Terceira Island, Azores
The Azores are sort of like the Atlantic Ocean’s Hawaii in terms of distance from Europe's mainland and geology. This chain of volcanic islands, governed by Portugal, are isolated in the ocean between the North American and European continents. Life moves at a relaxed island pace on the Azores, but you won’t find palm trees swaying in the wind here... the climate is not tropical like Hawaii but rather chilly and fresh “maritime subtropical”.
In October I spent a very relaxed week on the island of Terceira (the third most populated of the islands) with my boyfriend Jason, and both of our moms. It was the perfect mom destination; there’s much to see, and relaxed things to do like take scenic drives, casual walks, and eat Azorean cuisine. Terceira is covered with rolling green hillsides speckled with dairy cows that produce the freshest milk from which the Terceirans make some of the best cheese and ice cream I’ve tasted anywhere. We ate at least 5 meals at the casual dairy farm and restaurant Quinta dos Açores, I highly recommend their salads and ice cream!
One of Terceira's most famous landmarks is the cave Algar do Carvão (Cavern of Coal). We explored the inside of the hollowed out volcano and deep underground lava tubes.
When we visited in October the weather was fresh and a bit chilly on most days, not unlike the Northern California weather I grew up with. We had just missed the short Azores summer season, the island had the best tidal swimming pools around the coast, similar to swimming areas I have seen around the Mediterranean with elaborate steps, ladders and diving platforms shaped from cement within the natural volcanic coastline. The locals were not deterred from swimming and sunbathing, but I only mustered the courage to swim in the cold, choppy ocean once.
One of the most popular pastimes in the Azores is running of the bulls. Here, Touradas a Corda (Bullfighting on a Rope) is done daily in summer, and weekly or more throughout the remainder of the year. I was curious, but a bit apprehensive to witness this for myself. Hundreds of people turned out to watch several bulls, tied to a long rope one at a time and let to run down the road while spectators waved their arms, flapped cardboard, and some brave (and stupid) souls ran out in front of the bull. Not really that much happened, a few young men were sent running, and the bulls crushed through some sections of stone wall before the five bullfighters tightened the rope to regain control of the bull. Generally the bulls are not harmed, only irritated as they are let to run and destroy property in their path.
We found a very affordable all-inclusive 7 day trip to Terceira (with Azores Getaways through Travelzoo) which included round trip airfare from Boston, transfers, and a comfortable hotel stay in the main city Angra do Heroísmo for just $600 per person. We found everything on the island (our rental car and restaurants) to be very reasonably priced as well. Seven days is a bit long if you're like Jason and me and like more action and adventure when you travel (but it was a good pace for our moms). I think you could see and do Terceira in 3 days, and then check out the other Azores islands that we did not visit on this trip!