The Azores will be a new destination to most attendees at this year’s event in October. Ian Taylor looks at what to expect
Abta chairman Noel Josephides’ company Sunvil has run a programme to the Azores for 25 years, having largely introduced the destination to the UK.
Josephides says he is delighted the convention, for which Travel Weekly is trade media partner, is going to the islands.
“It will be very different to last year [in Abu Dhabi],” he says. “The Azores is very much a rural destination. You could film The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit there. It’s stunningly beautiful – all volcanic lakes and calderas. The nine islands are slightly different but all very beautiful, very green.”
The islands are small. Josephides says: “You can hire a car or use a hotel as a base and walk around.” He adds: “You have to be prepared for mixed weather, though it is never cold.”
Josephides says the capital Ponta Delgada, in São Miguel, where the convention will be held, has begun to change. “You have cruise ships stopping more frequently now,” he says. “But it is generally a low-key place. It’s not like Madeira, which is a lot more sophisticated. Ponta Delgada is probably like Madeira 50 years ago. It has only just got its first five‑star hotel.”
He says: “It will change. You have Ryanair flying from Stansted and flights from mainland Portugal” from where both Ryanair and easyJet fly to the Azores. “Germany, France, the Netherlands are becoming bigger markets.
“It will be interesting to see how the Azores balances its increasing profile with its reputation as one of the most-sustainable groups of islands. Let’s hope they look at what happened to other places and take care. They don’t want to lose what attracts people.”
Asked to identify the highlights, he says: “The flowers, the landscape. Northeast of São Miguel the cliffs are multicoloured and plunge into the sea.”
The Azores tourism authorities emphasise the many activities on offer, with walking, hiking into volcanoes and caves, and whale watching among the highlights.
But Josephides suggests: “Most people [who go] are like me. They sit in the cafes of Ponta Delgada, stroll around and hire a car – gentle sightseeing.”
He promises: “You’ll see something beautiful. Take a couple of excursions. Visit some of the other islands if you can. It is wonderful. [The town of] Angra do Heroísmo on Terceira is a Unesco World Heritage Site. São Miguel has amazing terrain. Pico is spectacular because of its volcano.”
But he advises: “If you’re going to do several centres, you have to fly.” Ferries between the islands can take half a day.
The food is Portuguese and “has become a lot more sophisticated in the last five to six years”, says Josephides. He adds: “It’s very good value for money.”
The Azores: Where are they?
The Azores is a group of nine islands in the North Atlantic. An autonomous region of Portugal, the islands lie about 1,000 miles from Lisbon, 850 miles from the nearest point of Portugal and 1,200 miles fromNewfoundland, Canada.
The capital Ponta Delgada, the venue for the convention, is in São Miguel.
The islands extend over 370 miles and lie in three groups: São Miguel, the largest island, and Santa Maria in the east; a central group of Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico and Faial; and the western islands of Flores and Corvo, the smallest and most remote. They are mountainous, reflecting their volcanic origin at the meeting point of three of the Earth’s tectonic plates.
The Azores are designated a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. The islands form part of the wider area called Macronesia, which includes the Canary Islands, Cape Verde and Madeira.
The weather is variable – a single day can see heavy rain, sun, low cloud and strong breezes. So a cagoule can be as useful as sunglasses. But the climate is mild all year because of the Gulf Stream. Average temperatures rarely fall below 12C in winter or rise above 22-24C in summer. However, October is one of the wetter months of the year.
The Azores: Economy and transport
Agriculture, especially dairy farming, fishing and tourism are the main sectors. Cheese and butter are among the main exports, while tuna is the principal fish catch. Grapes, pineapples, passion fruit, tea and tobacco are grown.
Whaling was an important part of the local economy until 1979 when it was banned. Whale watching is available from May to September.
Several islands have vineyards, with those on Pico among the best, although the wines are little known beyond the Azores. São Miguel boasts Europe’s only tea plantations.
There are flights between all the islands, and ferry sailings in summer. But the distances are large – the boat between São Miguel and Terceira takes six hours.
Car hire is available, although roads can be little more than tracks. Buses operate on each island. Taxis are also available.
São Miguel is home to more than half the Azores population of 250,000, and Terceira to one-quarter. The islands’ main source of energy is geothermal.
Find out more
The Travel Convention 2017 takes place on October 9-11 in Ponta Delgada, the Azores. For details and to register, go to: thetravelconvention.com
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