The Azores: the best kept secret of Europe (Central group, Terceira and Graciosa islands)

Natacha Costa | Live the World

September 19, 2022

The five islands of the central group of the Azores are simply five masterpieces. If you are looking for a week or two full of adventures like getting inside a volcano, hiking the highest mountain of Portugal, whale-watching, walking for hours around different lava formations and beautiful lakes, or sleeping inside a crater and doing water & wind sports, this is a perfect destination for that. For some more relaxing moments, the central group offers amazing wine from Pico, yummy tarts from Graciosa, and plenty of beaches and natural swimming pools. Each island has its own peculiarities and here is what you should know before deciding which ones to visit.

Terceira: cultural heritage, touradas and Hortensia

Terceira is the 3rd biggest island of the Archipelago (after Pico and S. Miguél), and the one with the greatest historical heritage. Its capital, Angra do Heroísmo, was classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1983. Angra is so beautiful that it does not even look real. With all those elaborate iron balconies full of blooming flowers, shiny azulejos and freshly painted houses, it rather looks like a setting for a theatrical production.

Not much is happening around the island of Terceira. The main sources of fun are touradas à corda, ("bullfights with a rope"), which is a regular event taking place a few times per month, ever since 1622. This type of bullfighting is peculiar to the Azores. It involves four adult bulls going along a designated road or street being controlled by a rope around their neck, directed by six people. Men tease and provoke the bull, but with no intention to kill the animal. All the bulls are released after each event in order to rest before the next event.

There are still many things to do in Terceira. Don't miss visiting Algar do Carvão, a unique site where you can go down to the interior of a dormant volcano, drive alongside blooming Hortensia bushes along the road, and do my favourite trail of all in Azores: Mistérios Negros. It's a demanding hike between two volcanoes, through a jungle-like forest. After doing it, you will understand why these islands are like no other location you have ever known.

Graciosa: "the white island"

With a surface area of 61 km2, Graciosa is the smallest island of the central group. It's a great place to spend a peaceful day or two while enjoying its numerous trails, rural charm, architectural heritage (including windmills) and the Carapacho Spa, where you can take a relaxing and therapeutic bath.

The islands of the central group are quite close to each other. Once you are here, visit as many as possible, because all of them are truly unique. To learn about the remaining islands, I prepared a story about why Azores are the best kept secret in Europe, check it out. For those of you looking for (even) less touristic destinations, check out my story about the Western group of Azores, two most isolates islands, beautiful Corvo and Flores.

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