when you get to the waterfalls, you either rappel down them if they’re bigger ones, or the guides might tell you to just jump! Gustafson went on the adventure herself on a recent trip and says, ”It was harder than I expected, but it was amazing. It was exhilarating. I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. It’s not something I’ve ever done in any other location that I’ve been to.”
The Azores are also becoming quite the destination for foodies. “All the food is local. Not only do they have the ocean around them, but they raise cattle on the island both for beef and dairy production, milk, yogurt, and cheese. Each of the islands make cheese and they all have their own kind of cheese they’re known for,” she explains. “The semi-hard cheese from São Jorge Island is probably the best known.”
Gustafson also highlights another perk of all the food grown and produced locally in the islands, “When you go to sit down and eat a meal, almost everything you’re eating has come from the Azores, which means that food is cheap. So generally, your most expensive part of your trip to the Azores is going to be your airfare.”
ALWAYS USE A TRAVEL PROFESSIONAL
Even though so many of us are accustomed to booking our own trips online these days, when you’re considering a lesser-known destination like the Azores, doing your research and consulting people who are well-versed and familiar with the location, like Gustafson and Dehaas can make for a much more seamless experience.
Just as you’re more likely to check out a new restaurant if someone recommends it to you, talking to someone who knows the ins and outs of a destination like the Azores takes out most of the guesswork. DeHaas explains, “I think in this day and age, I am getting a lot of new clients that realize that there’s so much information they need to know, especially through the pandemic and moving forward, that they want a sense of security. And are they taking care of their entire trip? Do they have their travel insurance?” She adds that there “are a lot of moving pieces” when it comes to planning a vacation. This is why it’s so important to do your homework and to seek help if you want to be sure you have all your ducks in a row.
Take the Leap
The list of reasons why the Azores is a fabulous vacation spot for people of all ages goes on and on. Between its proximity to the east coast of the United States, the wide range of activities and attractions offered on the islands, and the fact that you get a whole lot of bang for your buck in a relaxed, safe, somewhat undiscovered environment, the only thing holding you back from your dream vacation is the short plane ride to get there. (What are you
For more information about the Azores,