Amazing Azores

An agent tours the islands’ rural inns

By: Gayle Christensen

The Azores, that archipelago of islands extending into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Portugal, is famous for its year-round temperate climate and exotic vegetation. It is a given that this is a paradise for every form of watersport — diving, surfing, sailing and whale-watching. And it is not surprising that the Azores, with their protected parks and forests, are attractive for hikers, bikers and horseback riders.

While the above reasons may have drawn us to the Azores, it was the out-of-the ordinary accommodations with their gracious hosts, which made this trip special. In selecting a seven-day, two-island fly/drive package through Abreu Tours, we opted for rural guesthouses or small farms, known as quintas. The English-speaking owners proudly invited us to tour their properties and provided us with excellent suggestions for excursions and dining.

On Faial, a tiny island known for its profusion of hydrangeas, Manuel Brum, proprietor of Quinta das Buganvilias in Castelo Branco, welcomed us warmly. Mr. Brum’s family has lived on this land for more than a century. Located on the south coast of the island, this is a working farm complete with animals and orchards. The beautifully maintained property offers elegantly furnished rooms in the family home as well as modern apartments in the annex. Mr. Brum is pleased to share his heritage and Faial’s culture with his guests.

On Sao Miguel, the largest of the islands, we stayed at the Quinta da Terca outside of the capital, Ponta Delgada. This 17th-century estate was purchased three years ago by a Swedish couple, Claude and Christina de Laval. The de Lavals have lovingly preserved and restored much of the original manor. The manor house has five guestrooms with private baths, but is still a work in progress.

The couple also has a passion for horses. Their current project is construction of a covered riding arena. The de Lavals offer riding tours for individuals or groups.

With suggestions from our hosts plus our own preparation, we circled the islands, visiting craters, thermal springs, parks, viewpoints and harbors. We tried gastronomic specialties such as cozido das caldeiras, a hearty stew cooked in the heat of volcanic earth, and we drank excellent wine from grapes grown in lava soil. We took the ferry from Faial to neighboring island Pico, home to Portugal’s tallest mountain. We admired a variety of Azorean crafts: lace work, embroidery, pottery and scrimshaw. The islands are clean, safe and a reminder of simpler times.

Land and air packages arranged by Abreu Tours, which has been in business since 1840, include air service from Boston to Ponta Delgada through SATA International operated by Azores Express on a charter basis.

Agents need be aware that charter flights are subject to cancellation. This occurred in our case, but to the credit of Azores Express, we were compensated for losses caused by flight changes. Our flights were on comfortable airbuses with on-time arrivals.

A fly/drive program such as ours should appeal to the independent traveler with a sense of adventure and an appreciation for culture and tradition.

Abreu Tours

Gayle Christensen is a travel consultant with Alamo World Travel, in Alamo, Calif.