Region: Atlantic Ocean, Portugal. (Nine volcanic islands about 950 miles from Portugal and 2,400 miles from North America)
PSA alert: the Azores are amazing! I traveled four hours from Boston to an archipelago in the middle of Atlantic Ocean. Stayed on Sao Miguel island in Ponta Delgada, the capital, at a 3-star hotel which cost $50/night and offered a private balcony, turkish baths, pool, and daily breakfast buffet. It rained on most of the days I was there but, with the exception of an encounter with an unusually persistent weirdo, it didn't dampen my spirits! Took bus to volcanic lake where they cooked lunch in boiling pits; hiked to top of mountain overlooking green valley; swam around iron hot springs in verdant park. Back at hotel shared Turkish baths and jacuzzi with international motley crew. Sipped vihno verde (the bar was out of Madeira; sigh). Two thumbs up.
Two day-trip highlights:
Reachable by public bus for about $3, Furnas-- towards eastern end of island-- is famous for its hot springs, lake, and Terra Nostra park. Every day at 12:30pm local families and restaurant owners pull large cauldrons from the depths of the hot springs and boiling volcanic mud to produce Cozido das Furnas, a generous dish of meat and vegetables. You can sample the day's cooking back in town. I hiked up a steep but worthwhile trail on the edge of the lake, leading to the flat summit and million-dollar views of the surrounding valleys. I hooked up with some charming girls for the lunch followed by a dip in the iron hot springs in the Terra Nostra park. Note... the last bus back never passed, so we had to take a taxi. The local bartender says once in a while the buses do not come.
Sete Cidades and Mosteiros
Near the western tip of the island, and also reachable by bus, are the small towns of Sete Cidades and Mosterios. I walked through a 1-mile long narrow, muddy, pitch black tunnel in ankle deep water that shares space with an overflowing aqueduct. My fear was that after 3 hours of searching every dirt road and cow path in the mountainous southwest Sao Miguel island I'd be unable to have the opportunity to walk through the muddy tunnel! I ended up doing a round trip between the villages and fell into step with procession of men walking the island during this Holy Week. Gotta love travel adventures!
Casa Marisca Restaurante
. Delicious fresh fish and seafood, reasonably priced. Rua Eng. Jose Codeiro, 127, Ponta Delgada. Tel: 296 382 780.