Our overnight flight landed us in Terceira, Azores just after sunrise. Expecting to be driven to our hotel for a short nap, we were surprised when Paulo, our guide suggested that we take advantage of the clear spring morning and start our tour.
“Yes!” I said, garnering a glare from Alison, my travel companion. “Just for an hour,” I whispered to her, “then we’ll ask to go and take a rest”. I was eager to start exploring this island that almost none of our friends had ever heard of.
It turned out to be a good decision – we shot our crispest panoramic shots that morning before the fog rolled in for much of the next few days.
Terceira is the second largest and second most populated of the Azores archipelago, smack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe. Sometimes called “the violet or purple island,” Terceira is awash in colorful, historical architecture, lush landscapes containing towering volcanoes and winding caves, and impressive sea views. It’s a nature-lovers paradise offering every manor of outdoor activity. The island maintains a moderate temperature without extreme fluctuations.
There is much to love about this technicolor island; here are some of our favorites.
Pico do Facho
This viewpoint can be reached either by car or by a staircase on the hillside. There is a wall with a magnificent panoramic view of the city and beach of Praia da Victoria.
Serra do Cume
Serra do Cume is a caldera – a large volcanic crater formed by a major eruption leading to the collapse of the mouth of the volcano. It’s a winding drive to get to the viewpoint for the panoramic views of walls of volcanic stone known as “patchwork.” There’s a lookout viewing platform you can walk onto, which was a bit of a challenge in the extreme wind, but the views of the patchwork and Praia de Victoria are worth braving it.
Monte de Brasil
The peninsula of Monte Brazil is located on the south coast of Terceira. Hike or drive up to the top of this extinct volcano for dramatic views across the bay to the city of Angra de Hermoso.
Angra de Hermoso
UNESCO World Heritage Site Angra de Hermoso is the Azores’ oldest city and one of the three regional capitals of the Azores. From the Obelisco do Alto da Memória, the view is absolutely stunning – a latticework of red tile roofs, cobblestone streets and alleys, historic churches and palaces, squares and gardens. We walked from the monument through a labyrinth of gardens down into the city where we spent an afternoon taking in the palaces, cathedrals, castles and mansions, as well as restaurants and shops.
Volcanic sea walk
Volcanic rocks are strewn along much of the coast of Terceira, creating a colorful walking vista.
The Cabras Islet, near Portu Judeu, is a witness to volcanic eruption, leaving behind dual uninhabited islets, along the southern coast of Terceira.
Praia dos Biscoitos
Brilliant azure blue water crashing wildly on black rugged volcanic rocks forming natural swimming pools, Biscoitos is nothing short of otherworldly.
Porto Martins is a charming little town in the municipality of Praia da Vitória, characterized by volcanic rock-lined vineyards, orchards and flowers, and the smaller of the islands two swimming beaches.
Rush hour traffic on the Azores? Yes, for sure. But expect to be “mooed” not honked because you’re likely to be stopping for cows, not cars, because livestock has the right of way on Terceira.
Terceira is known more as nature/eco destination, but there is a pretty sandy beach and port in Praia de Vitória where locals hang out in the warmer months.
Running with the bulls
Terceira has its own version of running with the bulls called “touradas à corda.” A bull is constrained by a group of men while bystanders either take seats behind barriers on the side of the road, or the more courageous souls take positions in the road to participate. The bull is then released in the town square to roam freely through the streets. Onlookers sometimes try to provoke the bulls, resulting in the occasional injury.
Algar do Carvão is an immense volcanic chimney containing some of the largest silica stalactites in the world. Much of the cavernous space is lit to expose the colorful shimmering stalactites. Because the cave is well lit, much of it can be explored, but be careful for the drippings which may hit your head and/or face!
Terceira, like much of the Azores, is a hiking paradise. From the heights to the craters, the extinct volcanoes offer a variety of difficulty and views.
Scuba diving, cycling and horseback riding are also popular outdoor activities on the island.
The traditional Portugese fishermen’s stew, “caldeirada de peixe” is delicious. Fresh ingredients are abundant in the local fish markets, like the one above in Praia de Vitória.
Quinta do Martelo
Quinta do Martelo restaurant serves the popular Azores dish “alcatra.” This entrée consists of locally raised tender beef roasted slowly in a clay pot with a savory sauce made with wine, onions, garlic, bay leaves, pepper. The dish is served with “massa sovada,” The Azores traditional sweet bread. The grounds on the property are fascinating to walk through, from the rustic stone inn buildings to the ancient storage and handicraft buildings and barns, all offering views into what it was once like to live on a traditional farm.
This is the place for a decadent meal! My entrée was grilled octopus on top of bonito fish on top of rings of squid on top of bread soup made with pieces of shrimp and fish eggs garnished by a sprig of ice plant. Delish.
Cais de Angra
Far and away my favorite restaurant, this small outdoor eatery serves heavenly seafood on an open-air patio with the sea just a few feet away. I tried two new items…. limpets and barnacles. I thought the limpets were mussels, steamed and soaked in butter and garlic. I loved them – until I learned they were really aquatic sea snails. The barnacles… well, I’m glad I tried them, but once was enough.
I have a tradition of trying ice cream in every country I visit, and the Azores was no exception. In addition to the creamy goodness, the views from the terrace made the experience even better.
For more exciting reviews of the food in the Azores, read 10 Ways to Taste the Azores.
We both agreed that Terceira was even more beautiful, photographic and fun than we’d anticipated. We recommend staying at the Terceira Mar Hotel in a balcony room with stunning sea and volcano views and delicious buffet breakfast including many local treats.
Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of VisitAzores during her stay in Terciera, but as always, the opinions, reviews and experiences are her own.