Our trip to the Azores Archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean started in the worst possible way. A few minutes before the flight, the crew announced that passengers could not fly without a Covid-19 swab test, no ifs ands or buts.
We had done the blood test for Covid-19, which got us in and out of Greece and Italy. But for Azores, we were obligated to submit to a swab test.
Surprisingly, we could enter mainland Portugal and even Madeira Island without any tests, but not Azores. It is a Covid-19 free archipelago and the authorities are very strict about keeping it that way.
So we had to stay two nights in Lisbon and do the test, which cost €100 - very expensive for a budget traveller, before we could go to the Azores islands.
Our journey had started from Valencia, Spain. We then had a layover in Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, after which we took a flight to the Azores Archipelago. We landed at the airport in Ponta Delgada municipality in São Miguel, the largest island of the archipelago.
These islands have long been famous for their natural beauty.
Azores is two hours away from Lisbon and less than four hours away from the USA (Boston and New York) so there are many North American tourists here.
São Miguel is a big island which also happens to house the only tea plantation in all of Europe, a lush verdant landscape, several sapphire-blue lakes and a strange place named Furnas where there are almost 50 hot springs.
The best way to explore this island is by car.
At the very beginning, our local guide told us to be prepared for any kind of weather, as it could get cloudy or rainy at any moment.
The first place we went to visit was a pineapple farm. Long ago, sailors brought the tropical fruit here from Venezuela. The guide showed us different greenhouses full of different aged pineapples and even a pineapple liquor.
We witnessed the beautiful Furnas Lake from a distance and while we were enjoying the view, we saw clouds rolling on the horizon and within the span of minutes, the mighty lakes and roads were all hidden by the ensuing mist.
After this, we drove for a while towards Furnas city along the shore and found sunlight again.
Here, we tried the water from several hot springs and they tasted really different due to the minerals present in them.
Locals shared with us how they sometimes cook with the natural heat coming from the springs, especially chicken and corn. However, in the days of their ancestors, it was more necessity than custom.
This small city looks straight out of a fairy tale, as it is often hidden in smoke. Other than the unpleasant smell of sulphur, it was quite an adventure to explore the springs and see the trace of chemicals on the roads.
Ponta Delgada, where we stayed, is the capital of this island and the city with the highest population in the whole archipelago. Each afternoon, we took pleasant walks on cobblestoned roads around the city centre.
This city has a few museums, one Synagogue and a local art gallery, peppered with wonderful seafood restaurants. The local delicacies include parrot fish and king fish.
Visiting the Porto Formosa tea plantation was a great experience for us. They not only produce tea but have also preserved the heritage of tea production on this island from the days of yore.
It has an organised museum that showcases several varieties of tea. It felt unreal to sip tea on its terrace overlooking the sleepy blue Atlantic.
We visited several other scenic places and did some hiking. We even managed to see the green fountain of youth but could not visit the famous lagoon of Sete Cidades due to the weather.
The Ribeira Grande (a municipality in São Miguel) did impress us with its beaches of giant waves and natural scenery.
The whole island of São Miguel looks like a perfect painting of a landscape and we met people from different countries such as Germany, England and the USA who moved here to live in peace for the rest of their lives. Many of them have homestay businesses and suggested we do the same!
Although I am not sure about living and doing business in Azores, I am sure I want to revisit this magical place!
How to go there
You could fly to Lisbon or Porto of Portugal first, and then take a flight to Azores. There are no direct flights to Portugal from Dhaka.
Dhaka-Lisbon-Dhaka: Tk150,000 approx.
Dhaka-Lisbon-Dhaka: Tk165,000 approx.
Lisbon-Ponta Delgada-Lisbon: Tk3,000 approx.
Where to stay
Terra Nostra Garden Hotel
Part of the historic Terra Nostra Garden, the hotel is situated in the perfect spot to enjoy some of the island of São Miguel's natural geothermal wonders.
Price: Tk17,000 per night approx.
Casa Hintze Ribeiro
One of Ponta Delgada's few boutique-style properties, Casa Hintze Ribeiro brings together chic interior design and an excellent array of facilities, with the added convenience of self-catering accommodation.
Price: Tk6,500 approx.