Microstates pt. II: The Azores

Alright, alright. I know what you’re going to say: “Not only are the Azores not an independent state, they aren’t really even in Europe! They’re in the middle of the Atlantic” You may be technically right, but they are an “autonomous region” of Portugal, and they are very tiny, which is good enough for me.

To those unfamiliar, the Azores are a small archipelago 750 miles off the Portugese coast. They have a rich and bloody history, but are now comparatively mellow, and a great vacation spot.

The Azores are, by and large, fairly quiet communities, with a good selection of outdoorsy attractions and quaint villages. On the island of Sao Miguel, check out Ponta Delgada, which seems to be a snapshot of old-world Europe, with cobblestone streets and tiled sidewalks. Furnas is a very interesting place – a village inside the mouth of a volcano. There is still some geologic activity here, and the locals use the smoking holes in the ground as ovens.

Leaving Sao Miguel, my second favorite island is Pico, which features breathtaking scenery and the mountain for which the island was name (which is the highest point in the Azores). The hike to the summit of the mountain takes about three hours, and the view makes it entirely worth it. You can also see whales (and even go on whale watching trips), depending on the season.

On the nearby island of Terceira, you can get partake of traditional entertainment, namely, the bullfight. If you loath bloodsports, have no fear – in Portuguese bullfighting, the bull is neither killed nor wounded in any way. The spectacle is certainly entertaining, and afterwards, you can head to one of many local restaurants that feature freshly caught seafood.

This just scratches the surface of the volcanic island paradise of the Azores. The islands deserve ample time to explore, but any amount you can spare is well spent.