As soon as people start to talk about somewhere being a ‘best kept secret’ you know that it is definitely not a secret, and with 3 international airports offering direct flights to cities around the world, there is clearly nothing secret about the Azores. There is, however, a sense in which calling the Azores ‘Europe’s best kept secret’, is absolutely right. This group of nine volcanic islands, situated in the mid-Atlantic, have, up to this point, largely avoided the crushing uniformity that contemporary tourism imposes on the most beautiful places on our planet. Despite the airports and ferries, the Azores remain remote, too remote for most people ever to consider making them their home, which is perhaps why you should.
1. Home to a growing digital nomad community
The Azores, despite their mid-ocean isolation, are part of Europe, they are Portuguese territory. As a result, they enjoy the technological advantages that you would expect to find on mainland Europe, most especially, an excellent internet service. Increasingly, digital nomads are resting their wings here and using it as an opportunity to clear their heads, breathe clean air and swim with the dolphins.
2. Affordable cost of living
Mainland Portugal has one of the lowest costs of living in Europe, but the Azores are even cheaper, partly because its VAT is 5% lower than mainland Portugal and partly because wages for locals have remained low.
3. Affordable house prices
Portugal has some of the most affordable property in Europe and as a consequence it has seen substantial foreign investment during the last ten years. In 2020, average house prices in Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, rose to 1,507 euros per square metre, in the Azores the average cost per square metre, was just 940 euros. Although there is a limited stock of housing, Sao Miguel, the largest of the nine islands, is just 62 k long by 15k wide, it is still possible to pick up a ruined cottage to renovate for around 30,000 euros. Rental property is also half the cost that it would be in Porto or Lisbon, so it's no wonder the island is a popular destination to relocate to.
4. Unspoilt beaches
Like Madeira, the rocky beaches and sheer cliffs of the Azores, have saved the islands from the plague of hotel construction which has destroyed so much beautiful coastline. Having said that, the islands are home to a significant number of outstandingly beautiful and unspoilt beaches. There are many rocky coves with black sand and clear water which make them ideal for diving and snorkelling and on Santa Maria there are exquisite beaches of fine white sand. At Vila Franca you can swim in a volcanic crater and at Praia da Ribeira Quente you can enjoy the luxury of water warmed by thermal springs.
The locals are fond of saying that the islands have ‘four seasons in one day’ but despite this changeability, the islands enjoy a temperate climate, with temperatures rarely dropping below 10 degrees centigrade in the winter and rarely rising above 25 degrees centigrade in the summer. The result is a lush environment with an all-year-round growing season.
6. Incredible waterfalls and stunning scenery
The Azores are islands where you will never find yourself standing in line to take that photograph of that view so that you can post it on Instagram just like hundreds of thousands of other people. For one thing there simply aren’t that many tourists visiting the islands, yet, for another, there are just so many stunning views. The islands are the tips of nine volcanoes: dramatic black rock cloaked in lush green pasture set against a deep blue ocean. Follow the empty winding roads, lined with hydrangeas and you’ll find some of the most breathtakingly beautiful waterfalls in the world and you’ll probably have them all to yourself.
7. Outstanding food and wine
The local cuisine is one of the glories of the islands, for here you can experience what has become a rarity of modern life: local food, in season. The microclimate of the Azores and the lack of pollution allows for food production of the highest quality. On islands with more cows than people, the organic beef is outstanding, traditionally served with red peppers, garlic and a fried egg. The other signature dish of the islands is the Cozido das Furnas, a stew of meat and vegetables, cooked for five hours in the hot sulphur springs of Furnas lake. The cows also contribute to the production of an impressive range of cheeses, in fact 50% of the cheese consumed and exported by Portugal comes from the Azores. Tropical fruit, especially pineapple, of which the Azores export two million a year, are in abundance as is seafood, pulled straight from the unpolluted waters and as fresh as you are ever likely to get. And to wash it all down? A little Vinho de Cheiro, a distinctively fragrant wine which takes its flavour from the volcanic soil.
8. Beautiful volcanoes
The Azores contain 26 active volcanoes, 8 of which are under water. Only the island of Santa Maria doesn’t have any volcanoes. Fortunately, none of the active volcanoes have shown any sign of activity for many years. Mount Pico, designated one of the 7 natural wonders of Portugal is the highest point in the country. As you might expect, the views from the top are stunning. The Sete Cidades Massif is perhaps one of the most photographed locations in the Azores, its 4 lakes and 5-kilometre caldera are a hallucinatory intense collision of blue and green.
9. Friendly locals
It’s a commonplace of all internet travel writing to describe the locals as friendly, but because the Azores are, as yet, unspoiled by tourism, the locals are friendly and not in pursuit of your euros. Long may it last.
10. Remote but not difficult to travel to and from
The remoteness of the Azores is psychological, the knowledge that you are on a tip of black rock in the middle of the Atlantic, and that is not to be underestimated. In reality however, every island has an airport, and you are just a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Lisbon or four hours from the U.S.