Azores Winter Escape – A True Story!

The British psyche is such that most often, a holiday in our fickle winter is an escape to guaranteed sunshine.

All of our Azores travel specialists travel to the islands in the winter months and always have a great experience. It’s by no means the time of year for guaranteed sunshine however the Azorean climate is mild and so if you’d rather walk, relax and explore without the summer heat and crowds, maybe it’s the perfect time for your escape.

Richard Le Mare and Alison Payne visited Sao Miguel and Faial with us earlier in the year. February in fact! Richard was very personable and good to work with during the planning stage, and on returning from the islands wrote me a long and enjoyable email describing their great experience.

I asked if I could share his words and he kindly agreed. So, without further ado (and only sparse editing from me), below you’ll find Richard’s Azores Match Report!

Max Cousins
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Azores Winter Escape:
A true story by Richard Le Mare and Alison Payne

“They usually say it started with a kiss but in fact it all started with what seemed like a good idea. In fact, anything that would:

(a) get us out of Coventry
(b) get us some winter warmth and
(c) gives us some peace, quiet and solitude, was a good idea!

If shopping, disco dancing and drinking day long beer is your idea of a good holiday then doing what we did in the Azores would have been a holiday in hell. But if you fancy (a), (b) and (c), then you may have felt as if you’d arrived in heaven early (and if heaven is half as good as this then I can’t wait to get there.  Hmmm what an assumption)!!

Why the Azores? No idea. Especially as we thought they were way further south, not due west of Lisbon (we half expected Penguins!). We didn’t really know where we were going! But what the heck, there is only one way find out.

Usually we like to use tour operators in the country we visit. We just think it is nicer that our money goes to the locals in Madagascar, or Nicaragua or Darjeeling rather than some posh office in London. So, we searched, and up came Archipelago Choice in (we imagined) a posh, latte supping office in Keswick.

We were off. All our contacts with Archipelago were wonderful, friendly, polite and above all helpful. All questions and queries were answered promptly. It was all so easy. Even when things went one-degree skew-whiff solutions were found almost instantly.

In fact, the most difficult part of our whole experience was getting ourselves to the airport!

Pre-departure suggestions and information was spot on. Why complain when there is no need to. Nothing to complain about. Even the Heathrow Travelodge was good with its view down the runway.

Val was awaiting our arrival in Ponta Delgada with a big smile and name plate. A really nice friendly helpful guy who told us of land marks on our way to Casa Vitoriana. It didn’t matter at all that hostess Margarita wasn’t there to meet us, or was snoozing, or something. Val smoothed the situation out – dropped our bags at the Hotel do Colegio, told us where the botanical gardens were and asked us to call him in 2 hours. In the meantime, he’d find Margarida.

The gardens were great, we walked on the sea front and Val found Margarita who was unnecessarily apologetic. It really didn’t matter one iota.

Margarita’s garden at the Casa Vitoriana was loaded with my faves. GUAVAS!! Fresh bananas, spinach, custard apple. The garden cottage was blissful. Clean, comfy, well-appointed and with a starter pack ……. tea from the only tea gardens in Europe. She assured us wi-fi was good. Then she caught us down by the house wi-fi-ing. When she discovered why, she called the wi-fi man who came and sorted it the next day. Instant action is great, but when it doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t really matter!!

Off for the whales, but the darn things had decided to go for a swim. Never mind we saw dolphins and more of them. The only complaint is that we didn’t see whales but they blinkin’ well turned up the next day as we were walking around the Sete Cidades crater. If a whale had wanted to have had a nosy look at me, I’d have turned up, even if it wasn’t paying. And I was.

When there is good Basalto wine, tranquillity and its warmer than Coventry ……….. what’s not to like?

Why was all this so SO important to me? There was another 10 days to go.  2 months ago, by Dad did what we are all going to do at some stage, and about 6 weeks before hand he started to lose his breath. He was only 95. Then he lost his breath all together and couldn’t find it again, ever again. It’s sad, but it happens. The worst was yet to come. My ‘dear’ siblings, for reasons unknown to myself decided that the week before his burial it would be a great idea to lay into me, and basically tell me what a rotter I am. No holding back. Don’t meet up with me, I’m a real baddy. I was more distraught about that than I was about my Dad. So, escapism and distraction enabled me to get some long-awaited good night’s sleep! It was like a champagne breakfast without the disapproval.

The ‘well-made-jigsaw-precision’ of our Azores experience meant that all I had to do was enjoy myself and be distracted from the reality of miserable siblings.

The buses always add just a ‘bit more’ to our trips. They go to the little villages, off the main roads and pick up the locals. So much better than a Shearings coach trip. Lago de Fogo and Furnas gave us the great walks Archipelago Choice suggested – but the promised trout were absent. Plenty of lago gulls though (as opposed to sea gulls). And good coffee at the beach side cafe. Then we needed to get back down to Sete Citades to get the bus. In both directions the road went to where we wanted to go, so we planned to hitch both sides. No need. Ali pessimistically said ‘well, this road is busy, innit’? as not a car went past in either direction in 4 minutes. Along came Lewis Hamilton’s dad, stopped and we were at the bus stop in Sete Cidades in plenty of time. Why go slow when you can go fast, its downhill and there are probably no other cars on the road. Thank heavens for the wonderful EU and our EHIC cards. Luckily, we didn’t need them. And we don’t need Brexit.

Time to fly to Horta. Val was ready to pick us up to take us to the airport on Sao Miguel, with precision timing of a swiss watch, perfectly on time.

The rubber bands on our little plane were wound up and off we went. (I was going to say: “Pico. Like a familiar breast, with a little nipple poking through the cloud was stunning as we flew into land on Faial”. But I won’t.)

Terry cheerfully met us and took us to meet the person in the Azores with the beamiest smile – Allesandra. What a delightful and helpful person. Then Rosa came; I thought she was expecting me to marry her, and my luck was in, such was the amazing cake she brought us.

The Porto Pim apartment was again wonderfully clean, tidy and almost everything was good. There was no hot water for the evening shower, but it was warm enough …. however a quick call to Rosa, and by the next time we wanted a shower it was sorted. Network Rail must have learnt off the Azoreans …. ‘See it, Say it … SORTED’.

The complimentary bikes were fine. Just needed the tyres pumped up and a squirt of WD40 and we were off. We used them on 2 days, about 40 kms each day, and a good 5 km walk at about the half way stage. What we should have realised was that a small island with a volcano, unless you hug the coast line, is likely to have a few endless up hills, but those ever-elusive down hills certainly made up for the grind up.

Back each day to the Porto Pim cafe for Pico wine and apple pie. Why wouldn’t you especially when there is only 1 person who has made a better apple pie, and that is my Mum.

Off to Pico on the dinghy ferry and a taxi up to the start of the suggested walk, an amble around the caverns and then a walk back down to Madalena, picking half a rucsac of tangerines en route. Oranges like oranges should taste.

Was our trip good? Yes, excellent. Anything not good. YES ……… I just have  to come back!! I even know the house I want to buy. Number 91, and Rosa’s husband the lawyer has offered to help!

Ali heard that the best Azorean wine came from Pico, so good in fact that no one has heard of it and yet it has a World Heritage status, just like Georgian wine. The unique feature is the vineyards, built to protect the vines and add to the claim that Pico dry stone walls, placed end to end circumnavigate the world twice. The Lake District manages only a mere once.

Wednesday morning arrived all too soon to a deafening GRRRRrrrr from the temporarily resident Porto Pim apartment mammal. It was time to go. The tranquillity of Horta International Airport was broken with the arrival of a plane! Don’t you love it. The airport opens at 07.15 and closes at 18.30.

Ali  wondered why the plane was nearly in the Atlantic before it lifted off and then suddenly remembered the entire stock of the local cheese factory was in our rucsacs.

If you are a cheese-atarian then why go to Cheddar or Wensleydale and if you like tea why go to Darjeeling, except there are no trains in the Atlantic.

Memorable moments …….. enjoying ourselves so much with the locals in a cafe at Capelo that we walked out without paying. When we realised, we phoned up to tell them we’d be back with our 2 euros – to which they just laughed!! Loads of the yummiest cheeses. Rosa’s wedding cake. Allesandria’s happiness. Val’s problem solving. Margarita’s constant desire for it all be perfect. The stunning countryside. The peace and tranquillity.  The removal from reality. Archipelago’s organisation to perfection.

The cows with curly fringes!!

As a match report, who won?? The Azores, the great people and ‘ArchipelagoMax’ are definitely winners.

Thanks for it all.

Added to all that …… in my absence Wigan Athletic didn’t lose!! I’ll have to go away again.”

Thanks Richard and Alison :) … Max