The Azores: how to have a truly sustainable holiday
Sustainability is one of the buzziest of travel’s buzzwords today, but too many destinations pay lip service to the idea. Not the Azores, which sits high on EarthCheck’s leaderboard of Sustainable Tourism Destinations, sporting impeccably preserved landscapes and responsible wildlife tours aplenty
With year-round sub-tropical temperatures, the Azores is a haven for anyone seeking nature’s greatest hits, being home to ancient volcanic craters, cascading waterfalls, thermal pools and leafy inland forests. Thanks to its far-reaching preservation efforts, it’s no wonder, then, that it’s an EarthCheck silver-certified Sustainable Tourism Destination – the world’s first archipelago to receive the accolade. Here, we handpick the best bits for eco-warriors to discover, reassured that your environmental footprint will be kept to a minimum.
A natural high
Swim, canoe or paddleboard in the revitalising waters of Sete Cidades’ twin lake on the island of São Miguel, named one of Portugal’s seven natural wonders alongside the Laurissilva forests of Madeira and the Algarve’s Ria Formosa coastal lagoon. At Caldeira Velha by Lagoa do Fogo, a soothing day will set the pace for any trip, while in Furnas, the outdoor thermal pool at Terra Nostra Garden Hotel maintains a tension-melting 40°C, with waters rich in iron and skin-clarifying minerals. Soak up its warmth before patting yourself down to wander the vast 250-year-old garden, fringed by manicured bushes of fuchsia rhododendrons, spiky sago palms and flowering camellia and magnolia trees.
Animal lovers, rejoice: responsible whale and dolphin-watching tours (which follow strict guidelines on how to approach marine life) will leave you slack jawed in awe, departing from the islands of Pico, São Miguel, Terceira, Graciosa and Faial. Santa Maria, meanwhile, is a hot spot for divers and snorkellers, thanks to the hundreds of devil rays that feed there. Spot whale sharks in these waters between June and October, while giant manta rays and even the odd Galapagos shark are known to swim at Banco Princesa Alice southwest of the islands of Faial and Pico. Boats depart from Horta harbour or Madalena and take three hours.
Keen twitchers should seek out the islands’ endemic bull finch – thought to be Europe’s rarest bird and found only in the northeastern forested highlands of São Miguel. In the spring months, migrating Cory’s shearwaters breed in burrows along the island’s rugged cliff face. On Flores and Corvo islands, the graceful, pink-plumed roseate and orange-billed common tern are, indeed, a common sight, as they dive into frothing waves in search of bounty.
Walk on the wild side
The best way to take in the Azores’ ethereal, moon-like landscape is surely on foot, with scores of trails winding along every island, each one planned and plotted with the guidance of local communities to best protect the islands against damage from overtourism. The aerial view of Sete Cidades’ glistening aquamarine lakes from the Vista do Rei viewpoint is more than worth the trek, while the pleasant two-hour trail along the crater’s ridge yields more mesmerising views still.
If you’re up for breaking a real sweat, the three-and-a-half-hour journey from Malha Grande to the saltwater swimming pools of Biscoitos island is gorgeous, weaving between blooming vineyards and picture-perfect villages en route. And, if you’re a seasoned pro, the Coast to Coast trail on the island of Faial, set across 36.8km and reaching an altitude of 1,000m, will get that heart rate up in no time. Following one of the transversal fault lines of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, when the last continental separation took place, you can expect to see old-world parishes, jagged volcanic cones, craggy chimneys and wonder-inducing views across the massive crater of a dormant volcano that spans two kilometres in diameter.
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