Stone House In The Azores
Discovering the simple beauty of nature
Terceira has some amazing pools for swimming which are totally enchanting. They have figured out how to create some utterly whimsical places to swim and dive, sun and cool off. Most parishes have a swimming area where you can enjoy the clean water almost all year long.
The nine islands of the Azores are 900 miles (1,446 km) from Portugal. They’re 2,400 miles (3,850 km) from Boston. Talk about remote! Thanks to the modern miracle of flight you can get there in 5 hours from Boston and even less from Lisbon!
How to rent a house or car and find the best hotel and activities
Renting a car is easy, but driving can be a challenge. It’s also helpful to get familiar with European street signage. We have some tips. Be sure to read our post about driving in the Azores.
Terceira and the other islands have wonderful hotels to stay in; from simple to luxurious. Most are reasonably priced and offer package deals. Do some research and you can find anything from renovated forts to modern hotels.
Many houses are listed with Airbnb, VRBO or Home Away. Portugal and the City of Angra have a stiff set of requirements to meet, as well as a full inspection, to be approved for short-term rentals. You can pick up a list of those registered with Angra at the tourist office. Our little stone house is also available to rent.
Why Is Terceira So Special?
Some people are of the opinion that Terceira Island is the best Azores island to visit and others seem to regard it as just so-so. Of course, people have preferences for everything imaginable. Nevertheless, there is something rather magical about this little place.
The weekly flight from Boston the Lajes Airport on Terceira brings about 220 visitors on a regular basis. Maybe half of these passengers are Azoreans, coming back for a visit or coming back home from a visit to the USA or Canada.
It is not hard to sense the joy of returning islanders as the flight gets closer and closer. Often there are jubilant family members waiting at the gate to greet them with hugs and tears. Nothing like “coming home”!
From my experience, most of the visitors are taking advantage of the great deals offered by Azores Getaway or other travel deals. Really, for $499 you can sometimes get a round-trip flight, 7 nights in a 4-star hotel, breakfast and maybe even a massage!
Some of these tourists will stay for just one week, which goes by like a whirlwind. Just about the time you’re getting acclimated you have to leave. Not to mention that the flight over from Boston is a red-eye and everyone is a bit like a zombie for the first day or so.
Those tourists looking for shopping, malls, sunny beaches and all-night entertainment are deeply disappointed. None of these things are to be found on Terceira.
Those tourists looking for natural beauty, friendly people, local festivals, great but basic food are happy as can be. This tiny island has an unbelievable variety of things to experience, if you are willing to make the effort.
Friendly And Kind People
I have lived all over the US and Europe, besides extensive travels to Mexico and South America. The people of Terceira are some of the most generous and friendly I have ever met.
For example: every time we visit and stay in our little house in Terceira we look on our doorstep in the morning to see what gift the neighbors may have brought. It might be eggs, fresh cheese, Portuguese stew or fish.
Most of the clerks in the stores are also very friendly and helpful. If you speak some Portuguese you are even more likely to be treated well. There is a sincerity to their character that seems to be missing in other, more stressful places.
One of their mottos is “no stress”. We first heard this from a general store owner who, when we were caught in downpour waiting for a restaurant to open, set us up on his deck with lawn chairs and red wine, and joined us for a late day chat. I mean, who does that for total strangers?
Our dentist is a great example of this spirit of hospitality and generosity. He greets us with a big hug at his clinic, took us with his son to see a bullfight event, has taken us out for dinner at one of the nicest restaurants on the island and offered to check on our house during a hurricane.
Where Is Terceira Located?
Terceira is in the middle of nowhere, but thanks to the marvels of modern flight it is not far from North America or Europe. It takes less than 5 hours to fly from Boston to Terceira and far less than that to Lisbon.
For the numerically inclined, it is 2,289 miles, or 3,383 km from Boston to Terceira. From Lisbon it is 972 miles, or 1,565 km.
The location of Terceira has caused it to have what I would consider a disproportionate influence on world history. In the early days of long-distance flights it was a natural refueling location. The major airport on the island, Lajes Airport, can accommodate large aircraft and fighter jets.
During WWll the Lajes Airport played a critical role in supporting the Allied efforts against the Axis powers. British and American forces made extensive use of the airport for supplies, refueling and fighter jets.
Locals claim that some 50 German u-boats were sunk by ships based on the island. As you stroll through Angra, the capitol, you can see tile paintings of the war effort.
During the decades of dominion by Spain, Terceira played a critical role in the history of Portugal. It was the last region of Portugal to remain free from Spanish rule and was the place where Portuguese nobility could safely reside and where plots could be hatched to restore the kingdom.
Terceira is also located in the path of the Gulf Stream, as it returns from the north, headed back to the Gulf of Mexico. This, combined with other wind and water currents causes the island to be sub-tropical, meaning it never gets very cold or hot.
The location of Terceira also placed it in the path of explorers, sea-faring traders and pirates. You can see cultural evidence of this on the island with features such as the statue of Vasco da Gama in Angra and the interesting wall murals in a local restaurant called O Pirata.
We were surprised to learn through a friend that the statue of Vasco da Gama was made by a sculpter in Vermont, where we live! Vermont is a small world and Terceira is an even smaller one.
What Is The Weather Like In Terceira?
Our light-hearted daily weather report is: “cloudy with a chance of rain and sun”. This is actually pretty accurate because the weather is constantly changing from hour to hour.
I struggled to find appropriate clothes for our outings to town or hiking until it dawned on me to watch what the locals wore. For men, few wear an undershirt, such as a T-shirt. What works really well is a lightweight short-sleeved shirt and a light wool sweater.
My wife used to say she brought too much wool, and too little light, easily-dried clothing. It’s a mix of both, with you as you go off for the day.
This way you can quickly adapt to the intense heat of the direct sun, as well as the cool dampness of the frequent rain showers and clouds.
We like to visit in the off-season, which is from October/November to April/May. There are far fewer tourists during this time and the flight costs drop dramatically.
Terceira from November to May is quite pleasant for our tastes. The “cloudy with a chance of rain” is more frequent than “sunny” from December into March, but there is still great hiking weather through those months. We regularly go about in shirtsleeves during any of these months.
However, it can be dreary as well during any one of these months. It could be cloudy, foggy, rainy and cool for the entire duration of someone’s one week vacation. It’s never happened to us, but we have heard such stories.
The locals think they have a winter, and I suppose they do, but we live in Vermont, where winters are long, cold and snowy. We find it humorous when they are wearing down-filled parkas and we have a light sweater.
On Terceira they love to announce that they have four seasons of weather every day. I would agree. Just when you get your wool sweater on and maybe even a raincoat, the sun comes out and you start sweating.
You don’t see many raincoats on the island and not even many umbrellas. People just duck into a doorway or cafe until the rain showers pass. It either feels like the mist in a greenhouse, which will dry quickly, or there’s a brisk wind that’s likely to turn your umbrella inside out.
I always bring a waterproof hat for the rain, but have never actually used it. The showers just don’t last long enough to bother with it.
What Is There To Do In Terceira?
We find that there is an amazing variety of things to do in Terceira, while others think there is almost nothing to do. It all depends on what you like to do.
Terceira is not a touristy island. There is almost no shopping, few night clubs, few bars, three cinemas that we know of, few fancy restaurants, few sandy beaches, no amusement parks and few fast food restaurants.
What Terceira does have in abundance is natural beauty, locally-owned shops and restaurants, and wonderful people. There are many well maintained hiking trails all over the island and you can easily use your entire vacation just exploring them
Terceira reminds us of Vermont in many ways. I once heard an out-of-state city dweller describe to his fellow out-of-stater (aka “flatlander”) that “Vermont has everything you need and nothing more.” In Terceira you can find everything you need, but you have to know how to find it. This adds to the excitement and feeling of discovery. We discover new things every time we visit the island.
Of course, dining in the many restaurants is always fun and interesting. Basically, there seems to be three types of restaurants. There are the more expensive ones that cater to locals for special events and to tourists. These are the places the hotel front desk will recommend.
Then there are many restaurants that locals can afford, which we find charming and which have delicious food. The least expensive are those that cater to working class people and the general population.
We’re having fun exploring those restaurants for the “real people”, which are in every village. At many you can get the daily special, O Prato do Dia, for around 7€, which might include the typical appetizer of fresh cheese and bread, main meat or fish dish with salad or french fries, dessert, coffee and wine.
You can also enjoy one of the many festivals on the island. Terceira is known as the “festival island”. It seems like they have one every few weeks and they are well attended. These are great fun and really draw the community together.
Most parishes (aka villages) seem to have a local swimming area. These are other-worldly concrete and lava rock structures built into the ocean where you can find small pools to swim in. You may find people swimming in October or November, and definitely in May, when the sun is out. During the summer these spots are full of families enjoying the weekend out.
Another thing to do in Terceira is to simply rent a car and start driving. The main thing you need to be careful about is knowing what the road signs mean. You don’t want to end up going the wrong way on a steep one-way street with cars parked on both sides.
One more thing: be aware that basalt cobblestones become quite slippery when wet. Try to ensure that your rental car, or bicycle, does not have bald tires, which they often are.
How To Rent A Car In Terceira?
Renting a car in Terceira is probably not much different than anywhere else, except you can get very personalized service. We usually reserve a car ahead and are greeted by a smiling employee who helps us find the car and do the paperwork.
One time we were given a larger Alfa Romeo car instead of the sub-compact that we had reserved. This was a gesture of gratitude on the part of the rental agency (for our referrals), and we appreciated their generosity. However, we would not recommend a car that large to any tourist! It was too close for comfort on the narrow windy streets.
We have our own personal favorite place to rent a car in Terceira but there are many other excellent agencies on the island. Prices vary by more than 50%, so it is well worth the effort to shop around and ask questions.
We learned that we do not need the add-on car insurance if we use a “travel” credit card. Most of those credit cards include car insurance in a foreign country (but be sure to check on that first) and we know it works because we’ve had to use it once.
The main lesson from our experience of submitting damages to a rental car through that insurance, was to have taken pictures of the damage ourselves, and have the repair shop itemize the repair labor and parts costs. But Mastercard services was great and covered it all.
What About Real Estate In Terceira?
As you visit Terceira you get the impression that things are in a constant state of improvement and renovation. Compared to the county where I live in Vermont, there is far more real estate activity, renovation, building, and change happening. The general condition of the houses is better on Terceira than here as well. You find that most people on the island take great pride in their house and keep it freshly painted, clean and orderly.
Since the Lajes Air Force Base was scaled back by the US government under Pres. Obama, the area around Praia has suffered. The city is reinventing itself and no doubt will come back to its former bustling status. I have not checked, but I imagine there are a lot of bargains to be had in that area.
The city of Angra has become very expensive, though bargains can still be found. The parishes near Angra are also very nice and there are many houses and lots on the market.
We see a lot of new houses being built on the outskirts of Angra. Our guess is that these people earned their fortune in Europe or North America and are now building their dream retirement home. That is just our hunch though.
When we bought our house in Feteira the price was quite low. It was a matter of good timing and luck. We had contacted a young agent who spent a day traveling the island with us. He personally knew the seller and we quickly made a win-win deal for everyone.
It helps a lot if you speak Portuguese and are involved in the transaction. You find that doors open more easily and people are more relaxed and open.
Where were you on April 25th, 1974? I was at the Carnation Revolution!
Way back in April of 1974 I happened to be living in Lisbon, Portugal as an idealistic youth together with some other wandering souls. I noticed that there was a sort of buzz in the air and that people were acting nervously and women were out shopping as if they were stocking up food.
On the morning of April 25th I was waiting for my bus, but instead a troop of horseback mounted soldiers came thundering down the street. Then the double decker bus arrived, and as I was settling in on the top level, we rounded the corner and saw the main plaza full of jubilant people. They were singing, dancing, waving flags in celebration of what became known as the Carnation Revolution.
Now April 25th is a national holiday called “Freedom Day”, or “Dia da Liberdade” in Portuguese. Prior to the revolution the government was known as Estado Novo, which was a fascist dictatorship that ruled for over forty years. Almost no shots were fired in the coup and the jubliant people were soon putting carnations in the rifle barrels of soldiers, hence the name: “Carnation Revolution”.
Political Chaos And Passion
The months that followed the revolution were intense. Even though my Portuguese was limited, it was obvious that various factions were vying for power.
I heard people telling stories of the repression of the Salazar regime, such as imprisonments, and the military draft that forced young men to fight in the distant African colonies.
Magazines and books that were previously banned or heavily censored suddenly became available. It didn’t take the men’s magazine, Playboy, long to appear on shelves. Maybe I noticed this because I was 21 and single at the time!
To me, it seemed like a dark cloud had vanished and the sky was bright and clear. People were so happy and seemed interested in their own future.
I had to leave Portugal about six months later, but my love for the people, language and culture never left me. Now that I have been able to return for frequent visits I am once again delighted to find the same kindness, humility, generosity of spirit; as well as delicious food and drink. The language is also still as difficult to master as before, but I’m making progress!
Terceira Is Now Our Favorite Place To Visit
We now own a house on the island of Terceira and have friends there. We get a lot of our medical care done on the island and also enjoy visits from our North American friends who come to discover the enchantment and make use of lower dental costs.
The best way we have found to get there from the USA or Canada is with Azores Getaway. Periodically they have some amazing deals. If you join Travelzoo, you’ll see them offered. We usually take the non-stop flight from Boston to Lajes Airport, on Terceira.
This website is a collection of our experiences and tips for anyone traveling to the Azores, especially Terceira. You can get along quite well without knowing any Portuguese, but it certainly helps to know some! Here is a popular post about how to learn European Portuguese.
It is not that easy to find quality European Portuguese language resources because most of the courses focus on Brazilian Portuguese. While they are essentially the same language they are, at the same time, quite different. Think British English and American English. Here are two great resources for learning to speak European Portuguese: EarWorms, and Plataforma Portuguesa.