This week’s dream
The Azores, Europe’s unspoiled island paradise
“Walking around the Azores, you get the feeling that this is the end of an era—a time locals will refer to as ‘before the tourists came,’” said Matt Meltzer in Thrillist.com. The remote Portuguese archipelago 1,000 miles west of mainland Europe has seen its share of visiting Americans, but mostly because of a U.S. Air Force base, located on one of the Azores’ nine volcanic islands, that shrank dramatically earlier this decade. Until recently, only a small band of in-the-know European vacationers bothered flying in for holidays. But Delta Airlines just started offering a daily flight from New York City, and it’s only a matter of time before the hordes descend.
A few of the tiniest islands “feel as raw as when the Portuguese first arrived in 1427.” Flores is a choice spot for tropical hikes or swimming under waterfalls. On Terceira, the colorful colonial-era city of Angra do Heroísmo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, remains a community of small-scale bakeries, shops, and galleries. Over in Ponta Delgada, the largest city on São Miguel, there are a few new boutique hotels. But even there, the rates rarely exceed $200 a night, and when you walk down the main waterfront drag, “it feels like you’ve arrived in Honolulu in the 1950s.” Even at Vista do Rei, a deservedly hyped lookout point offering grand views of a blue-green crater lake, I didn’t have to fight crowds for a good photo. “Compared with anywhere in Iceland, it was downright empty.”
Every summer, the waterfront village of São Mateus de Calheta hosts small-scale bull runs—letting one bull at time into the streets. Embarrassingly, I used my one glimpse of the tradition to play dumb tourist, stopping right in the path of a rampaging touro to take a selfie. Fortunately, my survival instincts kicked in soon enough, and I sprinted away through the crowd. That gave my guide and everyone around her a laugh. “Typical American!” she said, calmly eating her ice cream. To be honest, I was glad they enjoyed the spectacle. “This may be the last year with only one picture-taking idiot to laugh at.”
At the Furnas Boutique Hotel and Thermal Spa (furnasboutiquehotel.com), doubles start at $117. ■