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"Travel Blog" ~ Azores, Portugal

Updated: Jun 28

Come along with me as I recount the exciting adventure of my recent journey to the Azores Islands!





The Azores Islands are a group of nine volcanic islands located about 900 +/- miles off the coast of Portugal. They were not so well known until, beginning in 2015, changes to the airline industry made traveling to these beautiful islands much more affordable.


These islands, sometimes called the "Hawaii of Europe", are known for their black sand beaches, rolling green pastures, fresh food, fresh ocean air, and kind people. However, I knew nothing of these islands when I received an email last fall from one of my teachers, @micah_rewilding, indicating that he was hosting a trip to the Azores. I love to travel and had not traveled out of the country since 2022, so I was feeling some wanderlust and excited about the prospect of checking out something new. I researched the cost and airfare and found it to be within my travel budget, so I signed up! As a side note, I didn't know anyone who was going on the trip except my teacher. For some reason, I felt drawn to these islands, so I took a leap of faith.



As a recovering perfectionist and control freak, in recent years I have challenged myself to do only the necessary amount of research when I am traveling to a new place. While I love to travel, I do have a level of anxiety that I work with before traveling that would sometimes drive me to try and plan every moment and know everything about the place I was going. Instead, I work with the anxiety by pausing, breathing, and reminding myself that I've done this before and so have millions of other people and it will be fine without me knowing everything. Additionally, SolSeed Retreats, the company organizing the trip, had every last detail covered. I only had to book my flight, pack, and get myself on the plane. The rest was taken care of, and they covered all of the details.


Living on the East Coast of the US makes it easy to get to the Azores Islands. The islands are about a 4.5-hour flight from Boston, New York, and other East Coast airports via Azores Airlines. I chose to fly out of Logan Airport in Boston since it is only about 2 hours from my home and much easier to access than New York City airports. Flights are mostly red-eye (overnight), so the suggestion is to try and sleep on the plane. There were also several people on the trip from the West Coast who flew to the East Coast of the US and then to the Azores and even one or two from European countries.


Day 1: Our trip was entirely on São Miguel Island, the largest island in the Azores. We landed around 6:00 am Azores time and met the vans that transported us to the Santa Barbara Eco-Resort in Ribeira Grande. As we walked through the unassuming doors of the resort, we were welcomed by a grand view of the ocean and nearby cliffs through floor-to-ceiling windows in the entryway. The staff was not yet there to check us into our rooms, so we sat in the cozy lobby, watched the waves roll in, and began to get to know each other until we could check-in.



After checking in and taking a nap, I spent that first day exploring the resort by taking a walk on the beach, sitting on the overlook deck, absorbing the stunning views, and connecting with the land. The pace of the island is different and slower which can be challenging for East Coasters and our breakneck speed pace, so taking this time to slow down was a must for me.




The group met for lunch which was one of many amazing meals at the resort. Every meal was fellowship as we came together as strangers and quickly became friends. The conversation flowed freely and we found so many similar interests and connections. The food is sourced from the resort farm, local farmers and pastures, and the sea, and did not disappoint. The retreat organizers worked to ensure that food allergies and preferences were accommodated and were on site every morning to handle any questions or challenges that people had. We met that evening as a group to go through a round of introductions and to go over our itinerary for the trip.


Day 2: After a morning Mindful Outdoor Experience (like meditation) on the beach and breakfast, we packed up our backpacks and met our guides for the week from Fun Activities Azores Adventures. Our guides for the day, Tiago and Diogo, got us all organized and on the road. We headed to the West side of the island stopping for photo opportunities along the way. The beauty of this small group trip is we could modify the itinerary as needed to accommodate the group and stop where and for as long as the group wanted (though we were a group of lingerers and our guides did gently suggest we move on once or twice).



First, we hiked up to a viewpoint and took photos in the Lagos das Sete Cidades area, large volcanic craters with lakes in the middle. The views were breathtaking. Our guides pointed out that our hike for the day would be along the top of the crater. As with everything on this trip, the hike was optional and an alternative was to go into a local village. Since I was at the end of recovering from the flu and my lung capacity was still challenged, I checked in to see how strenuous the hike would be. The guides assured me that it was a fairly easy hike.


There is something special about standing on a mountain and overlooking lakes and the sea. The first time I experienced this was in Acadia National Park in Maine. It reminded me of this piece that I read after visiting Cadillac Mountain, and I believe it captures this experience as well:


"There are two special places that seem to feed our souls like nothing else can. One is the open sea. This has a unique calling that may span millions, or perhaps billions of years, and is something that is etched into the memory of our collective DNA, calling us as if to return home. It draws us towards it at every sound and motion of an incoming wave. The other is the view we experience from high on top of a mountain. It is as if we were lifted up to where we are able to see much further than ever before...on Cadillac Mountain...we get to experience both amazing experiences in one place, at one time, in one unique and exceptional moment. We are both drawn close and lifted higher to a place where our minds and hearts join with each drawn breath and each pause of silence. We must be still and empty ourselves of all but this." ~ Greg A. Hartford


Ahhh...pause...breathe...



After our experience overlooking the crater, we had an amazing lunch delivered to us in a Sete Cidades picnic area by a local named Maria and her husband who run a company called Maria Pic-nic. Again, the food was fresh, locally sourced, and allergy-friendly. They even brought large bottles of water so we could all fill our water bottles for the hike.



After lunch, we headed to the trailhead for our hike. We took in the view of the Lagos das Sete Cidades, and blue-green lakes, and hearing some local folklore about why the lakes are different colors (you will have to go on the trip to find out!), we set off on our journey.




The hike was a "go at your own pace" kind of adventure. Some people walked faster and slower and lots in between. Because of this, I found myself chatting with many people on the hike and sharing different things we noticed that we might have just walked by otherwise. The views were amazing, and I only took a few pictures along the way because I was simply enjoying the moments of being in this beautiful place.



Tired and a little sore, the perfect ending to the adventure was soaking in a thermally heated saltwater pool at Ponta de Ferraria. We hoped to swim in the world's only natural thermal pool, but the tide was too high making it unsafe. It is quite a site to see, however, surrounded by volcanic rock and heated by a volcano underneath.



So we opted for lounging by the pool which was perfect for tired feet!



Soon we headed home, ate dinner, and fell into bed - tired and satisfied from a day well spent.


Day 3: Day 3 was a free day. Some people went to Gorreana Tea Factory and others hired a driver to explore the island. Since I was still feeling pretty tired and my body was telling me to rest, I decided to stay at the resort for the morning. After relaxing on the patio off of my room, I took a long walk on the beach connecting with the energies, soul, and spirit of this place, watched the surfers at the surf school nearby, and journaled and read.


Around lunchtime I decided to venture off the property and took a taxi to Ponta Delgada, Azores capital city, to get lunch and do some shopping. This beautiful city center contains an 18th-century church and cobblestone streets in all sorts of interesting patterns.




Even on a rainy day, the city was beautiful, and I enjoyed exploring and meeting so many friendly people. I was amazed at how safe the island is, especially as a woman wandering around alone, I never felt the creepy feeling of something being unsafe, though I was aware of my surroundings and stayed in the more populated areas of the city.



I found a shop that was recommended by our retreat organizers called "Portugal Nice Things" with local ceramics, embroidery, candles, jewelry, clothing, and more where I picked up some gifts. After that, I met up with some of the group and we taxied back to the resort.


After dinner at a small amazing local restaurant with the group (included in the trip), I walked up to the overlook deck at the resort to sit for a few minutes. More stars were visible than I think I have ever seen with less light pollution on the islands. I reflected on how I felt so at peace and more present here than in many places that I have traveled and how welcoming the land and its people were. I offered gratitude to all of the beings supporting this journey. There is something truly magical about these islands...




Day 4: Our second excursion day. After a Mindful Outdoor Experience on the beach and breakfast, we headed out to the East side of the island. After a stop at Miradouro de Santa Ira with a breathtaking view, we continued to Furnas, another volcanic crater area.





After hiking up to take in the views of Lagoa do Fogo (Lagoon of Fire), we headed down to the bottom of the crater for our hike.




There were two separate hikes planned for this day for retreatants to choose from, however, torrential downpours of the day before had washed out parts of the trail for one of the hikes. So the full group set out on a silent pilgrimage around the lagoon. This was a mostly flat, just under a 4-mile hike. One point of interest was a neo-Gothic style chapel that was completed in 1862 and commissioned by the owner of the land at the time. He and his wife are both buried in the chapel and their presence is still felt at this unique site.


The flora around the lagoon seemed to change around every corner from open areas to dense forests of Japanese Red Cedar, blooming Camellia, and even a section of bamboo. At one point my roommate and I scrambled off trail because we heard the sound of a waterfall and were treated to a thin stream of falling water in the lush, dense growth. I also enjoyed connecting with an old, moss-covered tree and wondering what this ancient being has witnessed in its lifetime.


Toward the end of the hike, we stopped to see where food was cooked in the hot volcanic ground. Meat and vegetables are buried in big pots in the ground for hours and eventually served at a local restaurant. It was truly a unique experience.




After the hike, we were again served another amazing Maria Pic-nic lunch. We boarded the bus and headed off to Terra Nostra Garden where we could walk the botanical gardens or soak in the thermal pool - Tanque de Agua Termal; though most of the group ended up in the thermal pool after being on our feet all day. This unique pool has a high iron content that gives it a yellow/brown color (bringing an old bathing suit was suggested because of the staining). At first, I was a little hesitant given the color, but once in the pool, I was glad I didn't skip it. The warm, thermal-heated water was just what I needed. We scraped the iron "mud" off the walls and rubbed it on our skin. This made my skin feel smooth and soft. I left feeling happy, calm, and peaceful after a long and glorious day outside.




Day 5: Day 5 was another free day on our own. One of the members of our group reached out before we left for the trip to see if anyone wanted to book a cooking class with Maria from Maria Pic-nic, and I jumped at the chance. Now, for those who know me well, this may seem strange because I do not like to cook and usually avoid it at all costs. The reason I was interested in this cooking class is that I saw it as a chance to see this culture from inside the actual home of someone who lives and works on the island and to learn about cooking in a different country.


Maria was an amazing host. We spent an hour in her garden learning about the plants and picking ingredients for our meal. The garden was a treat that we didn't expect. After our walk through Maria's garden, we headed into her kitchen and got to work. One thing I learned is that cooking with a group is much more fun. We chatted, laughed, drank wine, and learned. And that fish I'm holding in the picture below was freshly caught at 5:00 that morning! It was an experience that I highly recommend.





Day 6: Time to head home. As I headed out of my room for coffee the morning of the last day, a rainbow greeted me and the sun was rising over the mountains which truly felt like a gift. I took my coffee up to the overlook deck and sat offering my gratitude to this land and all that I had the privilege and pleasure of experiencing on this trip. I reflected on the people, places, and more-than-human world that I encountered during this time. While I am always happy to return home, I was sad to leave this beautiful and sacred place.





Before leaving for the airport that afternoon, and after a quick trip to the small city of Ribeira Grande, I took one more walk on the beach to say goodbye, and the little lizards seemed to come out to see us off!



Until we meet again, Azores Islands!




Are you interested in joining me in the Azores? Keep reading...


About halfway through the trip, I realized that I wanted to offer a women's retreat in the Azores in Spring, 2025. I have just booked the dates - March 16-21, 2025! If you think you are interested and would like more information, please email me at info@bethreelcoaching.com and ask to join my VIP list. People on this list will be the first to receive information and a discount for signing up early and will have the first choice of accommodations. If you don't have a passport, start the process now. If you have a passport, check to ensure it has not expired or will not expire next year.


Some of my thoughts about why the Azores are an amazing place for a women's retreat:


  • If you have never traveled out of the country, this is a great, low-stress place to start. It's easy to fly to, most of the people speak English, and others on the trip will "know the ropes".

  • While this is an active retreat and hiking and movement are involved, activities are optional, accommodating, and go at your own pace.

  • This island is quite safe. The crime rate in the Azores is very low.

  • There is a nice balance of planned activities and free time.

  • The temperature in the Spring is very comfortable. The low temperature was in the mid-40s at night and the high was mostly around 70 degrees. I think it hit 80 degrees one day but with low humidity. Very comfortable for hiking and sleeping.

  • Come as you are! I thought I needed to lose 20 pounds before I left. I didn't and it was fine. I didn't plan to get the flu before I left. I did and it was fine! I brought the wrong plug adapter. I was able to borrow one and it was fine!


Email me now to get on my VIP list (info@bethreelcoaching.com)! I will be releasing registration to my VIP list soon!


** All photos are the property of Beth Reel and cannot be shared without explicit permission.



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