Azores, the Portuguese Archipelago, although being so unique and attractive, receives only a a fraction of the hordes of tourists heading to the other parts of Macaronesia: Canaries or Madeira. Those who make it here, come mainly for hot springs and the unspoiled nature. But the towns are also truly worth mentioning. Ponta Delgada - the capital of the Azores is one of the most beautiful towns I've seen. You can clearly feel the Portuguese touch expressed in the architectural style and narrow streets, however Ponta Delgada has its own, distinctive appearance: whitewashed buildings are decorated with black volcanic basalt rock around the corners and window edges which creates a beautiful, unique design throughout the city.
How to get to Azores (and Ponta Delgada)
It's not difficult to get to Azores anymore. Budget airlines fly to Ponta Delgada from several European cities but I guess you can get the best deals flying from Lisbon. It won't break your bank. Ponta Delgada will be your first destination in the archipelago. A good thing about Azores is that you can visit it in the most gloomy winter months of the year and still enjoy. We went there in late November and, although it wasn't too warm, it was absolutely amazing - especially being able to admire beautiful Christmas decorations! Even if you have just a few days, while visiting Portugal, it is so worth it to travel to Azores, at least for a long weekend!
What to see in Ponta Delgada
I saw a first glimpse of Ponta Delgada while descending to the airport. As I mentioned previously in other posts about Azores, the Sao Miguel island resembled Ireland or Scotland a lot. The only things that gave away that I was not looking over the endless green unspoiled Irish landscape were the red roofed, typical of Portugal, houses. Thanks to the clear air, I was able to take some photos of the city as well the coastline so you can see how beautiful the landing in Azores is.
Ponta Delgada is one of those amazingly charming towns with narrow streets, cozy restaurants and unique architecture. All that, mixed with the incredible natural surroundings, make it an unforgettable destination. But surprisingly, very few tourists come to Azores. You can enjoy the place as without annoying group tours at the main monuments and crowds in the town squares. I suppose the main reason why Azores escaped the craze is the fact that the climate is more moderate, wet and you won’t find many beaches here. For me, it does not make Azores any less attractive as you can still swim in the amazing hot springs which is a one a kind experience (I described it in the post about Furnas).
One day is enough to enjoy Ponta Delgada on foot as it’s quite a small town. Below I am attaching a map of of the attraction and places we’ve seen and considered worth visiting:
Old Town Center
This is the strict center of Ponta Delgada. You can enjoy walking down the pedestrian streets here with the beautiful white washed houses. The main part of the old town is the Praça de Gonçalo Velho which features the City Gate (the 18th century arch - number 1 on the map) and the Church of St. Sebastian (number 2 on the map - the 16th century church with the tallest clock tower in Ponta Delgada). You can see the tower from many places around the town. At number 3 is the town hall which offers beautiful views over the town’s red roofs and waterfront. Unfortunately, when we got there, it was closed so we could not enter it. All the attractions around the Praça de Gonçalo Velho were beautifully decorated and illuminated at night for Christmas. If you want to obtain more information in Azores, right beside the square, there’s an tourist information office situated in a beautiful building near the promenade (number 4).
To the west of the main square (a 10 minute walk), you can find the Conceicao Palace (number 5) - dating back to the 19th century, a seat of regional government, recently repainted blue, is one of the few buildings looking so different in Ponta Delgada. Apart from the palace, nearby, you’ll see the Convent of Our Lady of Hope (number 6) and the adjacent Church of Sao Jose (number 7) - both dating to the 16th century. The Praca 5 Outubro - nearby square is filled with originally trimmed trees and makes this place kind of unique. Right at the seafront, in front of the Praca 5 Outubro, you’ll see the military Fort of Sao Bras (number 8) which houses a military museum.
It will take around a 15 minute walk from the old town to get to the eastern part - the marina of Ponta Delgada (number 10). On the way there stop at yet another beautiful church - St. Peter's Parish Church (number 9). The marina is a place where you can find a few restaurants and a nice walkway with benches where you can sit down and admire the beautiful panorama of the waterfront. It’s especially beautiful at night - with all the buildings illuminated.
From the marina, head north to the Hermitage of the Mother of God (number 11). This 16th century church is located on a hill, therefore, it offers amazing views over the city. We enjoyed this part as we were unable to enter the city hall - so at least from here we could take some nice photos. Coming back to the old town down the da Mae de Deus street, stop at the impressive Museum of Carlos Machado (number 12) where you can find historical exhibitions from Azores. The last church on our list is the nearby College Jesuit Church (number 13). The facade of this 16th century church is somewhat different than the others - it’s not whitewashed but covered with basalt bricks and decorated with some carvings.
Where to eat in Ponta Delgadas
After walking all day, you’ll probably get hungry and will want to find a good place to eat. Usually I try to avoid places recommended for tourists, but this restaurant in Ponta Delgada served the best fish we’ve ever had. if you love seafood, you must try it! The name is “A Tasca” (number 14 on the map)and is located in the old town. It’s better if you reserve the table in advance and most likely, you’ll have to wait when you arrive without any reservations. We waited 45 minutes but it was so worth it!
Author: Tom @ Adventurous Travels
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