Enchanting Experiences On a Luxury Cruise to The Azores
Scattered in the mid-Atlantic, almost 1,000 miles (1,600 km) away from the nearest continental coast, the Azores archipelago has been for centuries a convenient and compelling stop on transoceanic voyages.
Cruises are no exception, with the ports of Ponta Delgada in São Miguel and Angra do Heroismo in Terceira often featured in Atlantic-crossing itineraries. But as significant and charming as they are – the former serving as the capital of the Portuguese Autonomous Region of the Azores and the latter boasting the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site – these two Azorean cities are just a fraction of what the remote volcanic archipelago has to offer.
The relative obscurity of the islands served as the inspiration for Silversea to craft an expedition itinerary that dives deep into the Azores. The voyage – a first for Silversea – is part of a 17-day journey from Lisbon to Dakar, and visits six of the nine inhabited islands that make up the archipelago.
“It’s very rare that you will get to spend a week in the Azores with an expedition vessel,” says Nelis du Plessis, Silversea’s Senior Manager of Destination Experiences. And yet, extending across an area of more than 370 miles (600 km), these islands are best explored by ship, especially one equipped with a fleet of Zodiacs that allow convenient access to shore. “We will only dock in two locations (the aforementioned Ponta Delgada and Horta, in Faial island), allowing us to use our Zodiacs on the other islands to get ashore and explore every nook and cranny,” says Du Plessis.
Beyond the opportunity to cover more ground onboard an expedition vessel like Silver Cloud, Du Plessis highlights that the archipelago represents a desirable destination for Silversea. “Typically, when devising expedition itineraries, we’re looking for certain pillars – nature, culture, wildlife, history. Some destinations, like the Mediterranean, feature more cultural attractions. In the Azores, however, there is a bit of everything.”
Moreover, the six islands featured in this voyage are distinctive enough to command individual attention. São Miguel, the “Green Island,” is the largest and most populous, with lush landscapes and rolling hills. Terceira is home to twice as many cows as people. Elongated São Jorge’s sharp mountains and iconic fajãs (plains formed by lava flow) call to nature enthusiasts. Faial, site of the most recent volcanic eruption in the archipelago, boasts black-sand beaches. Westernmost Flores, despite owing its name to flowers, shines for its abundance of towering waterfalls plunging from emerald cliffs. And Corvo, with just 380 inhabitants, is a haven for birdwatchers.
For Daniela Sordi, Manager of Destinations Experiences who recently scouted the islands for Silversea’s itineraries, the dramatic natural beauty of the volcanic archipelago is the standout feature.
She was particularly struck by the westernmost islands of Flores and Corva, the most isolated of the archipelago and among the least-visited. They also bear the distinction of being the only two Azorean islands that lie within the North American Tectonic Plate. Along with roughly half of Iceland, they are the only places in Europe to share this characteristic.
“Because of their remote location, even for Azorean standards, they felt uniquely authentic, untouched and blessed by nature,” says Sordi, who points to the crater lakes in both islands as particularly noteworthy. She also adds the rich birdwatching opportunities as another distinctive highlight of the remote isles. “They are the only place in Europe where you can find several species of birds from the Americas.”
In São Jorge, Sordi singles out the Caldeira Santo Cristo hike – a 10-kilometer jaunt among the lush endemic flora offered as a shore excursion – as the island’s most unforgettable experience. “You start out in these imposing green mountains covered in thick forest, and as you descend you pass through microclimates and the coastline opens up before your eyes,” recalls Sordi. “We were the only people hiking there, far from everything. You could only hear the birds, the sound of the water… it’s really special”
And the most surprising aspect of the islands? “The abundance of cows!” says Sordi. “You can even find them inside the Caldeirão caldera on Corvo Island. It’s no wonder why you find amazing cheese in the Azores!”