The Azores are a green, hilly, and flower-filled volcanic paradise in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean made up of nine vibrant yet strikingly different islands. All breathtaking, they each offer sensational and special features that have inspired a chromatic set of nicknames. Here’s everything you need to know.
Lush hills and mountainsides, rolling pastures, tea fields, and botanical gardens add their own shades of green to this dreamy and exotic island that is also the largest in the archipelago. Hydrangea-lined roadways weave through rural villages with fields full of grazing cows – depending on where you go, you’ll run into jungle-like forests enhanced with hidden treasures like waterfalls and natural thermal springs, or jaw-dropping lookout points taking in the countryside and sea. São Miguel is an extremely fertile island (perhaps another reason for this nickname), pineapple cultivation is a prominent business, and visitors should make sure to try the local tea. The tea fields are super unique and Gorreana Tea Plantation on the northern side of the island is both the oldest and only tea plantation in Europe.
Gorreana Tea Plantation – Plantações de Chá Gorreana, Maia, Portugal, +351 296 442 349
Pineapple A Arruda Plantation – Rua Doutor Augusto Arruda, Fajã de Baixo, Ponta Delgada, Portugal, +351 296 384 438
Pico’s two nicknames, “The Gray Island” and “The Mountain Island” are linked, both inspired by the massive stratovolcano located on the island’s west side. Unique rock formations along black coastlines and ancient infrastructure made with dark gray basalt rock, left behind by volcanic eruptions, have become part of Pico’s unique heritage and support a peculiar yet remarkable local horticulture industry: wine and brandy production.
It’s not every day you can try World Heritage wine grown from dark volcanic soil, but you can at the Cooperativa Vitivinicola Da Ilha Do Pico, located near the island’s largest town called Madalena (tastings and tours can be scheduled between their opening hours Wednesday through Friday 8am-8pm, and Saturday 3pm-8pm). Equally unique and a must-see is Arcos do Cachorro (Arches of the Dog), massive basalt rock cliffs forming caves and tunnels.
Cooperativa Vitivinicola Da Ilha Do Pico – Avenida Padre Nunes Rosa, 29 Madalena, Madalena, Portugal, +351 292 622 262
Soft blue and purple hydrangeas grow all over the Azores but Terceira, the third largest of the nine islands, is specifically recognized for the soft pastel color of its flowers including lilacs – hence The Lilac Island. One of the more beautiful gardens in the Azores is believed to be the Duke of Terceira Garden in Terceira’s capital Angra do Heroísmo (once the capital of the entire archipelago).
Duke of Terceira Garden – R. Direita 130, Angra do Heroísmo, Portugal, +351 295 401 700
Also named after its abundance of bright flowers is Santa Maria, believed to be the first island in the Azores to be discovered and one part of the archipelago’s eastern group (São Miguel is the other part). The bright yellow flowering shrubs that inspire the island’s nickname grow along Santa Maria’s green slopes between rural towns and are called giestas.
Perhaps THE island of flowers is Flores, hence its name that literally translates to “flowers” and the local azaleas standout among the myriad of natural gems. Flores is the fourth smallest of the nine islands, the furthest from continental Portugal, and part of the archipelago’s western group along with Corvo. Believed by some visitors and locals to be the most beautiful of the islands, it experiences higher rainfall than the others, possibly making it greener and the forests even lusher. Near Fajã Grande, multiple waterfalls make the landscape sparkle – Flores is also home to one of the Azores’ most recognized natural gems and a UNESCO World Heritage Site called Rocha dos Bordões, a basalt rock cliffside composed of long, vertical columns.
The blue island gets its nickname for two main reasons: the sheer number of hydrangeas decorating the streets and towns, as well as the island’s maritime history. Horta, Faial’s main city, is one of the islands’ most popular seaports and Faial is the home of the Azores’ Semana do Mar festival, a week-long celebration that takes place each year in August highlighting the area’s connection and history to the sea. Even many locals add blue accents to their homes and businesses in honor of “the blue island”.
In the middle of the Azores’ “central group” is the oblong São Jorge island, characterized by the long stretch of rocky seaside cliffs, the most notable being the 200 meter (656 feet)- high Ponta dos Rosais on the island’s northern end. Although volcanic cliffs and rock formations are common among the nine islands, they seem to be the most prominent feature of São Jorge, in addition to fajãs (geological platforms along the coast that resulted from lava flows). It is these cliffs and fajãs that give São Jorge its nickname “the Brown island”.
The second smallest, and slightly flatter island in the Azores is Graciosa, and despite the archipelago’s volcanic nature, the rocks on this island are lighter, hence the nickname “the White Island”. Its name Graciosa stems from the Portuguese word gracioso meaning “graceful” and is due to the softness of the landscape, lacking the extreme cliffs and hills prominent on the other islands.
The smallest and northernmost island is Corvo, a name that means “of the crow” and linked to the native cormorant bird species. The nickname “the Black Island” is believed to come from the lava-darkened soil and rocks that were used to border fields, although some say that the nickname refers to the island’s appearance as a black dot on maps (due to its small size).