What is green and blue and volcanic all over? This week on the podcast, Kim and Tamara are joined by Katja Gaskell from Globetotting.com to talk about their recent trip to the Azores in a continuation of our Portugal coverage. The Azores are an archipelago of nine Portuguese islands in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean and they are a unique blend of the landscapes of Hawaii, Ireland or Wales, and Iceland with the culture of the Portuguese mainland. Hear what makes these islands so special, and what you need to know before you plan a trip to the Azores.
Kim also tells us about her recent cruise to the Bahamas with Celebrity Cruise Lines on the Celebrity Summit.
Disclosure: Our trip was hosted by EPIC Travel, a boutique travel agency specializing in arranging custom itineraries in Portugal and Morocco. EPIC’s in-country travel planners have close relationships with hotels, guides, drivers and tour operators and can design the perfect trip for your travel style and interests. EPIC focuses on adventure and cultural experiences to allow you to have a deeper and more epic journey. If you book with EPIC Travel and mention that you heard about them on the Vacation Mavens podcast, you will receive a VIP Welcome Gift on arrival.
Tips for Visiting the Azores, Portugal
- The Azores are nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that are part of Portugal
- You can fly direct from Europe on Ryan Air and some other airlines, or you can go through Lisbon via Tap Airlines and utilize the free layover offering
- From the USA you can fly direct from Boston on Azores Airlines/ SATA Airlines and starting May 2022 United will offer direct service from Newark
- The largest island is São Miguel and the main city where the airport is is Ponta Delgada (PDL)
- São Miguel is a unique mix of landscapes and the island is very well maintained and beautiful
- The Azores are a real adventure destination for adventure tourism
- There are currently not a lot of restaurants and hotels for tourists, so you really need to plan very far in advance and be flexible with your plans. It also helps to stay at a hotel with a restaurant
- You should plan a trip six to nine months in advance
- The weather can be volatile where you experience many seasons in a day, but the water stays warm thanks to the Gulf Stream and it doesn’t get terribly cold in the winter
- Summer is the ideal time to go, but also the busiest
- Plan on spending at least three to four days in São Miguel, more if you want to take part in some more of the adventure activities
- If you plan on visiting multiple islands with a full Azores trip, plan on 10 to 14 days in total
- A trip to the Azores is a sightseeing and active vacation, and not a resort-based, relaxation island vacation
- Other Azores islands to visit include Pico, Sao Jorge, Faial (which are very close to each other) and Terceira
- If you are not comfortable driving through small towns with narrow streets or along cliffs then you may want to take a private tour with a driver/guide
- Some roads get washed out due to rain or storms that cause mudslides
- Guides will also be able to check apps and weather to see what conditions are like in different places and can adjust on the fly
- Best places to see in Sao Miguel include:
- Caloura (fishing village)
- Sete Citades (blue and green lakes)
- Furnas (thermal activity and hot springs)
- Ribeira dos Caldeiroes (waterfalls)
- Ponta da Ferraria (cliffs and lava beach)
- There are many adventure activities on Sao Miguel, perfect for adventurous families and families with teens including:
- Cliff diving
- Dolphin and whale watching tours
- Where to stay on Sao Miguel:
- Azor Hotel in Ponta Delgada is convenient for access to the airport and town, with nice spacious rooms, nice views, and a great restaurant, but it is better to get outside of Ponta Delgada if possible
- Furnas Boutique Hotel is in Furnas and has a nice spa, hot springs, and pools heated by geothermal activity. There are activities on site and the hotel staff is extremely friendly and personable, but the rooms are on the smaller side.
- Santa Barbara Beach Resort is an eco-resort located above a nice swimming and surfing beach. There are different types of suites with kitchenettes, spread across different buildings, some of which have a shared infinity pool
- To visit the Azores, we needed a separate negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure. You need to complete a locator form and upload your test results and these are checked upon arrival at PDL. Masks are also required indoors everywhere when we visited.
- To get inspired for future travel, watch 14 Peaks on Netflix and read Around the World in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh
- See Katja’s tips for the best things to do on Sao Miguel and planning a holiday to the Azores
Full Episode Transcript
[00:00:00.190] – Kim Tate
Where are the Azores and what can you do there? Stay tuned to find out.
[00:00:15.930] – Announcer
Welcome to Vacation Mavens, a family travel podcast with ideas for your next vacation and tips to get you out the door. Here are your hosts, Kim from Stuffed Suitcase and Tamara from We3Travel.
[00:00:30.720] – Tamara Gruber
So, Kim, I know we’re going to be talking about Islands in the middle of the Atlantic today, but before we do that, I wanted to ask you a little bit about some Islands in the middle of the Caribbean that you went to recently on a cruise because we just talked about cruising and you teased that you were going on a ship. And so I want to hear a little bit about your experience.
[00:00:49.890] – Kim Tate
Yeah. So we just got to go on a four night cruise with Celebrity Cruises, and we left out of Miami, and we actually just visited two Bahamas stops. We went to Nassau and then Bimini, which is basically it’s become like Resorts World. I don’t know if it’s their own private island or anything, but yeah. So we cruised with Celebrity in and out of Miami, and it was definitely an experience. I think right now it was so nice. I really enjoy the celebrity experience. This is my third time being on one of their ships, and I’ve really fallen in love with what they offer.
[00:01:24.620] – Kim Tate
They cater to a more luxurious clientele, and it’s a little bit of a step up in Price Point from your Royal Caribbean or Norwegian. So just keep that in mind. But it’s not at the point where it’s not necessarily the same clientele you would see on Princess or Holland America. Perhaps it’s definitely more of a I felt like a lot of millennials were on that ship with us. I think that you also noticed the demographic changes based on the length of a cruise. So four night cruise, there’s more young people and families who have five day vacation type thing and the longer cruises that are nine days.
[00:02:02.900] – Kim Tate
Of course, you’re going to be getting people who have the freedom to have a nine day vacation point. So it’s always something to keep in mind with that. But yeah, we really enjoyed it. This is one of their it’s kind of the middle of the line ship. We went on the Celebrity Summit, and I guess I’ll start with just knowing how to board, and that had to be that everyone had to be vaccinated. And then you also had to show a negative Kova test. It could be PCR or antigen.
[00:02:28.120] – Kim Tate
Within 48 hours of boarding, you had to have had a negative test, and then kids who were under twelve tests at the Port. So we showed up to get on our cruise ship before we could even get in the building. They checked right at the entrance. They were checking our Vaccination and our negative Covid test, and then we went up an Escalator to go to the main check in area. And there they took photos of everything for our file. I guess so that’s what they’re doing to try and keep people safe.
[00:02:57.770] – Kim Tate
The people on board, all of the staff are tested every four to five days with a rapid test. And then if there is a positive test on board, they have a quarantine response team kind of in place. So they’ve definitely got it figured out at this point. But I will say they did not require masks to be worn on board, and the ship was at 30% capacity. So it was very nice in the fact that we had lots of space and we never felt crowded or busy.
[00:03:29.550] – Kim Tate
We did still choose to wear a mask when we were walking around in public places, and then we took it off for situated to eat or if we were going to see a show. But they don’t require masks to be worn. I would say the majority of guests did not wear masks, so that is something to keep in mind on how you feel about that. The idea is that everyone has been negative tested and they’re all vaccinated, so it should be good to go. But we’ve been reading if anyone’s been following the news on cruises, obviously, vaccination and testing is not always a sure bet, because there’s been a couple of breakouts that have happened on some ships recently, so I think it’s just up to comfort level of how you feel about it.
[00:04:10.150] – Kim Tate
We really enjoy the fact that cruising, like we said, it was only a 30% capacity. So I think right now, before it comes back, you have a chance to really spread out and relax, and it’s just easy to enjoy the pool and other spaces because there’s just not a lot of people there.
[00:04:27.010] – Tamara Gruber
I was going to say that must really make a difference, especially if you are doing one of those four day ones or if you have a day at sea. But I feel like even the four day ones like, a lot of times people will choose not to get off in Nassau like you’ve been there before or something like that.
[00:04:39.250] – Kim Tate
That’s exactly what we did. Yeah, we chose not to get off, and we just kind of stayed on the ship and explored the ship and took Paul to do a little run off the ship through Nassau just so he could kind of see it again and get a feel for it and feel like he got off there. But then when we went to Bimini, we did get off and we got a Cabana. So I was hosted by Celebrity Cruises for this, and they had given us an indulge package.
[00:05:06.450] – Kim Tate
And so like I said, they really want to focus on being kind of this luxurious experience for primarily couples, I would say. But we did see one family on there, and my girls have been on celebrity cruises with me, and they both liked it. So I think for older kids who are able to entertain themselves and like the kids clubs, just occasionally, the kids clubs that they have with celebrity, they do really fun things that are just kind of a little more. It’s not just like, oh, here’s a babysitting service in this room with lots of toys.
[00:05:35.990] – Kim Tate
They do more experiential things because I think the numbers are normally lower with kids on the cruise ships. And I think that’s a real benefit. So if you do have kids who enjoy maybe a little more of a laid back experience and just an occasional kids club thing that would be celebrity might be where it’s at for you.
[00:05:54.740] – Tamara Gruber
And did you say that this was a new ship for them?
[00:05:57.470] – Kim Tate
No, it’s not. It was refurbished, I believe, in 2019. So the room linens and everything, it was beautiful. It just doesn’t have quite the same, like the new ones, the Edge, and I believe the Apex. Those two ships are amazing. It’s beautiful. Some of the public spaces on those ships are just I was on the edge, and they’re absolutely beautiful. And so this is definitely more of a traditional cruise ship style, so it doesn’t have quite those all that open space and quite the design features of it.
[00:06:30.430] – Kim Tate
However, it was refurbished. So the restaurants are beautiful. All the linens are great. The carpets all look so it doesn’t feel worn at all. It’s just a little smaller with a little less of the public spaces and things to do that they are larger brand new ships.
[00:06:46.630] – Tamara Gruber
I think it’s probably where it is helpful if you’re trying to decide on a particular ship, to try to read some of the reviews and things right. Because I know when I went on a Royal Caribbean a couple of years ago, the public spaces had all been refurbished, and they looked great. So it wasn’t like the brand new ship. But the public spaces were looking great. But then the rooms were in need of a refurbishment. And when I was just in Aruba, there were a few Celebrity ships actually in port, and I was like, oh, those look really old.
[00:07:17.250] – Tamara Gruber
Maybe you wouldn’t want to be on them. But if it’s been all refurbished, then who cares what it looks like from the outside?
[00:07:22.890] – Kim Tate
Absolutely. Yeah. It was refurbished in 2019. And of course, it hadn’t sailed all 2020. So it felt really nice to me. I thought it looked great. And the room itself was really nice and no complaints there. It was beautiful. The newer ships have these really cool veranda balconies that are kind of like a wall that opens up. And so it’s a really very open feel. And these older ships don’t have quite that, like, open, call it Infinity veranda or Infinite veranda. So they don’t have quite the same thing.
[00:07:50.150] – Kim Tate
But the room itself, like all the linens and the bathroom and all the furnishings were really nice. So it was nice. It’s definitely like you said something to look at when it was refurbished and what was refurbished and that sort of thing because it does make a difference. If you’re going to be on a ship, you want it to, in my opinion, I think you want it to feel nice. And you do have a lower price point, though, when you do get those older ships. So I guess that’s one of the things you have to consider as well.
[00:08:16.050] – Tamara Gruber
Or if you don’t want the older ship when you see a really good deal. Yeah.
[00:08:21.220] – Kim Tate
And I think the other thing I mentioned, they set us up with the Indulge package, and you’ve experienced this with Norwegian. And a lot of the cruise lines are going this way where you can buy these extra packages so you pay your base price. But then depending on the kind of experience you want, you can add on these other packages. And so their Indulge package comes with their premium beverage line, where it was really nice because we had the highest level, so we didn’t even have a middle beverage line or anything.
[00:08:50.340] – Kim Tate
We just went to any bar we wanted and we could get bottled water if we wanted. We could get any kind of drink we wanted. And that was really nice. So there are those add on packages. And the Indulge package also comes with, like I said, a shore excursion credit. And it also comes with a credit on the cruise ship. So we used it to go to the spa. And yeah, just keep in mind that when you’re pricing out cruises and looking at different cruise lines, you are paying one.
[00:09:17.350] – Kim Tate
When you’re looking at that one base price, it comes with some things. And I know with Norwegian, they give a lot of the free offers with Celebrity. They give the free drinks and free WiFi for everyone. But then, of course, you’re given the chance to upgrade to the premium beverage package and the premium WiFi, so you have better service. That is one thing that I think celebrity does. Well, if you’re not picky about your drinks and you want just a little bit of WiFi to be able to let your family know that you’re good and something along those lines, then that is one aspect where the luxury comes into play.
[00:09:55.160] – Kim Tate
They want to give that to everyone nice.
[00:09:57.400] – Tamara Gruber
It sounds like you guys got to relax a bit then. And Indulge.
[00:10:02.270] – Kim Tate
We did. It was great. It was so nice to just be on the ship and not have a lot of people around. And like you said, just indulge a bit. We enjoyed our drinks. We enjoyed meals. We ate at one of the specialty restaurants one night and they’ve started a new thing where you can book a dining time or you can book anytime dining where they have their restaurant. So they only have one main restaurant on board on the smaller ship for the normal dining. And then they have premium restaurants for if you’re in one of the spa cabins or one of their they call it the Retreat, which is kind of their high end cabins.
[00:10:41.980] – Kim Tate
And they have their own private restaurants and things like that. But for the main people, they have the buffet or they have this one restaurant and on board they have two levels. So there’s a lower level and an upper level. And if you’re in, we were in the concierge class and the concierge class, you get to go up to that upper level and then the lower level is for the rest of the ship. And you can do this anytime dining where you can go to the lower level, and you can just show up at 05:00 if you’re hungry and you want to eat at five instead of your 630 or 830 time slot.
[00:11:12.780] – Kim Tate
And I thought that was really nice that they’re starting to go that way because that’s something that for our family. We like the flexibility and freedom of not having to eat late every night or not having to eat super early.
[00:11:23.850] – Tamara Gruber
And you didn’t have to plan it ahead of time with reservations at different places.
[00:11:27.830] – Kim Tate
Yeah. No, not unless. And like I said, with the 30% capacity with it being so and I just had a friend who was on a Disney cruise, and they were the same thing. They said it was about a 30% to 40% capacity on the ship right now. And so if you are able to just spontaneously go get on a ship and you feel comfortable with cruising where Covid is at right now, it’s one of the few times you’re probably going to find these ships as empty as they are.
[00:11:52.190] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. That’s a nice way to do it. And when you came back, did you have to have a negative COVID test coming back into port since you’ve been to the Bahamas?
[00:12:01.130] – Kim Tate
No, we weren’t sure how that was going to be handled. But no, we did not. So for the four day cruise, we were not required. And so they did let people off the ship. People were not required to test to come back on the ship or to go back to the States. And I don’t know how that works. I’m not sure how that policy works on that. I do know we were sitting next to some people at a bar when we were watching a game once, and they were talking about how they had all these cruise credits.
[00:12:32.510] – Kim Tate
And so they decided they booked three cruises back to back. So they were on this cruise and they were turning around and going right back out on another cruise. And they said that they went down and had to go test at the cruise ship medical office because they had to be able to get off the ship and get back on it or something. And so they have to show the test again. And so the cruise ship did arrange a test for them. And I do know if you’re not an American citizen, they have testing for you available on the ship.
[00:13:05.530] – Kim Tate
I’m not sure if there’s some reasoning with the fact that we are based out of Miami and we are coming back into Miami. I don’t understand why guests aren’t required to be tested before they get disembark in Miami, but we do not.
[00:13:20.140] – Tamara Gruber
Although I do feel if they are going to start to require that that’s something the cruise ship will have to do, because especially with this 24 hours, the new 24 hours rule about coming back into the US, even if you’re vaccinated, it’s a little bit hard for people to get things within that time frame. So they’d have to really ramp up their testing capabilities because imagine if you brought your own at home test and you’re trying to do that over the WiFi.
[00:13:49.800] – Kim Tate
That would not work. Well. Yeah. Definitely good.
[00:13:52.430] – Tamara Gruber
Well, I’m glad that you guys had a nice relaxing time.
[00:13:56.180] – Kim Tate
Yeah, we really liked it.
[00:14:00.130] – Kim Tate
Too busy, but it was a nice way to wrap up some busy times, but I do like celebrity, like I said, our third time on it, and I think they’re a good line. So glad I got to experience that again.
[00:14:13.630] – Tamara Gruber
Good. Well, we’ll get to hop from that island over to the Azores in the middle of the Atlantic, and we’re going to talk to our friend Katja, who joined us on our trip there and kind of explore what these Islands have to offer and all the things to do. So this week we’re here with Katja Gaskell, who is a freelance travel writer and also the founder and publisher of Globetotting, which is Family Travel blog. And she lives with her family of three kids in London. So welcome back, Katja.
[00:14:53.670] – Katja Gaskell
Thank you. It’s really lovely to be back.
[00:14:56.100] – Tamara Gruber
Well, it’s especially lovely, because the last time we talked to you on the podcast, you were telling us about some of the very creative themed dinners that you were doing with your family during lockdown, and now we’ve had a chance to actually travel internationally together. So we’ve come a long way.
[00:15:13.630] – Katja Gaskell
Yeah. Absolutely. I know. I was just thinking about that the other day. I think the last time we spoke for Vacation Mavens was when we were having to make up our travels in our garden. So yeah, really nice that we’ve actually been able to travel properly since then.
[00:15:27.470] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. So nice. Well, the three of us actually recently went to the Azores. I’m going to say Azores. Kim is very good at pronouncing. It the Portuguese way of Azorch with Epic Travel. So Epic Travel, as we mentioned on a previous podcast, is a boutique travel agency that creates custom or bespoke itineraries for families and adventure travelers. And they’re focused exclusively on both Portugal and Morocco. So they have people based in country that really know all the vendors and really do a ton of vetting and put together really wonderful custom trips.
[00:16:01.580] – Tamara Gruber
And so full disclosure. We traveled there as their guests. So our activities and things were complementary, so we were able to write about them and get to experience them. And I also did want to add that I know some people have kind of already reached out to me that they’re interested in working with Epic Travel. If you do, make sure you tell them that you heard about it on Vacation Mavens. And they will include a VIP welcome gift for you when you arrive. So we thank them for working with us and their support.
[00:16:32.210] – Tamara Gruber
But as we jump in and talk a little bit more about the Azores, Katja, I think a lot of people don’t really know where these are. Can you explain where these Islands are and maybe the best way that you can get there from the UK?
[00:16:45.470] – Katja Gaskell
Sure. To be honest, I didn’t really know exactly where they were before we traveled out there. There’s always been a sort of slight mystique, I think, to the Azores, they are essentially nine Islands, nine volcanic Islands that sit literally in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. They’re about 1400 km, about 900 miles, I think, west of Lisbon, and they’re part of Portugal, but they really are kind of stuck out in the middle of the ocean. So I traveled there with Tap, which is the National Portuguese airline, and I traveled via London from the UK.
[00:17:24.610] – Katja Gaskell
So there are some direct flights to Samuel, which is the main island of the Azores during the summer months. But at other times you sort of fly via Lisbon, which is actually a nice way to do it. I found just to have a bit of time in Lisbon before heading on to the Islands.
[00:17:43.990] – Kim Tate
I think for you in the UK, it definitely does make sense, especially since Tap does allow guests to do layovers in Lisbon. So the nice thing about Tap Airlines, if you do book, even from the US and you want to go somewhere else in Portugal or if you want to go to the Source, you can do a layover in Lisbon, but Tamara, China, because from the US, it makes a little less sense necessarily to fly to Lisbon and then back to the A source. Do you want to mention that, Tamara?
[00:18:11.390] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. I was actually surprised when I looked at them on the map to see how much they are in the middle of the ocean, because I was thinking that they’re a little bit closer to the mainland of Portugal, but they’re a good two and a half hour flight from Lisbon. So if you can fly direct from the US, that’s the way to do it. There are flights on Azore’s Airlines, which is run by or also called SATA Sat Airlines from Boston. There might be some from New York.
[00:18:38.190] – Tamara Gruber
And I know that United just announced that they’re introducing direct flights to some Miguel from Newark starting in mid May of 2022. So that will be very nice, especially for people that have some miles maybe to use with United and are looking for direct flight, because you definitely save yourself some time if you can go direct. I think it’s about a five hour flight versus flying two and a half hours to Lisbon and then about six to 7 hours home from Boston and then continuing on from there.
[00:19:12.040] – Tamara Gruber
So yeah, if you can fly Direct, that’s definitely the way to go.
[00:19:15.430] – Katja Gaskell
Yeah. I think if you’re planning to just really focus on the Azores and sort of flying there, direct is great. If you’re doing as part of a bigger Portuguese trip, then it’s good to know that there are other options out there.
[00:19:27.350] – Kim Tate
Let’s just start off. We all went into Sao Miguel, which I don’t know if it’s the capital island or what you would term it, but it’s the largest island and probably the most popular one for tourists, especially. So what was your overall impression of Sao Miguel?
[00:19:45.150] – Katja Gaskell
It was funny with Sao Miguel. I really didn’t know what to expect, and it’s a really weird mix. It’s beautiful, but it’s a sort of weird mix of Iceland with this sort of crazy kind of volcanic landscape. And then in other parts, it looks like whales because it’s just the sort of Apple green fields and rolling Hills. And then you’ve got this sort of tropical vegetation, which I haven’t been to Hawaii, but I imagine it’s like that. It’s a really odd mix of landscapes, but quite magical. It’s very different to anywhere I’ve been.
[00:20:27.740] – Katja Gaskell
I think the thing that surprised me most about it was just how well kept the island is. And apparently this isn’t unique to San Miguel. All of the Islands are just incredibly well maintained. They’re very sort of manicured. The roads are there’s not a single hole or dent to be seen. They are lined with hydrangeas, the sort of parks seem to have this hidden troupe of gardeners who go around and make sure that it just looks perfect all the time. It’s really beautiful, but in a very I guess manicured way, it’s not sort of wild and Wooly like you would find in perhaps Iceland.
[00:21:07.590] – Katja Gaskell
What did you guys think?
[00:21:09.510] – Tamara Gruber
I had the same impression of that mix of places, and I think my when I arrived, all I could picture were the pictures that I’ve seen, which is basically the roads lined with hydrangeas. And I knew we were going in October, so they weren’t going to be in full bloom. But I was actually surprised to see that they were still blooming at all and even kind of in that in between state that they were. They were still quite beautiful. And I can only imagine if you are there in the summer, how stunning that must be, but definitely like the lushness.
[00:21:39.410] – Tamara Gruber
But I was a little surprised by some of the more volcanic looking pieces of it, which you shouldn’t, because they are volcanic Islands, but just that ruggedness in places. And then I was just it still has the feel of like something that is on the cusp of becoming something very big. But I think they’re trying to protect that from a local perspective and just protect the vegetation and not letting it be over touristed. But it might be a little bit of like Iceland in the early days, where there’s not as much of an infrastructure for tourism.
[00:22:15.270] – Tamara Gruber
There aren’t as many hotels, restaurants could be a little bit harder to find some of that. But you do see some tour buses. But like I said, it’s a real mix because it has that mix of the retirees coming off the tour bus to go to the tea plantation. But then you also have, like, the adventure couples that are jumping off cliffs. So it’s definitely that interesting mix. And it’s more. I remember you told us the story about what did your dad say? What was his impression?
[00:22:43.710] – Katja Gaskell
Yeah. So my dad, when I told him I was going to the Azores and he said, I’ve been they are rocks in the middle of the ocean. I happily can report back and say that they’re far more than just being rocks in the middle of the ocean. Sao Miguel really has a lot to offer. And I suppose that was another thing that sort of surprised me was that it really is quite an adventurous destination and that there’s a real possibility for a really interesting kind of adventure tourism there, which I think will be great to kind of follow along and see how that develops.
[00:23:19.050] – Tamara Gruber
What about you, Kim? What did you think?
[00:23:21.070] – Kim Tate
I agree with everything you guys said, and I think that I was actually thinking of that. Tamara, I haven’t been to Iceland, but just knowing even what happened with its exploding things, like what you experienced when you were first going to Iceland and, okay, there’s very limited places to stay. You have to plan really far in advance because there’s not a lot of hotels and you have to be really flexible. Maybe make sure you’re staying at a hotel that has a restaurant, because getting in and out of eating places like, do you guys remember they had us eat at this community buffet.
[00:23:52.130] – Kim Tate
We were there with all the locals, and we walked in and you went and served yourself from this fresh out of the kitchen. Everyone is waiting for the food to be ready. It’s not your traditional buffet where they just keep it refreshed. But it was an interesting experience. So you can tell the infrastructure of, like, hotels and restaurants is not deep. You’re truly getting this amazing locals experience. But I do worry about how they’ll be able to control that. Like what we saw with Iceland, where now it’s just gone crazy.
[00:24:22.460] – Kim Tate
And there’s lots of hotels and infrastructure, which is great for tours and dollars. But it also loses a bit of that beauty adventure natural, mystique. And I think that still has that we’re at the cusp of that, like you said, Tamara. So it’ll be interesting to see where it is. But I do think right now, if you are planning to go, it’s one of those destinations you really have to plan in advance because hotels are going to be really picked over, especially if you go in the summer months, which is when I would say is probably one of the best times to go.
[00:24:51.670] – Kim Tate
I think you have to be planning at least probably six to nine months in advance.
[00:24:56.610] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. And I think we were there at a nice time. But I think if you go any later, it’s not just about the weather. It’s about whether or not there’s enough business to sustain some of the activities. So if you wanted to go and just like, drive around the island, that’s one thing. But if you wanted to go and do some of the adventure activities or the whale watches, there are some things that just aren’t going to be running in the winter. So it’s something to think about, too.
[00:25:18.810] – Kim Tate
I do think we had nice weather, but the other thing sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but the other thing is that we learned you have to have some flexibility because the weather, it is an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and the weather can really go crazy. Like even around the island, we’d be, oh, it’s kind of rainy or cloudy, and they’d take us to another part of the island and it was clear and it was fine. So it is an interesting weather area.
[00:25:43.620] – Kim Tate
And so the farther away from the summer you get, I think you have more volatile weather.
[00:25:48.180] – Tamara Gruber
[00:25:48.340] – Katja Gaskell
And I think because so many of the activities are centered on the outdoors that if you go there kind of in winter, when it really rains a lot, then it just won’t be a huge amount for you to do.
[00:26:02.570] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. And that kind of leads into my next question, which is how long to stay? Because I think it depends on if you are looking to merely site see or if you’re looking to be active and do things and then maybe building in some extra time for flexibility due to weather and changes and things, what would you think would be the ideal time or ideal length of time to stay?
[00:26:24.360] – Katja Gaskell
So I think we had three nights and four days in Sao Miguel. And so we managed to see most of the island. And I think that’s one of the good things with the Azores is Sao Miguel is one of the bigger ones, and you can get around very easily. And as I say, see most of it in four days. The other Islands are smaller and because of the infrastructure, the roads and that is so well maintained that getting around the Islands are easy. But if you want to make the most of the activities on offer, so the hiking or surfing or canyoning or whale watching, then I would say that you’d probably need at least a week in Sao Miguel, and then if you wanted to tag on a couple of the other Islands, then maybe two or three days in each of those.
[00:27:11.410] – Katja Gaskell
So if you’re doing an Azores trip, maybe I would look at two weeks in total. What do you guys think?
[00:27:17.970] – Kim Tate
I think that what you guys brought up is really important about what kind of vacation are you going there for? Because one of the things I was noticing is for just a sightseeing where you’re going to the viewpoints and taking some pictures and kind of getting a feel doing a couple of, like lazy hiking walks. I think that it’s easy to say.
[00:27:37.380] – Kim Tate
Yeah, you could do three nights and you feel like you got to see the island and kind of get a feel for the island and then go have another two nights in Lisbon or something like that if you have one week. But I would say that I think you guys are right in the fact that if you truly are going to experience it in how it’s built to be experienced in the fact that maybe you’re going to do some extensive hiking or you’re going to go on some of these adventures like the canyoning or you’re going to do some waterfall stuff.
[00:28:07.220] – Kim Tate
I think that you need more time there because you’re going to want to relax a bit. And I think some of the hotels that we stayed at also are built to allow you to relax the hotel a bit, so you don’t need to hurry off and you want to have maybe a lazy morning, enjoy your breakfast and then go have an afternoon activity and then come back and have a nice dinner in town or at your hotel. And maybe one day you’re going to do a spa treatment or go to the hot Springs, which is a big thing there as well.
[00:28:34.700] – Kim Tate
So I think that it depends on the kind of vacation. If you’re just sightseeing, like a tour bus, then you can have a smaller amount of time. But if you really want to experience the Island, I think I agree that a week would be good.
[00:28:48.030] – Tamara Gruber
I feel like you have to think of this not as you would your typical island vacation, because I think at least here in the US when we think island vacation, it’s often especially a place that’s palm trees and things. It’s about laying out on the beach, getting tan, I don’t know, like some drinks, but this is definitely more about a seeing and doing destination. There are some beaches, but it’s not the kind of beach resort. These are like a beach where you can surf or swim with locals or something.
[00:29:17.990] – Tamara Gruber
But it’s definitely more about seeing and doing than it is a resort based vacation. So you want to give time to do those activities.
[00:29:28.450] – Katja Gaskell
It’s not a sort of all inclusive resorts where you can spend your entire time there. And nor would you want to, because there’s so much to see on the island itself. But I think you’re right tomorrow sort of differentiating. It between a sort of Caribbean Island or Barbados. It’s a very different holiday to that just chiming in.
[00:29:48.970] – Kim Tate
What would you say? Because I have my own thoughts. But when we were there, we heard people talking about kind of I feel like there’s two other main Islands that people talk about visiting in addition to Sao Miguel. So do you want to chime in really quick? Either Tamara or Katja about those other ones or what other ashore Islands you think are kind of the ones to visit.
[00:30:09.090] – Katja Gaskell
So I think that Pico Island is one that people talked about a lot, probably because we got to enjoy a lot of wine from Pico. So I would be really keen to visit for that alone. But Interestingly, the wine in Pico, the way that they grow the sort of vineyards you don’t have these kind of Tuscan rows. All the vines are grown along the surface of the island volcanic rock and kind of protected from the winds by these dry stone walls, which are actually protected by UNESCO World Heritage.
[00:30:43.140] – Katja Gaskell
So I think that sounds like a really interesting island to visit. And then along with Sao Jorge and Faial appalling pronunciation apologies. But apparently those three Islands were all very close to each other, so you can kind of get a ferry and hot between one and the other. So you could do Sao Miguel, and then do this. They called the Elas Triangula. So the Triangle of Islands. And that seemed to be a good and kind of easy way to see a few of the other Islands as well.
[00:31:14.570] – Katja Gaskell
Tamara, did you think about other Islands to visit?
[00:31:18.750] – Tamara Gruber
Well, I knew you were going to say Pico.
[00:31:25.170] – Tamara Gruber
We definitely just want to go there and drink the wines. Yeah. The only other one that I’ve really heard much about is and I’m going to Butcher the pronunciation as well. But Terceira as another possibility with a little bit more infrastructure when it comes to hotels and things. I think some of these Islands are extremely small, really locals and some of them when we were talking to different guides, they kind of said, well, you could go on a day trip, but you don’t really stay there because there’s just not that kind of infrastructure.
[00:31:54.890] – Tamara Gruber
So I think this is where it really helps to work with someone like an Epic to help you figure out what it is you want to do, see how much time you have, and then kind of leave it to the experts to help you figure out what the best way to do that is definitely that is the benefit of working with Epic.
[00:32:11.100] – Kim Tate
Because we didn’t have to think of any of that. So you can basically say this is how much time we have. These are the things we like, and they plan it all for you. So that is a nice benefit. They did mention to us that like I already mentioned that it is a tricky destination to plan for just because of hotel accommodations and dining and stuff. So if you are wanting to take a trip there, make sure you’re reaching out to them. And I think this kind of destination is also the perfect place to use agency because they’re going to have the best information and know all the trips, as opposed to you trying to plan it when it’s such a tricky place to plan a trip to.
[00:32:48.050] – Kim Tate
But maybe on top of that, we can just say what other tips do you guys have any other tips you want to share about? If people are thinking of going to the Azores, what should they look at or think about?
[00:32:59.070] – Katja Gaskell
I think you sort of covered it well in terms of kind of infrastructure and availability. They’ve been welcoming mostly mainland Portuguese for quite a while now. But some of the hotel managers that we spoke to, they said that it’s really ramping up with more direct flights from the US and Europe. But I think tomorrow you said they’re a small Islands, and they just don’t have that infrastructure in place yet. So there aren’t that many hotels. The hire car companies don’t have that many cars. So I think you need to be super organized and really know your stuff.
[00:33:36.680] – Katja Gaskell
Or you work with somebody like Epic who have people on the ground who have those relationships who know where you can go, best times to visit, how to get a hire car. They’ve got those relationships with the hotels, and they just have those insider tips that there’s lots of articles now on the zoos. But there’s still not that many sort of sharing those kind of real hidden experiences. And I think that somebody like Epic who really do know their stuff, that’s where they really went out.
[00:34:08.320] – Tamara Gruber
And one thing that I would mention, I know, Katja, you mentioned that everything was very pristine in terms of like it looked like a park. It looked like a botanical garden kind of the whole island. And the roads were generally in good shape. But the one thing I think I always look at this because as our listeners know, I have a family member who’s afraid of heights. I kind of always look at things like, would we feel comfortable driving around ourselves? And I think there’s a lot of the island that would be fine for driving around ourselves.
[00:34:39.050] – Tamara Gruber
But there were definitely parts where very narrow roads with, like, a cliff drop off. And our guide also because we did have a guide driving mentioned, oh, well, this road is washed out because they do get a lot of rain. So when there’s a storm, it could be there’s, like a mudslide or something that washes out some of the roads. If you are not a comfortable driver in situations that you’re not familiar with, and especially when you do drive through the towns and villages, those roads are extremely narrow going through town and you have, like, cars kind of parked up on the side and people walking everywhere.
[00:35:16.290] – Tamara Gruber
If you’re not comfortable taking a car through very tight spaces, you get used to it. If you’re local, if you’re a city driver, then you’re probably okay. But if you’re not used to that, it might be something that you’d relax more if you had somebody else doing that for you. And so I do think that there’s times where it’s really nice to have a driver.
[00:35:35.920] – Tamara Gruber
And on top of like, having the driver for that, it was good because it’s kind of like in Iceland, where they always check these apps to see what the weather is in different parts of the country. They have the same kind of thing where they’re able to see, like, okay, it is clouding up over here. So instead of going to this viewpoint, we’re going to go to that viewpoint and just being able to have someone help direct you instead of kind of like, this is my itinerary for the day. And this is what I’m going to do when you get there and you’re all sucked in and not seeing a thing.
[00:36:05.060] – Tamara Gruber
So having someone that can help you adjust on the fly, I think, is helpful. So I think you can easily do it both ways where you drive yourself. But there’s definitely advantages if you can afford it to doing, like, a private tour.
[00:36:17.110] – Katja Gaskell
Definitely. It’s funny. I think if you come from, like, a small British town, then you might be okay on those roads. But yeah, if you’re driving in the States, it’s a completely different ballgame.
[00:36:27.650] – Tamara Gruber
[00:36:28.490] – Kim Tate
The Midwest, the States, in the Midwest, you’re in trouble. There are no wide open things.
[00:36:36.870] – Tamara Gruber
We obviously spent all of our time on Sao Miguel, which is the largest island. And so maybe we can talk a little bit more about some of the sightseeing and things to do there. We mentioned some of the adventure activities already. But what were some of your favorite places that we went to, for example?
[00:36:55.410] – Katja Gaskell
So my favorite places, I think one of my favorites was this little fishing village of Caloura, which is tiny. And actually, that was something that perhaps if I’d been traveling by myself, I wouldn’t have visited, because ostensibly, there’s no sort of major site there. But our guide took us, and it’s a tiny fishing village. Apparently, the little bar on the beach or overlooking the ocean is the best place on the island for grilled fish. And there was that sort of natural swimming pool in the ocean. And it was just beautiful.
[00:37:27.870] – Katja Gaskell
And if we’d had longer, then I would have loved to have had a swim there. Sete Cidades, which is the green and blue Lake. So it looks like two different Lakes. They’re sort of separated by a bridge in the middle. But it is actually one. But one side looks greener because the vegetation is so sort of close to it, and the other one looks blue because the vegetation is further away. And it was a bit cloudy when we went, wasn’t it? But you could still see it.
[00:37:53.590] – Katja Gaskell
And that was quite beautiful. And then the other place I really enjoyed was Furnas or Fordnas, which apparently is the oldest tourist destination in the Azores. And people have been going there for decades for the thermal activity. So it’s a lot of geothermal activity with natural pools. The big thing there is cooking the traditional Cozido, which is the Portuguese stew, and you sort of put it in a pot and then bury it underground sort of overnight. And then you have men whose job it is. They’re dedicated to pulling up the Cozido and delivering it to restaurants or to people who come for picnics.
[00:38:33.570] – Katja Gaskell
So that’s really fun. And I thought that was a really neat place to visit. Did you have any favorites, Kim?
[00:38:40.300] – Kim Tate
Well, I’m just recalling and I’m not going to get the name right. But it was like Ribeira de Caldeiras that was a kind of a groomed botanical gardens park that we stopped at, and it had some beautiful waterfalls. And then, as we’ve already said, the grooming and the landscaping. I don’t think there was a single weed anywhere.
[00:39:03.680] – Kim Tate
But it had this beautiful little Lake and Creek that was running through it. And it was just so nice to wander around that space. And I liked how we kind of the three of us were hiking up and we kept hearing there was more water ahead of us, and we just kept following this path. And then we came out to this little kind of ended at a small waterfall with a pool. And I really liked that space. It was very, just soothing and pretty. And I liked it.
[00:39:33.810] – Katja Gaskell
That was really pretty, wasn’t it? It looked slightly like Jurassic Park, but it was really beautiful.
[00:39:42.220] – Kim Tate
Yeah. And you see eating there or something. They had that little cafe at the one spot, and I think it would be cute.
[00:39:48.990] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. Even on that side, because one side is kind of a lot of the waterfalls and the other side, you kind of walk down there’s a little village and it’s just so quaint and charming looking. And then you can visit some of the old water Mills and see how things used to be. So I found that area also just gorgeous.
[00:40:08.130] – Kim Tate
What about you, Tamara? What were some of your favorite things?
[00:40:11.300] – Tamara Gruber
I also loved Caloura like Katja mentioned. I thought that was just super charming and just I didn’t really want to swim in the pool the way that Katja did, but she called the cold open water swimmer, but apparently these are thermally heated, right? Yeah, that’s a good part of it. But I just found it fascinating to watch the people fishing with their super long poles. It just felt so local and charming and just a nice little spot. But I think one of my favorites was the first place that we went to on our very first day, which we were probably like deliriously tired because we’ve gotten up at 03:00 a.m. To fly over there from Lisbon.
[00:40:50.530] – Tamara Gruber
But the Ponta de Ferraria
[00:40:54.180] – Tamara Gruber
Because that was just I think I stepped out of the van and it really looked like Iceland to me. But I just had this so unique and unexpected view of these very rugged cliffs that were covered with green. And then you got closer to the sea and to the beach area, and it’s just black lava rock. And there’s, like this basalt kind of lava rock, like arch or bridge there. And that’s another place where they have one of these natural hot pools in the ocean. So you can kind of be in the ocean without being in the ocean, like relaxing a bit.
[00:41:34.040] – Tamara Gruber
We were there, I think both times at more of a high tide. So it’s not as good to do that then, because the waves are strong. But if you can pick the right time to be there, or I think it would be a great place for a sunset. So that just felt really unique and special and, like, rugged and raw.
[00:41:51.030] – Katja Gaskell
Yes, I completely agree. I kind of expected more of the island to look like that. And I think that’s what surprised me is where we sort of started exploring other places. But I agree that it was beautiful in that kind of rugged and raw way.
[00:42:07.530] – Kim Tate
It’s kind of funny, though, and this is where we talk about it being such a juxtaposition in some ways because we’re sitting there looking and it’s like this ruggedness and really cool, harsh waves. And then you look behind you and there’s like a green rolling Valley filled with little cows. It’s a really cool. Yeah. You can’t quite experience it. And I think you make a good point. Tamara, even mentioning also where we talked about you can book a tour guide to drive you and stuff. And that would be another situation where if you do want to go into one of these thermal pools that are right there on the coast and have ocean water, that’s a perfect time where if you work with someone who knows the island, they’re going to know when to drive you there or take you there.
[00:42:49.430] – Kim Tate
How that works. And I think that’s important, because if you just decide, oh, I want to do that. And I drive there at 01:00 p.m. And it’s high tide and you try it. It’s very dangerous. So it’s good to know what you’re doing.
[00:43:01.470] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. And you mentioned those cows. That is another thing that surprised me about the island. It’s just how many of the dairy cows there are, and they really produce a ton of cheese and milk that they export out to Europe. And so I can’t remember the stat. Now I feel like it was like a high percentage of all the milk consumed in Portugal from the Azores. So really, you could just be driving through a town and then you see, like a field and there’s either cows or horses there.
[00:43:30.850] – Tamara Gruber
It’s just such a neat place. And hopefully that’s coming through for everyone. It’s just like a very unique and interesting place, definitely.
[00:43:37.500] – Katja Gaskell
And as well as the dairy farms. But the tea plantations, as we’ve talked before about other Islands producing wine. I mean, the fact that these kind of volcanic Islands in the middle of the ocean produce so much that they are so kind of fertile is really interesting.
[00:43:54.730] – Kim Tate
And that’s pineapple, the pineapple.
[00:43:57.610] – Tamara Gruber
They grow pineapples there too. But the weather obviously can change a lot, but it’s pretty temperate because it’s in that Gulf stream that keeps the waters fairly warm, which I guess is why the whales like it as well. So even in the winter, it doesn’t get as cold. I think it only gets into the 50s Fahrenheit, which don’t ask me what that is celsius.
[00:44:19.930] – Katja Gaskell
I don’t know either.
[00:44:24.770] – Kim Tate
Around eight. Oh, I was going to say eight to ten. I don’t know anything else, Katja, that you want to mention, because we’ve talked about our favorites, but we learned that there’s so much to do there. So what other things do you want to let our listeners know about Sao Miguel? That some of the popular adventures around there.
[00:44:40.210] – Katja Gaskell
Yeah. I think I touched on it sort of a bit earlier, but one of the things that I found really interesting was how many adventure activities there are to do there. And I think it could be a really exciting destination for adventure, family travel. It is already. But I just think it could be sort of more well known. And so you have walking that’s really popular. But with teams in particular, you’ve got coasteering, which is kind of putting on wetsuits and hard hats and kind of jumping off cliffs along the coast.
[00:45:11.580] – Katja Gaskell
And there’s surfing to surf and bodyboard. There’s canyoning. There’s snorkeling out near the island of Villa Franco, which is where the Red Bull cliff diving competitions are held. You can go kayaking and everything is done with a real sort of sustainable focus, sustainability focus. And they do dolphin and whale watching tours. And I know we were really kind of circumspect about that, because often these are not run in a kind of very eco way. But our guide was saying how the law is that you can only push from behind.
[00:45:47.380] – Katja Gaskell
You have to stay 50 meters away. Only two people are allowed in the water at any one time. And it’s only if the Dolphins and whales come up to you. There’s no chasing around after them. It’s very natural. And I felt very, I guess, happy about that to know that they seem to be taking the right steps to make sure that all of these activities are done in a very kind of sustainable fashion.
[00:46:15.710] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. That is encouraging. I know at one point our guide mentioned swimming with Dolphins, which just brings into my mind the kind of resorts that pen the Dolphins, and they have you. They are touching the Dolphins and that’s really look, I’m guilty of it. I did it before I knew better, but now I know better. I’m not going to do it again. So it’s not that at all. It’s basically like you can swim in the ocean. And if a wild dolphin comes near, you good for you.
[00:46:43.220] – Kim Tate
[00:46:43.900] – Tamara Gruber
So that’s very different. And it seems like the government keeps close tabs on these companies that are going out to make sure that they’re following the rules as well. So it’s a place that I could feel much more comfortable than others and doing some I agree.
[00:47:00.330] – Kim Tate
I do think that we all kind of cringed when we were listening to it, but then being able to talk about it more, it made me feel much more confident about. Okay. If that is something you’re into, this would be a place that I think it wouldn’t be a problem to find an outfitter who does that because it seems like they’re going to do it right. As tourism increases. That will be something to keep an eye on. But right now, I think it’s done in a very healthy, controlled manner.
[00:47:25.370] – Kim Tate
I agree that that was good to hear.
[00:47:28.370] – Katja Gaskell
And I think the other thing is that they take great pride in their they’re very proud people. They identify as Portuguese, but there is a sense of Azorean pride as well. And I think they’re very keen to kind of show off their island, but show us in that best light.
[00:47:46.800] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. And which is why they’re working to kind of limit how many visitors can come in different ways to keep that protected. So that’s good.
[00:47:56.370] – Tamara Gruber
Well, you mentioned that we stayed there for three nights, and as with most of our Portugal trip, which you weren’t there for all of it. But we moved around a lot. But the good thing about that is that we got to see different parts of the island, and we also got to experience three different hotels, so maybe we can talk a little bit about each of them just to give our listeners some ideas, like if they want to go where they might want to base themselves and if they want to move around or not.
[00:48:19.470] – Tamara Gruber
So we started off in the Azor Hotel in Ponta Delgada, so maybe you can start a little bit and tell our listeners a little bit about that hotel.
[00:48:28.320] – Katja Gaskell
Yeah, sure. Of the three hotels. This was not my favorite, but only because the other two, I think, was so charming. This one was a lovely hotel. It’s right there on the Port in Ponta Delgada. You sort of overlooked the Harbor. It’s got really big, spacious rooms, which is great. And we’re really modern, clean, spacious rooms. We had a balcony that we could sort of overlook. That the Harbor from it’s definitely a hotel that gets sort of groups come through. So it doesn’t have that same kind of personal feeling that I definitely got from the other two hotels we stayed in.
[00:49:05.420] – Katja Gaskell
There’s a great restaurant. We enjoyed a really delicious sort of chef table there, and there’s a pool, but we couldn’t quite find it. So I think it’s a good base to start your trip. But if I’m being completely honest, I wouldn’t spend much time in Ponta Delgada. I think the beauty and the magic of the island is outside of the capital city. The city itself doesn’t have a huge amount of personality.
[00:49:31.620] – Kim Tate
I think there’s some good architecture there, but I think that city, it was clear. I think that’s near where the cruise Port comes in, probably. And that was maybe where your dad got the feeling that it’s just a rock in the middle of the ocean. So I think what you said is good to know that it’s a great jumping off because it’s there by the airport and everything, and you can wander. And it looks like there were a few cute boutique shops, and like, there was that locals market and stuff.
[00:49:58.050] – Kim Tate
So it still is a real locals town. However, the real gem of the island is definitely outside of that city. So Tamara or Katja, what about the other two? Did you want to chime in? Maybe Tamara, about either Furnas or the Santa Barbara Eco Beach?
[00:50:13.250] – Tamara Gruber
Sure. The next place that we stayed was at the Furnas boutique hotel, and that was, as Katja mentioned in that small town of Furnas, where there’s all this geothermal activity. So the hotel has its own hot Springs. And then some of their outdoor pool and things in their spa are heated by the geothermal activity as well. And so it’s not what you would think of maybe as a spa hotel, but the spa is a big part of it, but they actually have a number of other activities that they run on different days.
[00:50:46.400] – Tamara Gruber
Some are complementary and some are optional. I know I saw bikes out front. They’re organizing to help people go explore on bike, and it’s a nice location to spend a couple of days when you want to have, like, maybe a little bit more downtime. The rooms are definitely very small there, but I think it made up for it with the people because the people were just fabulous, like, super friendly. And you guys spend a little bit more time in the spa than I did. But that spa definitely has a lot of different options of things to ways to relax.
[00:51:15.910] – Tamara Gruber
So it seemed like, in addition, they were really trying to build out some offerings for families, to try to make sure that kids would have things to do as well.
[00:51:24.440] – Katja Gaskell
Yeah. I just saw the staff and the hotel manager at the front where they went beyond kind of beyond expectations. They were so charming and nothing was too much trouble. And I think that really showed in the way that the hotel operated. Yes, the rooms are little, but the people that work there were just lovely. And they really sort of made everybody feel very welcome.
[00:51:52.710] – Tamara Gruber
And I think that’s one thing that as travel writers when they know that we’re coming, you know, people can think well, they treated you that way. But how would they treat everyone else? But as we were walking in, we saw the hotel manager talking to a family, greeting the little kid by name and asking him, Did he ask her if he saw it as like a stuffed animal or something like that? What he did that day. He seemed to know what their plan was that day, wanted to know how it went, knew them by name, and that takes a lot of effort.
[00:52:21.830] – Tamara Gruber
And that was not us. That was just other guests, definitely.
[00:52:25.880] – Kim Tate
Yeah. I also like that they had a lot of daily activities. They had a daily activity or event or something. So it was kind of neat. They had it on a chalkboard right there at the entrance. And it wasn’t just kid focus stuff. It was things that adults can do. And I thought that was neat. They definitely are trying to encourage you to learn and explore and kind of engage. And I thought their restaurant little outdoor garden seating. It was kind of covered garden seating. I loved it there.
[00:52:52.540] – Kim Tate
I loved the light and the atmosphere. I felt like I was eating in an enclosed garden. So I did like their restaurant patio seating.
[00:53:00.240] – Katja Gaskell
Yeah, I agree. It was lovely. It was a really lovely hotel.
[00:53:03.830] – Tamara Gruber
So, Kim, what did you think of the Santa Barbara Beach resort that we stayed at last?
[00:53:08.210] – Kim Tate
I was so sad that we didn’t get a lot of time there, because I do think if you are looking for a to really have a bit of the island vacation, relax time, but be able to go adventure. That is a definite destination and a good jumping off point. So we stayed in one of the they had different buildings that had different types of hotels and the one we had had a kind of I guess it’s an Infinity pool of sorts. So I don’t know how many would you say, Tamara, there was rooms.
[00:53:39.120] – Kim Tate
There was about ten rooms, and we all could share that one pool, but it basically was on our balcony. So you were in the room and you walked out on the balcony and you had lounge chairs there. But then you could just dunk right into this little private pool.
[00:53:54.800] – Kim Tate
So I love that. And then, of course, the beach area, it’s got beach access. It looked like it was absolutely gorgeous. I loved watching. We saw a couple, a few surfers and stuff. So definitely if you have time and the weather is cooperating, I think that’s a beautiful place.
[00:54:10.850] – Katja Gaskell
I love that hotel. I just thought the design aesthetic was kind of top notch. The rooms were nice and big. They had a little tiny kitchenette in them. I mean, they’ve got a huge variety of rooms as well. So there’s some that are really brilliant for families, particularly if you’re traveling with young kids and don’t want to go out to eat in the evening. I think the food there was excellent variety of swimming pools. It was just a really nice place to stay. I would happily go back and spend longer there.
[00:54:40.210] – Tamara Gruber
I was going to say it was definitely my favorite, and I could see easily, like, if you’re going to do a week on Sao Miguel, and you didn’t want to move, just stay there because it also has a really nice central location. it’s very close to the little town of Ribiera Grande. And so you can go in there and have some meals. But the staff there also were fabulous. They were so friendly. Our waitress when we had dinner was hysterical. So many places in the world right now are suffering from staff shortages.
[00:55:11.250] – Tamara Gruber
And so everyone’s kind of overworked and stressed out in there. Oh, my goodness. She was, like, the best server I’ve ever had. She was like, such a great personality and even talking us out of food.
[00:55:23.370] – Kim Tate
She was just really confident. She’s like, no, you don’t need to order that. You need to order this instead.
[00:55:28.410] – Tamara Gruber
She was great. And then even they packed us like a giant breakfast to go to the airport because we left it, like, who knows what time in the middle of the night? And they just really take good care of people there. And this location was great because that beach. Well, it’s great for surfing. It was one of the larger, like, sand beaches, too. So if you did want to have some kind of relaxed time on the beach, that would be the place to do it. Of course, you have to walk down probably 100 steps to get there because it’s a little bit on, like a cliff above the beach.
[00:55:59.680] – Tamara Gruber
So I don’t want to give the impression of walking out with chairs and umbrellas. It’s not quite that kind of beach, but they do have a pool overlooking it all, too. So the locations are fabulous.
[00:56:10.590] – Kim Tate
And that pool had those, like, in pool loungers that looked so nice.
[00:56:14.090] – Kim Tate
And I think that hotel and like we said at Furnas, I think that’s something that we also experienced, like, you. I can’t remember which of you mentioned it. The people that are so excited to share their island with travelers and travelers who are interested in hearing about it. And it was just so welcoming. And I felt that way at both the Furnas and at the Santa Barbara Eco Beach. They’re so happy to have people and the people there. It reminded me a little bit of Ireland, and the people were just happy and welcoming and open to talk to you or share with you or give you advice.
[00:56:50.080] – Katja Gaskell
Yeah, I completely agree. They just really enjoy having visitors come to their island.
[00:56:57.870] – Tamara Gruber
Well, we’ve clearly liked it. We’re going on and on about how much we loved it. So hopefully we’ve convinced everyone else to take a look at it. Do you have any final tips or thoughts about if people are looking to plan a trip and it’s something I think we’ve all covered.
[00:57:13.990] – Katja Gaskell
But it takes time to organize the trip to the Azores. There is information out there, but to really get those sort of insider secrets, you really need to know somebody who kind of has that insider knowledge and availability, as we’ve all said. And I’m just talking about Sao Miguel, but it kind of reflects on all the Islands. They are small Islands and they just don’t have that many hotels or that many hire cars. And so if you have lots and lots of time to spend and are really organized and good at planning holidays nine months in advance, and absolutely you can do it yourself.
[00:57:52.170] – Katja Gaskell
I often travel independently, but traveling with Epic was really interesting to see what they can offer travelers and how they can smooth out that process, particularly in a destination that is still opening up to tourism. I suppose so they’ll know when to book things, they’ll know how to get a hire car. They can offer tips on hotels, and they have those relationships with the hotel managers they have on the ground drivers. They can really just make things easy for you. And I think in a destination like the Azores.
[00:58:29.550] – Kim Tate
That’S really worthwhile Tamara, what about you? Do you have any what are your tips and thoughts about planning a trip or traveling to the Azores?
[00:58:37.630] – Tamara Gruber
I think one of my final thoughts and we’ve mentioned it before, but just being prepared for all different kinds of weather, probably if you’re going to go out for the day, you should bring a raincoat or something along with you because it does change pretty often. And when we were there in October, it felt very tropical, so you can look at the weather and see that it’s going to be, I don’t know, 70, but it might feel more like 80. So just be prepared for that humidity to add, like that warm tropical feel.
[00:59:10.010] – Tamara Gruber
But then when the wind picks up or the rain comes in, it could also get chilly. So maybe it’s a hard place to pack too light because you want to be prepared for everything, I guess, is part of what I’m saying.
[00:59:21.740] – Kim Tate
Also, when we were looking, we’re like, oh, no, it’s going to rain. Like, I don’t know what it was. A 70% 80% chance or something every day while we were there. But I think we only really experienced rain kind of on us, like one time. It was amazing how according to the forecast, it looked like it was going to be miserable, but we actually had a wonderful time.
[00:59:44.020] – Tamara Gruber
What about you, Kim? You’re always a good one with tips.
[00:59:47.730] – Kim Tate
I was trying to think about if there was anything there. I think it’s mainly just what we’ve already mentioned. It’s trickier to plan. I think you have to be prepared. I don’t think money is an issue. I was trying to think of that, like with paying and things. It seems like there’s still like you could pay with your credit card and tap type stuff.
[01:00:05.730] – Tamara Gruber
Even like a restaurant. It seems like it would be like a cash only kind of had a line of probably like 40 locals just went through and she came right over to our table with the terminal and just divided it up and did our own things on each card. So we didn’t even have to worry about that. They’re very advanced in that way
[01:00:29.200] – Katja Gaskell
Sorry. I was just going to say about that restaurant. I think that’s one of the other real benefits of having somebody help you plan a trip. I don’t know if we would have gone in there if we were just traveling by ourselves. It’s quite small and it was packed and it’s full of locals. Not that that’s a bad thing, but that’s generally a really good indication that it’s a great place to go. But it really sort of seemed like, I don’t know. Just is this a good place for us to eat?
[01:00:53.630] – Katja Gaskell
And actually it was great and the food was great and it was fun, wasn’t it? It was sort of a bit of a step back in time that came recommended by our guide.
[01:01:05.610] – Tamara Gruber
That makes me think of I know when we first walked in there, we’re a little bit nervous because it was very crowded. But we should probably mention just because we live in these times, like kind of the covered types of things when it comes to traveling today. And you want to look up the current requirements because I imagine it does change. But even when we went, even though we’re in Portugal and we’re vaccinated, we still needed to take a separate test to enter the A source. And then when we arrived, they checked.
[01:01:37.110] – Tamara Gruber
What you had to do is when you had that test you had then uploaded before you got there and they give you a QR code. So when you arrive, they had a whole station set up where you were directed to a different person in full masks and PPE checking your barcode. And we saw a lot of mask usage. And the island has been very good about keeping their protocols and keeping their people safe through all of it. I think they said they only had one death, like through the whole pandemic.
[01:02:08.730] – Tamara Gruber
Whatever it was was very low. And so when we walked in, it was crowded in there. But everyone was wearing a mask and they gave you a glove to use when you’re scooping the things out of the buffet. So it wasn’t like everyone was touching the utensils. So that was reassuring to me. So I just wanted to mention that as well.
[01:02:28.540] – Kim Tate
Yeah. You’ve shared a lot Tamara. I think we mentioned it when we were over there. But Portugal also has an amazing vaccine rate. And so I felt more comfortable traveling there because they have readily available vaccines. So I didn’t feel like there was some sort of vaccine privilege with us traveling there, but also just knowing that so much of the population is vaccinated. It’s nice to know. So, Katja, I know that we’ve interviewed you before, so we’ve asked this, but let’s talk about what you like to wear when you travel.
[01:02:59.020] – Kim Tate
Maybe. Do you have anything new or something exciting recently that you’ve fallen in love with?
[01:03:04.570] – Katja Gaskell
No, I prepared a different answer. No, I was going to say because I know you guys have left any new sort of like travel products or apps. But what I was going to share was to kind of, I guess, travel things that I have found really inspiring recently for Kind of Future Travels. And one is a documentary, and one is a book. The first is called It’s Just Come out on Netflix, and it’s called 14 Peaks. Nothing Is Impossible, and it follows the quest, I suppose, of a Nepalese, not originally a climber, but a climber called Nyamal Puja.
[01:03:42.630] – Katja Gaskell
And he attempts to climb the 14 highest peaks in the world. So 14 peaks above 8000 meters, and previously the record for climbing all 14 of them was just under eight years, and he climbed them all in under seven months. And it’s this extraordinary adventure. And not only does he do this incredible feat, but what he does is he has a fully Nepalese team, and he says the Nepalese shepherds have really been the backbone of all other climbers, making it to the top of places like Mount Everest.
[01:04:20.800] – Katja Gaskell
And they’ve never really got the recognition that they deserve. And so he has this wonderful team, and they kind of complete this incredible feat. And it’s a really brilliant documentary, and it kind of very inspiring and both from a sort of human aspect, but also from want to go and travel aspect. So I can highly recommend that. And then the other one is a book that I’ve been reading, which is called around the World In 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh. And not only does she write beautifully, but it’s this wonderful tale of the author, Monisha, who basically travels the world with her then fiance, starting in London King’s Cross.
[01:04:59.800] – Katja Gaskell
And they travel through Europe, and they go on the Trans Iberian railway and they go through Japan and Southeast Asia. If you feel like you’ve got a bit of a need for some Wonderlust, then it’s a wonderful book at exploring the world, but the kind of characters that you encounter when you travel as well. So those are my two things to kind of inspire people to get out and travel again.
[01:05:26.730] – Tamara Gruber
I saw you mentioned 14 peaks. I think our friend Tara had also mentioned that on her Instagram stories, and I’ve added it to my Netflix queue download for my next flight.
[01:05:37.250] – Katja Gaskell
Yeah, it’s really good.
[01:05:38.610] – Tamara Gruber
Well, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your experience. Thanks for joining us on the trip. We had so much fun together. We look forward to whatever trip we get to do together next, can you remind our listeners where they can find you online and how they can follow your travels?
[01:05:53.690] – Katja Gaskell
Absolutely. Firstly, thank you for having me on the trip. It was just a delight to be traveling with you guys again. Kim, the last time we had seen each other before, this trip was actually in Lisbon. So that was kind of nice. Symmetry. And Tamara, the last time we saw each other was on another volcanic island in Iceland. So I like the parallels, but yeah, it really was a fabulous trip, and I definitely recommend people explore or consider the Azores as a holiday destination. In terms of my travels, you can find me on Globetotting, which is G-L-O-B-E-T-O-TT-I-N-G.
[01:06:31.580] – Katja Gaskell
Com. And I’m on Globetotting across all social media channels as well.
[01:06:36.390] – Kim Tate
Thank you so much, Katja. It was so fun to travel with you. And I think this podcast probably has given people a lot of information about this destination that I think we all fell in love with.
[01:06:46.600] – Katja Gaskell
Definitely. No. It’s so lovely to see you guys again, and hopefully we will get to do another trip soon.
[01:06:51.350] – Tamara Gruber
Great. Take care.
[01:06:52.560] – Kim Tate
[01:06:53.420] – Katja Gaskell
[01:06:57.590] – Tamara Gruber
So thanks for joining us today for another episode of Vacation Mavens.
[01:07:01.520] – Kim Tate
And we are going be taking a little bit of a break, so we hope that you guys have a great end of the year and holiday season. And we will chat with you again soon in the new year.
[01:07:10.280] – Tamara Gruber
Yeah. Happy holidays. Talk to you in the new year. Bye.