Formed by underwater eruptions on the Mid Atlantic fault line, the nine islands of the Azores are some of the most geographically diverse in the world. São Miguel is cloaked in laurel forest and luxuriant tropical flora, and has hidden thermal pools. Pico is dominated by its volcano. And São Jorge is known for its lush terraces of banana and curious fajas (volcanic beaches formed by underwater eruptions) that seem oddly attached to the bottom of its verdant cliffs.
Believed to be the forgotten city of Atlantis by Plato, no one actually sailed to the islands before Henry the Navigator. The 15C settlers found the lush soils excellent for farming and, by the 18C, the Azores were the key exporter of oranges to Europe. After a blight destroyed the crop in the 19C, the islanders looked elsewhere for their income. Many ornamental plants were introduced from the Americas and Asia, including the now ubiquitous ginger lily from the Himalayas, as well as tropical fruit like bananas, guavas, pineapples and passion fruits. The rich soils and mild all year round climate proved ideal for a whole range of flora. Today, out of 900 flora species, 60 are endemic, earning the Azores their reputation as the world’s garden. A rich and enticing destination for an unforgettable European walking holiday.
On the gulf stream, the warm waters around the islands are perfect for whales and dolphins. A third of the world’s 80 species have been spotted here, including the Atlantic spotted, bottle nose and striped dolphin and the Northern bottle nose, fin and blue whale.