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Azores - Church Chapel

Day 1 - Ponta Delgada

A very early start today for our 05:40 flight departure. We miraculously made it without our names being announced over the airport tannoy system (unfortunately a regular occurrence) and we were airborne to the Azores!

We were sitting down to brunch in Ponta Delgada by 10 am with the sun shining and the cafes buzzing. Ponta Delgada has narrow cobbled streets emblazoned with tiled mosaics and extravagant murals whilst street bars offer African jazz and sizzling plates of grilled limpets. We loved it! Reluctantly, we had to jump into the car and head towards the north coast to check-in to our accommodation, a fabulous quinta complete with swimming pool, mini-football pitch, pool bar and rather bizarrely a chicken coop and a clowder of cats. The kids were beyond happy!

After a quick dip in the pool, we were off into Ribeira Grande to search for dinner which we found in the form of freshly baked pizza served by a very friendly ex-pat American. Then it was time to catch up on some sleep after our very early start.

Day 2 - Furnas

We were up by 7am feeling fully refreshed and the kids in the pool by 8am. By 9am we were on the road to Furnas, the centre of geological activity in the Azores. The eggy sulphur smell was fairly subtle after our Iceland exploits and the kids thankfully didn’t feel the need to walk around gagging intermittently.

After a brief stop at the viewpoint over town we headed to the Poca Da Dona Beija hot springs to relax in 39 degree pools. The kids made friends with a lovely lady from Seattle (which meant peace and quiet for us!) and we all gradually turned a disturbing shade of orange from the iron-rich water. Think really bad fake tan!

Afterwards, we stopped at the geo-thermal area by the lake with its unique collection of fumaroles, mud pots and steam vents. We watched as the owners of the underground cooking pots came to collect their ‘cozido’ lunch (Portuguese stew cooked in a volcanic vent for 6+ hours) before enjoying a pineapple cocktail by lake shore. Pineapples are grown locally in the Azores and are especially good.

In the evening it was time to head to the beach front bar for excellent tuna burgers and to watch the local surfers ride the waves.

Day 3 - Lagoa do Fogo

We awoke to glorious sunshine which meant that today was a day for hiking! It was time to tackle Lagoa do Fogo (the Lake of Fire), a caldera lake located within the Água de Pau Massif stratovolcano. We parked the car on the rim and quickly descended/freefalled the steep path to the lakeshore. The views were beyond spectacular with a sensory overload of sweet wildflowers, vibrant colours and a generous helping of blissful peace. The pictures just don’t do it justice!

We continued hiking around the lakeshore where the kids attempted to catch fish with their bare feet and played dens in the forest. After our picnic lunch, it was time to hike back up the almost vertical path which on the plus side meant I had defintely earned my large gin for today!

Our next stop were the hot springs at Caldeira Velha which were like fairytale pools inside a tropical jungle oasis. Absolute bliss after all that hiking. We tried each of the four pools and settled in the warmest of them all where luckily the sight of our three kids seemed to deter the majority.

For dinner, it was a traditional Portuguese restaurant in Ribeira Seca where the tuna was delicious but the octopus not so much! I had the tuna so was a happy bunny!

Day 4 - Swimming with dolphins

Today was Oscar’s birthday which meant a special treat of swimming with dolphins! We had to be up ridiculously early as we were also moving accommodation too which meant a fairly frantic rally race through the back streets of Ponta Delgada to the marina but thankfully we made it (just!).

It was a beautiful calm morning, the perfect weather for dolphin spotting. Within 15 minutes we were surrounded by a pod of 20+ bottlenose dolphins all in a playful mood. So, so lucky! There were mothers and calf’s too (one just a few weeks old) and all were friendly and inquisitive in the water. The photos from our trip are courtesy of Futurismo as my wildlife photography skills are not so hot!

After a fabulous lunch by the marina it was time to head up the west coast towards Ginetes which was to be our base for the next four nights. We were lucky to have a private villa with a pool which meant three very happy kids! We also had a washing machine which meant a happy mum too! In the late afternoon we took a small trip into Setes Cidades village and then on to Mosteiros which is well-known for its fabulous sunsets. The sunset bar by the sea was a welcome sight as was the lady selling Nutella & banana crepes. A very special evening watching the sun go down.

Day 5 - Ferraria

Today was a much more chilled affair as we had nowhere in particular to be. This meant a lovely lie-in, a leisurely breakfast and time in the pool for the kids. Around late morning we headed into Ponta Delgada to visit the pineapple plantation where we learnt about the various stages of production of the Azorean pineapple and enjoyed pineapple cake, pineapple ice cream and pineapple liquer at the end. That fruit has no end to its talents!

We then headed into town for traditional Portuguese tapas (plates of limpets, clams and shrimp) served at a typically Portuguese pace before heading back up the west coast to Ferraria for a totally unique therapeutic experience. At Ferraria, geothermally heated ocean water is surrounded by gigantic lava cliffs turning small coves into amazing hot pools at low tide! It was dusk when we arrived making the whole experience even more special. There may have been a few stubbed toes though as we clambered back over the lava rocks in the pitch darkness.

Day 6 - Ribeira dos Caldeiroes

Today was the day we were all looking forward to the most. It was time to rappel down waterfalls, wade through streams, slide down boulders and jump off ledges. It was time to go canyoning! We headed to the north-east of the island to Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes stopping briefing at the Gorreana tea plantation for a quick morning brew. Ribeira dos Caldeiroes is a huge jungle playground complete with thundering waterfalls, gushing streams, giant tree ferns, overhanging vines and enticing nature trails.

We met our guides, got geared up and off we went into the rainforest. And it has to be said that canyoning didn’t disappoint! We had an absolute blast! We jumped down six-metre high waterfalls and rappelled (in a slightly awkward fashion) down huge rock faces. It was the perfect activity for any would-be Bear Grylls of the future.

Afterwards we decided to take the long way home via the little visited east coast of Sao Miguel. This turned out to be a fabulous decision as the scenery was some of the best on the island; gigantic cliffs plunging down to glittering, turquoise sea’s, rolling green fields and lonely lighthouses keeping guard. We stopped at too many viewpoints to remember (I do love a good viewpoint although the kids don’t seem to share my enthusiasm). We eventually arrived home many hours later and treated ourselves to pizza and pasta at the local Italian.

Day 7 - Setes Cidades

Our final day in the Azores. This morning we hired kayaks at Setes Cidades and spent a lovely couple of hours paddling around the blue & green lakes, the kids intermittently jumping in for a swim. Unfortunately for me the clams from last night’s Italian came back to haunt me – just perfect timing!

After returning our kayaks we drove up to Vista do Rei (the famous viewpoint over Setes Cidades) and Michael explored the abandoned 5* hotel which went bust in the 1980’s. It still boasts lovely patterned carpets and the odd be-tassled lampshade. Our final call for the day was Miradouro da Boca do Inferno, quite probably the most famous Azorean vista. We were the only ones there so got to enjoy the spectacular 360-degree views in glorious silence.

Afterwards it was time for the kids to enjoy a few more hours in the pool before heading to Mosteiros for one last sunset. Tomorrow it would be time to head home but not without some wonderful memories. Over the last few days we have been treated to tropical jungles, vivid lakes, dramatic volcanos, relaxing hot springs, bubbling fumaroles, thundering waterfalls, epic hiking trails, breath-taking viewpoints and of course herds of cows. This in a sentence was the wonderful Azores.

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