Worlds Best Islands: Why Portugals Terceira Belongs On Your Travel Wish List – Forbes

Angra do Heroismo in Terceira

As party islands go, Terceira is a pretty mild one. This volcanic rock in the Azores archipelago isnt much like Ibiza, nor Mykonos, nor Hvar. But by Portugals decorous standards, Terceirawith its seemingly endless religious-cultural festivals and eccentric street partieshas a bit of a reputation.

We have a saying that the Azores is made up of eight islands and an amusement park, said Mara Godinho, my enthusiastic and personable guide from Azores Getaways in Terceira. She was referring to her own island, of course. Sure enough, when I moved on from Terceira to Pico, my guide there greeted me by asking, How was the party?

Point made. Except there was no party. Not in Terceira, nor anywhere else, because this is 2020. While some of the older people on the island are still observing some of the more strictly religious aspects of the commemorations, the freewheeling celebration scene in Terceira is on hold for now.

Another moody view of Angra do Heroismo

So why visit? Whats left?

Theres a lot, actually. To start, theres some seriously stunning natural beauty, which comes in many shades of green. Its pastoral at its most pleasant, with significantly more cows than people (and excellent cheese and butter to match). There are dramatic lava rocks where beaches should be, and picturesque stone homes in the middle of black boulder fields. If you time it right, there could be a rainbow behind one, as the rain shimmers down through the sunlight.

No filter, no photoshop

That nature is everything at the Caparica Azores Ecolodge, near the village of Biscoitos, where the rooms are little cabins in the forest, with private terraces and full walls of windows. The pathway up to reach them can be treacherous, but the views more than make up for it.

Even better, breakfast is a low-key way to start the day with deliciousness.

Breakfast at Caparica Azores Ecolodge

Theres the architectural equivalent of all those music-fueled street partiesmost of which involve some sort of celebration or supplication to the Holy Spirit. This took on a lot of importance in the Azores a few centuries ago, when people were trying to find explanations for the frequent volcanic eruptions.

All over Terceira there are colorful little chapels called imprios. With their confectionary architecture and eye-popping colors, they reminded me of Hindu temples as much as Catholic chapels. (To be sure, theyre more cultural than religious, and they havent exactly been historically popular with the Vatican.)

Architecturally, theres much more beauty, particularly in the islands capital of Angra do Heroismo, the onetime capital of the Azores. It was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983, for its tidy buildings and picturesque, colorful plazas and streets.

An imprio in Terceira (human for scale)

As everywhere in the islands, there are hiking and adventure activities galore. Two of volcanic caves stand out. Gruta do Natal is typical lava tube, but it gained notoriety in the 1960s, when islanders started celebrating Christmas mass inside of itthe same spirit that led to all the street parties, or, as Godinho put it, there wasnt very much to do on the island, and people had to get creative in order to amuse themselves.

The other important cave is Algar do Carvo, one of two huge, open caves of its type in the world. The other is in Iceland and its cold and you have to rappel down into it. This one is far more comfortable and accessible.

Its just as well that I didnt know about the bull thing before my trip. I saw it on television during lunch with Godinho at Ti Choa, a comfortable spot for home-style food. Watching the footage from last years bull runs, I was mesmerized.

This statue shows the importance of bulls in Terceira

This is not a violent bullfight, like in history, in which the bull suffers. Nor is it a dangerous running of the bulls, like in Pamplona, in which reckless people suffer. Rather, its a celebration of a strong animal. Theres a rope to limit the bulls orbit, and sometimes umbrellas for a bit of gentle teasing with umbrellas, and people seem to like it when a bull slips on wet pavement and slides into the sea. The bulls dont seem to mind.

The main point, says Godinho, is to admire the bullafter all, cows are vitally important here, so whoever can keep making more cows is worth admiring. She grew excited as she explained the scoringsomething like Olympic figure skating, apparently, in which the bull gets points for artistic flourishes, such as sticking his head onto the first-floor balcony.

No one cares about football in Terceira, she says. But we all have our favorite bulls. She remembers swooning over specific bulls with her mother, and one particular animal that became known as the Ladies Bull, for his proclivity to move toward women in the audience. In a normal year, there can be 350 of these bull runs, sometimes three or four in a single day.

Up on top of one of the mountains, where you can see the bulls at rest

The bulls may be hanging out calmly in the mountains this yearyou can hike or drive by and see thembut you can still eat and drink well. The Azores is known for excellent fish, including many varieties you dont find elsewhere in Portugal. Along with Ti Choa, a great choice for dinner is Beira Mar in So Mateus, a lively, brightly lit restaurant where families share big platters of fish and seafood chosen from the fresh items on display over ice. (I confess its a taste I havent yet acquired, but my Portuguese friends go mad for the lapas, chewy little shellfish cooked with enough garlic to kill a vampire.)

I complemented my dinner with a wine called Magma, a perfectly crisp, complex white wine made with grapes grown on the islands volcanic fields. For a more thorough introduction to the islands winemaking culture, the Museu do Vinho is open to visitors by appointment. Its run by the fifth generation of the winemaking Brum family, and it has an interactive garden planted with different grape varieties, a museum with the familys old tools and various awards, and an inviting tasting room decorated with repurposed wine barrels.

Vineyards in Terceira

It may not be all that rollicking at the moment, but Terceira is still an awfully nice place to pass a few days.

Although the Azores, like the rest of Europe, are not currently welcoming American tourists, European citizens and residents can get to the islands easily with TAPs direct flights from Boston to Ponta Delgada. From there its just a short hop to Terceira. Azores Getaways can handle all the logistics on the ground.

Want more Azores? Consider Pico, the islands capital of adventure and wine.

Excerpt from:

Worlds Best Islands: Why Portugals Terceira Belongs On Your Travel Wish List - Forbes

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