We can see the beauty of the Western Islands before the plane even touches the runway. The azores archipelago sits around 1,600 kilometres from mainland Portugal and consists of nine islands. The nine islands are divided into three groups; the eastern islands (São Miguel and Santa Maria); the central islands (Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico and Faial); and the western islands (Flores and Corvo).
It is thought that the name of the archipelago comes from a bird that was seen in abundance by the Portuguese when they discovered the islands in 1427. At that time it was believed that the bird was the ‘açor’ (goshawk) and the islands therefore were given the name ‘Açores’. It was later found that the açor never existed in the islands and that the bird was in fact a local subspecies of buzzard.
Our first stop is São Miguel, which is also known as ‘The Green Island’ due to its lush greenery and abundance of pastures and forests. This is the largest island in the archipelago at 61.1 kilometres long and 15.8 kilometres wide at its widest point. More than half of the Azorean population live on this island and it has around 137,865 inhabitants. São Miguel is home to the presidency of the Autonomous Region of the Azores and Ponte Delgada, the island’s capital, is also the capital of the Azores and the largest city in the archipelago.
We touch down at João Paulo airport in Ponte Delgada and admire the landscape during our transfer to the hotel. On our way we see some of the street art from the Walk & Talk Azores Public Art Festival. Artists have transformed the walls of unused buildings and even the large boulders along the sea walls into masterpieces.
Soon we reach the São Brás Fort, which was once the most important fortress of all the city and that now houses the Azores Military Museum. A few moments later the ‘Portas da Cidade’ (city gates) come into view.
We arrive at the hotel, which overlooks the Ponte Delgada marina, a modern infrastructure filled with restaurants and cafeterias. In the marina is a large salt-water swimming pool and beside it a public outdoor swimming pool. The marina is busy and, following the advice of our driver, we head to the marina for a delicious tuna steak at Conves Açores restaurant.