If you’re sweltering in work looking at updates from all your mates who have just landed in whatever beautiful place they’ve chosen for their holiday this year, you might figure it’s time to book a holiday.
Sunshine is great, but let’s not forget this is Manchester. How long is it going to last before we’re reaching for our brollies?
But before you grab a brochure or hit Google to start looking at Spain, Italy or a even a little further afield, Ryanair have just added a new route direct from Manchester to the Azores.
It’s a chain of Portuguese islands in the Atlantic, and having just spent a week exploring their main island, Sao Miguel, I’ve a few reasons why I think it’s definitely somewhere to add to your hit list. And not just because the flights are cheap as chips (they are).
I don’t just mean it’s beautiful. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It gets a decent amount of rainfall on the hills, and those hills feed into waterfalls and springs across the islands.
This and its volcanic soil means that the vegetation is rich green, the water is bright blue, and there are stunning parks and gardens aplenty. Even driving across the island is a pleasure. Where our roadsides might feature the odd poppy and a couple of daffs in the spring, in Sao Miguel they are littered with bright purple aliums, hydrangeas in white, pink and blue and every shade of green you can imagine.
It’s also the only place in Europe that grows its own tea, so there’s no need to pack the PG Tips. In fact you can visit the oldest plantation on the island and see how it’s grown and processed and enjoy free brews on tap at the end.
And it’s also the only place in Europe that grows its own pineapples. It takes two years for them to ripen for harvest, so you get a sweeter pineapple, something they’re very proud of. They not only serve it sliced raw as a dessert, or chargrilled, but it’s in cakes, puddings, jams and their own pineapple liqueur. It’s even a botanical in some of their local gins.
Its position in the Atlantic means it’s perfect for whale watching. Hop on a boat with Futurismo and get up close and personal with pilot whales and the shoals of dolphins that take advantage of the fertile seas surrounding the islands. If watching from a boat just isn’t good enough, they offer tours where you can jump in the water with wild dolphins too. A once in a lifetime experience.
If you love to explore, then this is the place to go. Hike into the mountains, grab a mountain bike and cycle, horse ride, or do as I did and go canyoning, rappelling down clifftops and diving from the tops of waterfalls into clear cold water.
If all that is a little too adventurous, companies like Green Zone offer tours. See the Set Cidades – seven lakes set in volcanic craters from the comfort of a jeep, or have them take you to some of the island’s secret spots, and hidden waterfalls that only they know about. And don’t forget your swimsuit.
Or hire a car and take advantage of the hot springs littering the island. Have your lunch cooked by a volcano while you swim in the pools near Furnas, or in the sea off Ponta da Ferraria where the waves crash on one side of a natural rock pool, whilst the other is fed by warm water from the springs from the island.
When it comes to food and drink, fish is everywhere, as you’d expect, with tuna a menu staple. But fear not meat eaters and cheese lovers because Azoreans are famed for their ‘happy cows’. Forget bread and butter to nibble on while you select from the menu, here it’s more likely to be bread and a light soft unaged cheese served with a spicy chilli sauce. Delicious spread on a croissant or fresh local bread and so good it’s served at breakfast too.
If you need a little nightlife, Ponta Delgada has clubs open til 6 or 7am, or simply stick with the locals and go to a bar where the beers are good and plentiful – and as cheap as 50c a time if you know where to go.
And if it all sounds like a little too much hard work, don’t worry. There are plenty of volcanic sand beaches for you to lounge on, waves for you to dip your toes in, and pools to lie beside. And a bus tour or two when you can drag yourself away from your beach towel.
Flights from Manchester with Ryanair are available from as little as £50 return, meaning you can splurge a little more on your hotel.
I’ll be right back. I’m just booking a holiday.
Manchester Airport has a direct connection to Ponta Delgada via Ryanair. The new route operates every Thursday until the end of October.