Get active in the Azores this summer
Here is a selection of activities to try on the Azores, all of which can be arranged by Sunvil Discovery:
· Whale and dolphin watching excursions – The Azorean waters attract an impressive amount of cetacean activity: 26 of the world’s 80 species have been sighted off the islands’ coast, including pods of Sperm, Pilot, Backed, Fin, Sei, Humpback and Blue whales. The emphasis of these trips is not only to see the mammals in their natural habitat, but also on teaching and conservation. A marine biologist will introduce the cetaceans and discuss their habitat, communication and behavioural patterns. Whaling ended in Pico only in the 1980s, and the town bears witness to this legacy. Its pavements are set with a mosaic of whale images; over the local bar hangs the huge jaw of a sperm whale. Sunvil Discovery can organise whale-watching trips for all the family, which cost from £51 pp for a three-hour excursion (aged 5+).
· Volunteer programmes – The Azores Bullfinch, or ‘Priolo’, is the second most endangered species in Europe, and is only found in a few square kilometres of woodland on Sao Miguel. Over many decades, the birds were shot almost to extinction by fruit farmers who viewed them as agricultural pests, but in recent years a conservation group has been established to protect the Priolo and its environment. Sunvil Discovery can arrange a day-long birdwatching tour for guests, costing from £60 per adult and £47 per child (8-10 years).
· On foot – One of the best ways to explore the untouched Azores is on foot. All the islands have fantastic walking trails, which take in rural landscapes, colourful villages and panoramic views. Something a little more challenging is the Pico mountain hike. Mount Pico – on the island of Pico – is actually a dormant volcano, and at its peak (2,351 metres) is the highest point in Portugal; it boasts breathtaking views from the top. There are plenty of rare birds and flowers to be spotted along the way, stunning panoramic views of the coastline, and even an attractive waterfall in which to cool off. Sunvil Discovery offers a selection of guided and unguided walks throughout the Azores. A half-day guided Pico hike to the summit costs £206 for two people.
· Diving – Offering a unique underwater experience, the Azores is often acclaimed as the top diving destination in Europe. Marvel at Atlantic and tropical fish on a scuba diving trip, explore the underwater volcano calderas in Caloura or discover fascinating wrecks off the coast of Graciosa, taking in the islands’ colourful marine life. Divers can watch the coastal and oceanic wildlife interact, all in the warmth of subtropical waters, thanks to the Gulf Stream current. A fully equipped PADI dive centre is based in Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel and Sunvil Discovery can organise one dive from £53 pp (with supplied equipment).
· Swim with dolphins – For the ultimate opportunity of a lifetime, water babies should take the plunge and swim alongside Common, Bottlenose, Risso and Atlantic Spotted dolphins in the blue Atlantic waters ten miles off the shore. Summer months are the best time to take part in this exhilarating experience, as this is when the sea is at its calmest and dolphins are most numerous. During the rest of the three-hour trip, those onboard will also be able to spot Sperm, Pilot and Beaked whales, and possibly even sea turtles. Swimming with dolphins can be arranged by Sunvil Discovery – a three-hour excursion off either Sao Miguel or Faial costs from £62 per adult and £41 per child (recommended for children aged 10+).
Golfing – There are two significant golf courses on Sao Miguel, one of which is Cedars, located in the geothermal spa town of Furnas. The original 9-hole course here was completed in 1939 to the design of MacKenzie Ross, who is probably best known for the Estoril Golf Course near Lisbon and for his work in restoring, from near ruin, the world famous Ailsa and Arran courses at Turnberry in Scotland. Extended in 1990 under the supervision of the British golf course designers Cameron Powell Associates, the full 18-hole golf course is now a par 72. Price for green fees is £34 pp (9 holes) and £58 pp (18 holes).
· Canyoning – With its craggy mountain faces, challenging ravines and cascading torrents of water, there is no better place to take part in this adventurous sport, which sees adrenalin-junkies jumping, climbing, rappelling, scrambling and swimming through canyons. The islands of Sao Miguel, Flores and Sao Jorge, with their exceptional geological conditions, abundant flowing water and rugged settings, offer the best canyoning opportunities and new and diverse routes are being discovered all the time.
· Surfing – The Mid Atlantic ridge, a huge underwater volcanic mountain chain, runs the entire length of the Atlantic but surfaces in only a few spots – one of which is the nine islands of the Azores. The most popular surfing spots are Ribeira Grande, a powerful beach break with consistent waves, and Rabo de Peixe, a left hander created by the harbour development. Both are situated on the north coast of Sao Miguel. The position of the islands, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, ensures that there is always plenty of swell. The locals have been surfing here since the 1920s but it was American servicemen who popularised it in the 1960s.
· Fishing – The Azores are widely recognised as one of the world’s best destinations for big game fishing particularly for marlin (also tuna, dorado and swordfish). When coastal fishing, common species you may catch are barracuda, scabbard fish, black groupers, amberjack, blue fish mackerel, anchovies, bonito and saw fish. If you’re fishing on the sea bottom you’re most likely to hook groupers, sea bream and other similar sized fish. Of all the European venues for the adventuring fisherman to try, none will set the pulse racing more than the Azores.
The lead-in price of a week in the Azores is from just £519 pp (two sharing), staying at the Hotel Vila Nova on Sao Miguel. It includes direct scheduled flights (Gatwick) with SATA International, transfers and seven nights’ accommodation on a B&B basis.
Direct weekly SATA International flights run from 30 March to 26 October to Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel and depart from London Gatwick. Alternatively, TAP Portugal offers flights from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester to Ponta Delgada via Lisbon. An overnight stay in Lisbon may be advisable, depending on flight times.
For further information, call 020 8758 4722 or visit www.sunvil.co.uk/azores.