A few months ago I had the opportunity to spend some time in New Bedford, MA. It’s a wonderful fishing community with strong ties to the Azores, and I was able to really immerse myself for a few days in the incredible Portuguese food and traditions. Now I need to go one step farther and head overseas to this group of islands with such a rich culture. While I was up in New Bedford I got the inside scoop from so many people who had lived there….what to see, do and eat of course, but they warmly gave me their friends and relatives numbers, so I could contact them once I arrived.
From the East Coast it’s a quick five hour flight to the Azores (about the same as it is to Los Angeles).
- SATA Airlines flies directly from Boston to the Azores. This year, SATA offers a $496 flight round-trip from Boston to the Azores departing December 30 and returning January 6.
On Christmas and around Epiphany on January 6, you’ll see groups of Christmas carolers marching through the streets. They go singing from door to door on all of the islands. It is an old tradition known as singing to the kings (Cantar aos Reis).
The next month, on the evening of February 2 groups of singers again take to the streets in the Singing to the Stars (Cantar às Estrelas), to honor the Lady of the Star Patron Saint of the City of Ribeira Grande. This also marks the end of the holiday season on São Miguel. You’ll get to see the those revelers of Cantar ás Estrelas stop to knock on people’s doors and sing as they march through the streets. Visit Vila Franca do Campo, Lagoa, Ponta Delgada and Relva to witness this incredible celebration.
Families gather for Christmas dinner of boiled codfish or stuffed turkey with Azorean wine, and if you look closely you’ll see the doors left open to present Christmas cribs that they’ve lovingly made for the baby Jesus. Even if you don’t have family in the Azores, you can celebrate with Azorean liqueurs. Maybe if you get lucky, you’ll be invited to an old Azorean tradition during the holiday season for cakes and homemade liqueur. Or you can go visit one of the distilleries around the islands.
If you should find yourself in Ponta Delgada at the beginning of December, attend one of the classical Christmas Concerts. The city illuminates on Dia das Montras, December 8, and all of the local stores display their Christmas decorations. Azoreans spend the evening watching the city come to life for the holidays.
New Year’s Eve
Imagine a stage out overlooking the water with live music brass bands and fireworks. Head to Ponta Delgada, Faial, Terceira and some smaller towns and villages across the archipelago to enjoy this waterfront tradition. On New Year’s Day, Azoreans traditionally celebrate the first swim of the year and head to the beach.
Escape both the snow and the sunburns in the Azores. The islands offer all-season activities that allow you to absorb rural pastures, beaches and mountains.
A few of these all-season activities include:
- Tea plantations: Gorreana Tea is known as Europe’s oldest tea since 1883. Grown hundreds of miles away from industrial pollution and harvested fresh from April to September in Sao Miguel, Gorreana grows single estate organic green and black teas.
- Pineapple plantations: Pineapple greenhouses are unique to the Azores. Sao Miguel has an estimated 6,000 greenhouses.
- Hike Mount Pico: This volcano is the highest mountain of Portugal. (*Climbing restrictions apply such as the presence of guide, signed authorization form and time limit at the peak. There is also snow on the mountaintop during the winter.)
- Thermal baths: In Terra Nostra Garden on Sao Miguel, take a dip in the warm thermal baths, heated naturally by the volcanic earth.
- The Marina of Horta: Like a mosaic, painted squares of cement are dedicated to the boats and sailors that have visited Faial. Each square is the result of a painter who has visited, painting the names of the boat, a flag or an image.
About the Azores
The nine islands of the Azores are in the middle of the North Atlantic and belong to Portugal. They can be reached by direct flight from the US in four hours, or via Lisbon. These volcanic islands are renowned for their craters, beautiful lakes, stunning sea, thermal pools and mountain vistas, their impressive flora and fauna, and marine life. The island have played a hugely important part in European maritime history, due to their strategically significant position as the westernmost point of Europe.