A Guide to Heaven on Earth: the Azores

Visit and you'll find out why.

Welcome to the Azores, the little-known wonderland archipelago of Portugal. These islands are truly a nature lovers paradise, with hydrangea-dotted rolling hills overlooking the steely Atlantic, and verdant caldeiras housing glittering blue and green lagoas. Boasting a rare combination of impressive mountains, pastoral plains, and lush tropical vegetation–minus the bugs–the Azores' unique allure sets them miles ahead of many other Instaworthy destinations. Moreover, the Azores have been consecutively named one of the most sustainable sites in the world.

If you are looking for a still relatively undiscovered natural paradise where you can spend all day engaging in a range of outdoor activities, the Azores are for you. That said, depending on what time of year you go, it's likely that you'll get rained on, so bring an umbrella, waterproof shoes, and expect some unpredictable weather.

Here are some additional travel tips to make sure you get the most out of these miraculous islands.

When to visit

Ten minutes before the rainstorm

While the Azores have a subtropical oceanic climate (meaning it never really gets below the low 50's) this also means they get a lot of rain. Winter (November – March) is considered the rainy season, during which time it's overcast, gloomy, and wet most of the time. While this may not dissuade hardier travelers, for most people visiting during the summer months (June - August) is ideal. While there may be sporadic rain showers during the day or night, they rarely last for long, leaving you free to enjoy a guilt-free nap or two while you're waiting for the weather to clear up. If you're into swimming or diving, June – September is best, as the weather in the fall months gets too chilly to comfortably spend time in the water.

No matter what time of year you go, crowds should be sparse because the Azores haven't been "discovered" yet by the hordes of tourists. But it does have a steadily growing tourism economy, so go now before the spring breakers and Instagram fiends overrun it.

Getting to the Azores

For a tiny archipelago in the Atlantic, the Azores are surprisingly accessible. Multiple carriers offer daily trips from all over Europe and the US. If you're already in Portugal, the Azores are just a short flight from Lisbon. From the US, Azores Airlines offers a short (4.5 hour) direct flight to the island Ponta Delgada from Boston. Once you're there, you can take ferries or flights to access the other islands.

Choose an island, any island


The fog only adds intrigue to this place

With nine islands to choose from, the Azores have a wide variety of options for those planning a trip. São Miguel is the largest island and hosts some of the more famous natural wonders, like Sete Cidades and Lagoa do Fogo. Pico has a colossal volcanic mountain Montanha do Pico that just begs to be climbed. (It doesn't hurt that Pico also hosts Unesco-listed volcanic vineyards and 5 kilometers of lava tubes.) Terceira Angra do Heroísmo is the Azores' oldest city, a primitive 16th century ville that's home to Monte Brasil, a hike up a half submerged crater that meanders through a 500-year old castle's ruins. Faial is best known for its superlative whale-watching expeditions. Flores is the most verdant island, thanks to copious amounts of rainfall, but if you're willing to endure a little moisture you'll be rewarded with beautiful coastal walks and hikes dotted with clambering waterfalls. Corvo is a tiny dot of an island: with just 430 year-round residents who still lock their doors with juniper leaves, this is a quaint island best reserved for avid bird watchers and hikers who are fluent in Portuguese. Graciosa is tiny, but punches above its weight in terms of activities. You can hike, dive, go whale watching, and even explore Furna do Enxofre, a 120-foot tall volcanic cave. Last, but certainly not least, is São Jorge. Rather than wonder what you can do on São Jorge, you should ask yourself what you cannot do. Because the answer is not much. Mountain-biking, swimming, diving, whale-watching, hiking, canoeing, canyoning–the sky is the limit here.

Land bound activities

Hiking is obviously one of the most attractive outdoor excursions in the Azores. With seemingly limitless options throughout the islands, you're never far from a lush jaunt in the pristine wilderness: the volcanic archipelago's terrain is as hilly as the roads are twisted. (Pro tip: if you're prone to car sickness due to winding roads, you may want to reconsider your trip. The Azores are not known for their direct highways.) While you don't technically need traditional hiking apparel like walking sticks, hiking boots, and gators to navigate the often-muddy trails, it may not be a bad idea to pack them if you have them. An unexpected cloudburst can turn a steep trail into a mudslide in a matter of minutes, and your sneakers may not be quite up to the task. It goes without saying that you should never attempt to hike in sandals or open-toed shoes here, as you'll most likely regret it within the first several minutes.

Cozido-licious

Geothermal pools are also attractive destinations for residents and tourists alike. Furnas, a picturesque town on São Miguel, is neatly situated among a volcanic complex of geothermal springs. Meander up and down tiny cobblestone streets and you'll be surrounded by steam rising from piping hot geothermal springs running throughout the village. If you're feeling peckish, try the local Portuguese stew that cooks while buried underground, courtesy of the heat billowing just under the surface. Every afternoon you can see many locals pulling pots full of Cozido das Furnas out of the steaming ground. Try a bite at Caldeiras e Vulcões; it's a hearty stew made with three different types of meat (pig, chicken, and beef) as well as sweet potatoes, yams, and black pudding (blood sausage). Be warned: it may taste faintly of the sulphur that bubbles through the hot springs. If you're not a fan of potatoes, you may be best served by splitting one of the generous portions with a companion.

The Terra Nostra Gardens, a historical residence-cum-natural park that's been around since the late 18th century, is another must-see. Once inside you can wander the beautifully landscaped grounds (don't miss the topiary garden) or relax in the sepia-colored natural geothermal pool. Just don't wear a bathing suit you care about, as the water has been known to stain fabric.

When the water beckons

Eat my dust, humans!

Whale watching is an appealing option to those who enjoy being surrounded by water but would rather stay dry. Over 20 different cetaceous species reside in these fertile waters and there's something almost magical about watching these enormous gentle creatures crest above the waves.

If diving is more your speed, you'll find pristine bodies of water throughout the archipelago. Princess Alice Bank, situated around 50 nautical miles from Pico, is a prime contender for the best place to dive. If you can stomach the 2.5 hour boat ride to the diving site, you'll be richly rewarded by hordes of pelagic fish and fairytale-worthy deep ridges and gorges, not all that different from the magnificent spectacle above ground.

A must see for outdoor enthusiasts

The Azores is one of the most visually arresting regions in the world. The terrain is a magnificent combination of England's verdant pastures, Iceland's craggy mountains, and New Zealand's shameless explosion of lush foliage. It is truly one of the world's natural wonders and it's opulent beauty will remain in your memory long after you return home. However, take note that the Azores are not a destination for those seeking Michelin-starred restaurants and exciting nightlife. You're far more likely to find unpretentious local bars serving up generously portioned table wine, than au courant clubs prowled by glowering bouncers.

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There are several things about wine that can confuse the average person. If you haven't spent the last few years of your life learning everything there is to know about wine, you can be forgiven for picking up a box of the good stuff every now and then. However, if you want to know a little bit more about how to choose a good bottle, we can help you out. We've created a beginner's guide to picking a bottle of wine so you can enjoy yourself a little more.

Know What Type of Wine To Choose

First things first, you're going to need to decide the type of wine that you're looking for in order to narrow your search. Are you looking for a red, white, sparkling, or rosé? The choices may seem overwhelming, but try to focus on what foods you'll be pairing the wine with. Reds go great with heavier meals like red meat, while whites tend to lend themselves towards lighter dishes like fish and cheeses. If you'll be drinking the wine on its own, consider what you've tried in the past and what type you tend to gravitate toward.

Know How Much You're Willing To Spend

It's no secret that a penchant for wine can become an expensive hobby. If you're just getting into the idea, don't waste your time or money with the extremely pricey bottles. A good place to start looking for decent bottles of wine is somewhere between the $10 and $30 price range. This will keep you from buying something too low quality without breaking your bank in the process.

Read the Labels Closely

A good bottle of wine will often give tasting notes right on the bottle. Because everyone's palette is different, you may not get the same notes when you try the wine, but it's a good place to start. Choose something with tasting notes that you already enjoy like berries or cocoa and try to see if you get any hints of that as you drink. The labels may also tell you about the wine's acidity, or how tart it is, and the wine's body, or the way it feels in your mouth.

A beginner's guide to picking a bottle of wine can only go so far without being overwhelming. The next part of your wine journey will need to be undertaken on your own. Try various types of wine and see what tastes best to you—that's what wine is really all about.

Distillery tours went on hiatus in 2020, but there are high hopes for 2021. While bourbon leaps immediately to mind when thoughts turn to distillery tours, interest in other spirits and how they're made is increasing. Here are a few of the best tours to thrill tequila lovers.

Tequila Herradura

Ride in style on the Herradura Express, a distillery sponsored train ride that runs from Guadalajara to the town of Amatitán for a distillery tour and tastings, followed by lunch featuring live entertainment. The train then takes visitors back to Guadalajara by evening. Herradura is housed in the last tequila-producing Hacienda in the world, Hacienda San Jose del Refugio. Casa Herradura will be closed for visits and tours until Mexican health officials declare the coronavirus emergency over.

La Rojeña

Producer of Jose Cuervo, La Rojeña has a train of its own called the Jose Cuervo Express (currently on hiatus due to COVID-19) to bring visitors to the oldest distillery in the town of Tequila. Jose Cuervo offers distillery tours, tastings, and tours of the agave fields. Mundo Cuervo (Cuervo world) also has its own hotel, Solar de las Animas. Check for COVID-19 hours and restrictions before booking.

Casa Sauza

Founded in 1873, Casa Sauza offers four levels of tours including a visit to the La Perseverancia distillery, a visit to the Quinta Sauza estate, and for those willing to spend more, barrel tastings and a barbeque or a three-course meal. Casa Sauza is on hiatus until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, but should go on the distillery tour bucket list.

La Cofradia

The only tequila distillery with a hotel inside, La Cofradia offers many experiences in addition to distillery tours. Choose a hike through natural trails, biking, or horseback riding through the agave fields. Rooms made of giant tequila barrels sit among the agave plants for a unique stay. Visiting La Cofradia is sure to be a tour that thrills tequila lovers. Contact the hotel directly for information about lockdown closures.

A distillery tour offers education about tequila's history and manufacture. Bone up on your tequila terms and tips for choosing quality tequila before you go, so you'll understand what you're tasting.

We don't know how to feel about winter this year. Sure, nobody likes the cold and dreary months, but there's something special about the Holiday season that just seems to be missing. Maybe the thought of staying inside and cozying up to a nice book isn't very enticing given the last few months. The joyful winter wonderland that we usually associate with winter seems to be missing.

That's why our editors decided to take it upon themselves and spread some delight with seasonal meals, courtesy of HelloFresh. For those who don't know what HelloFresh is, it's a meal-kit delivery service with dozens of easy-to-prepare recipes to choose from. Simply select which meals you want as well as how many servings and a neatly organized cardboard box will arrive at your doorstep within the week. Nobody wants to go out in the Winter anyway, and with HelloFresh, you don't have to!

To celebrate the arrival of the coldest season, we decided to highlight some of our favorite (and heartiest) recipes from HelloFresh that are perfect for the Holiday season. Here are five wholesome and balanced meals that will warm you up in no time.

Veggie Loaded Kale & Risoni Soup

A hearty and warm soup is a Winter staple and this veggie loaded kale and risoni soup from HelloFresh absolutely hits it out of the park. All anybody wants during the colder months is to feel cozy and nurtured--just like the flavorful bowl of nutrients. Warm and creamy risoni compliments the seasonal veggies perfectly and the side of garlic bread is a sure-fire cure for any winter blues. With 22 meals to pick from each week, this one is sure to be a household favorite.

Cheesy Red Pesto Chicken Melts

Everyone is familiar with classic green pesto, but have you ever tried red pesto? Red pesto offers way more complexity and oomph than its green counterpart. It is incredibly bright with rich notes of umami, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh basil and garlic. This rendition also features hits of chargrilled capsicum for a little extra zest. You get the exact amount of each ingredient and seasoning, as well as super detailed recipe cards, that make meal prep a breeze. Spread it over a glistening chicken bread and sprinkle with cheese for delectable chicken melts.

Winter Risotto

Risotto is a great winter warmer. It's packed full of veggies so your body will light up like fire, but it's also silky, sumptuous and a real crowd pleaser. HelloFresh's Winter Risotto features a heart helping of kale that pairs perfectly with nutty Parmesan and crunchy walnuts for a robust taste. Did we mention that it also comes with fennel seeds sprinkled throughout? This unique seasoning adds a distinctive, yet delicious flavor to this classic winter staple. We know these meals are pretty hardy, which is why we love having the option to pause our subscription or cancel a week when need be.

Cheat's Italian Pork & Veggie Bolognese

A bolognese that only takes 30 minutes to make? Sign us up! This one is chock full of all the rich flavors of a classic Italian sauce. In fact, we're getting some serious Italian grandmother vibes with this recipe. Silky baby Spanish and grated carrots melt into a hearty meat sauce, offering a mouth-watering meal for anyone looking for a little zest. It's delivery quality, but much more affordable, plus you get to cook it yourself!

Smokey Mild Chorizo & Bean Chilli

Yet another clever twist on a weekday favorite! The paprika and garlic flavored cured sausage is a staple in our chopping baskets since it goes well with practically anything. Not only is Chorizo loved for its taste, but also for its ability to infuse sauces with its tantalizing flavor. This time around, HelloFresh has decided to spice up a classic bowl of bean chili with Spanish styling of a smokey mild chorizo. The end result? A mix of chorizo, red kidney beans, corn and avocado, and an irresistible flavor that everyone will love. This is just one of dozens of unique HelloFresh recipes you won't find anywhere else!

Gone are the days of trekking through the frigid cold just for a few groceries. Sign-up for HelloFresh today and get your ingredients delivered right to your doorstep. Time to start cozying up the right way, with a delicious meal and a nice cup of hot cocoa.

Update: Our friends at HelloFresh are extending a special Black Friday offer to our readers. Follow this link to get $90 off across 4 boxes including free shipping!