Cycling vacations in the Azores

They call Terceira ‘the Lilac Isle’. Why? Wait until sunset. Better still, head out to a remote part of the coast on your bike, and have one of those famously colourful sunsets all to yourself.

It’s not revealing any secrets to say that the Azores, a nine-island Portuguese archipelago in the North Atlantic, is one of the best spots in the world for whale-watching. But despite the fact that nearly two million people visited in 2019, come outside of the main season in July and August and you can still feel like an intrepid early explorer blazing a trail in a new destination.

“If I had to sum up cycling in the Azores using only three things,” says Carlos Santos of our specialist Portugal cycling operator Portugal A2Z. “I think I would say: ocean views, beautiful natural landscapes, and just plain idyllic.” He might just as easily have added: solitude. Visit in spring or autumn, as Carlos recommends, and you can quite easily ride for hours without encountering anyone else. If a genuine ‘escape’ is as important to you as a bit of challenge on a cycling vacation, you’ll find it in the Azores.
Trips focus mostly on Terceira, so-named because it was the third of the islands to be discovered by Portuguese explorers. Not the most imaginative of names, sure, but don’t take that as any reflection on Terceira’s beauty. A little over a fifth of the island is protected to conserve dense forests of juniper and laurel. The interior is criss-crossed with ancient lava flows and cave systems; you can stop off for a swim in a pool surrounded by black lava rocks, and watch smouldering volcanic chimneys at locations such as Gruta de Natal and Furnas do Enxofre in the Terceira Natural Park, where there is an excellent visitor center.
And of course there is that coastline strung with pretty villages, with the opportunity to spot whales in nutrient-rich waters between March and October – a deep channel between Terceira and São Jorge lies on the migration route of blue whales.

Highlights of cycling in the Azores

Most vacations follow a broadly triangular route from the historic capital Angra do Heroismo, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an old favourite of Portuguese royalty. Then it’s quiet meadows and pastures, lush green forest, pretty villages and panoramas over the Atlantic that practically insist you pause and get a photo, or take an invigorating dip. Carrying a swimsuit in your daypack is a must here.
In Biscoitos you can swim in a natural pool and visit a wine museum to try the local vintage. Grapes grow exceptionally well in this fertile volcanic landscape. You may catch sight of Ilheus das Cabras, an islet where shepherds would graze their goats, admire the unique Algar do Carvao, a 3000-year-old volcanic chimney, or stop off for a picnic by a lagoon.
These are typically tailor made cycling vacations, so a rest day can easily be factored into your itinerary, with the Praia da Vitoria area a pleasant place to spend it. Carlos Santos says: “Whale watching is a great idea to do on a rest day, depending on weather and sea conditions. I would also really recommend the Algar do Carvao volcanic area, which is a very interesting place to wander. The great thing about traveling by bike here is you can get to some really amazing natural spots.” Other options include windsurfing, sea kayaking or a more relaxed round of golf.

How fit do I need to be?

Although there is some flexibility in routes, given these are mostly tailor made trips, you will probably be covering around 20-45km each day. The terrain is not especially challenging, but it is hilly in places and exposed, so a degree of physical fitness is required. If you’re a regular cyclist you should have little difficulty. And of course, what goes up must come down. Katy Lee cycled around the island in 2018: “Terceira is a lovely, varied island. The cycle routes combined lots of different terrains. It’s quite hilly but there are some amazing downhill slopes to enjoy and some excellent places to swim too. Our representative Tiago was very informative of the island, places to eat, swim, visit and he really knew the routes too… Lovely rural scenery and quiet lanes for cycling.”

Our top Portugal cycling Vacation

Porto to Lisbon cycling holiday, self guided

Porto to Lisbon cycling vacation, self guided

Family Cycling Vacations in Portugal | Self-Guided

From 1005 to2005 8 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailor made throughout the year to suit your requirements
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Practicalities

Cycling vacations in the Azores are usually around a week long, with a rest day built in. They are mostly tailor made, so if you’re after a more relaxed or more challenging route, your vacation company will likely be able to help. You can also work with them to include any particular activities you’d like to try, and naturally you don’t need to worry about fixed travel dates.
“I would say the best times of year to cycle in the Azores are between April and June, and September and November,” advises Carlos Santos. “Purely because then you get the best weather, less fog, and it’s not too cold. You also avoid the supplements of high season.” Not to mention, of course, that in these months tourist numbers plunge like the steep sea cliffs you often find on Azorean islands. Going in summer? Don’t forget that swimsuit! But also note that even in July the Azores is a real ‘four seasons in one day’ kind of place – pack a mac as well. Heady winds can be expected in winter too, so December through to March is best avoided for cycling.
You will be riding from place to place, staying somewhere different every night. Your luggage will be transferred between accommodations so that you can get by with just a daypack. You’ll stay in a series of locally owned hotels, ensuring that tourism income reaches the island economy while also giving you a taste of Terceira culture, with welcoming hosts happy to get to know you.
These are usually self guided trips. On arrival in Angra do Heroismo you’ll be met by someone from your vacation company and given a detailed briefing, with instructions on how to use your GPS device, maps and route notes – essentially all the information you could possibly need. And there will be 24/7 support available, naturally. High-quality mountain bikes are provided, as well as helmets if you don’t want to bring your own. And then it’s off into those wonderful, under-explored landscapes where encountering another cyclist is such a rarity it will inevitably spark a friendly greeting.
Happy trails…
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Portugal A2Z] [All article images: Portugal A2Z]
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