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Azores: the great escape

4 January 2021 - Eurosport

If such a thing as a lost paradise still exists on this earth, the Azores is without doubt one of them. A remote archipelago of nine islands created by the fury of volcanic eruptions, it is a setting that lends itself as much to meditation as it does to adventure.

Stranded far from the rest of the world – Lisbon is 1,500 kilometres away – it sometimes feels like the Azores have been entirely neglected by humanity. Its exceptionally diverse landscapes range from the black of the volcanic mountainsides to the bright green of the forests, dotted with waterfalls seemingly lifted straight from the film “Avatar”. In short, it is an idyllic location for anyone with a passion for pursuing their sporting passions in the heart of nature. And it therefore came as no surprise earlier in the year when the World Travel Awards named this autonomous region of Portugal as Europe's leading adventure tourism destination.

Surfing opportunities abound, of course, but fans of hiking and climbing will also discover a rough cut gem capable of awakening their passions. Meanwhile, the most seasoned sportsmen and women can try their hand at the Golden Trail, on a course as demanding as it is sublime.

Surf at Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo in São Jorge

If you like a crowded surf spot, then you should probably look elsewhere! On the other hand, if you want to surf in a secluded setting where the only commotion is that produced by the waves, then Sao Jorge is the place for you. However, surroundings like these must be earned: a small village with neither roads nor electricity, Fajã da Caldeira de Santo Cristo can only be accessed via a long footpath. But once you arrive, it will soon become clear that all the effort was worth it. For here, it is not uncommon to find yourself sharing the ocean with only one or two other surfers, in water of a sapphire blue that is generally warm enough for you to enjoy without your wetsuit.

Although it is perfectly possible to surf all year round in the Azores, the best period tends to run from September to April. The most beautiful waves, meanwhile, can be found between November and February.

Hike in Pico

Scaling this island’s eponymous mountain is no mean feat. Depending on your physical fitness, it could take anywhere between 4 and 8 hours to reach the summit, located fully 2,351 metres above sea level. But the reward, a panoramic view of the five islands that make up the Central Group of the Archipelago, is simply breathtaking. And anyone who makes it to the top gets the added satisfaction of having stood at the highest point in all of Portugal!

Given the steepness of the ascent (one metre gained in altitude for every three metres walked) and the length of time it can take, hikers may choose to camp on the side of the mountain. Itself of volcanic origin, Mount Pico boasts impressive magma rockscapes, as well as being home to wild vegetation such as fern and heather. Following such a demanding trek, climbers will have more than earned their glass of local wine from the vineyards of Pico, classified a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Commune with nature in Flores

Aside from being the westernmost point in Europe, Flores ("the island of flowers") is quite possibly the archipelago’s most beautiful spot. Or in any case, certainly the most spectacularly wild. Radiating a dazzling green, its lush forests appear completely untouched by human intervention. In Lago Dos Patos, they come accompanied by spectacular and enchanting waterfalls. Elsewhere, your senses will be awoken by sheer cliff faces and natural lakes perched in the craters of dormant volcanoes. In other words, each visitor is quite simply plunged into the heart of a forgotten world, creating the impression that you are walking in the footsteps of a brontosaurus. Needless to say, the tiny island of Flores – classified a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO – offers complete detachment from the outside world.

Take part in the Golden Trail Championship

Created to make up for several competitions that were cancelled because of the global health crisis, the Golden Trail Championship stopped off at the Azores this year. The event served as a veritable breath of fresh air for athletes otherwise deprived of competition due to the pandemic. Those who travelled to the archipelago found the trail of their dreams, blending technical difficulty with sumptuous scenery.

Contested over four days around the island of Faial, the trail covers a total of 113 kilometres including more than 5,000 metres of altitude gain. No fewer than 174 of the world’s finest runners, representing 32 different countries, lined up at the start of the first edition of the race in October, generating heightened media interest in the archipelago. Still relatively unknown to the general public and protected from mass tourism, the Azores nonetheless possess everything required to delight lovers of adventure, outdoor sports, relaxation, escape and unspoiled nature. A true paradise packed into nine small islands.

Source: Eurosport

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