If you haven't heard of Terceira, chances are you've seen a picture of the Verde and Azul lagoons of São Miguel, the most popular of the nine islands that make up the Azores. Shots of the turquoise water and the surrounding almost-luminous green vegetation are scattered across Instagram, most likely with a few hydrangeas decorating the foreground.
Terceira, the third largest island of the nine, has no shortage of dreamy blue water (the Atlantic Ocean surrounds it, after all), lush foliage and larger-than-life hydrangeas of its own. Along with a rich history and volcanic landscape unlike any other.
It's a place for foodies, nature lovers, history buffs, and adventurers. Beautiful architecture and ancient festivities reflect an island steeped in culture. You can find delicious food (hello limpets, we see you) and excellent local wine at even the smallest of restaurants. And there are more than enough on-land and off-shore activities to keep those who prefer doing over seeing busy for the entire trip.
During our week-long visit, we opted for A LOT of eating and a decent amount of everything else-all in a setting reminiscent of a Jurassic Park movie. We can confidently say, this Portuguese island did not disappoint.
Where we stayed
We split our time between two hotels in the city of Angra do Heroísmo.
The Shipyard Angra
The Shipyard Angra is a modern hotel with a subtle nautical theme running throughout.
We stayed in a Superior One Bedroom Apartment that felt large enough to house a family with its bedroom, ensuite bathroom, kitchenette/dining room, lounge and balcony. While we didn't end up using most of it, we welcomed the space. And the heavenly bed, equally spacious shower, atmospheric lighting and soft robes, made the time we did spend indoors as cosy as could be.
The hotel has several apartment options to choose from, is only a 15-minute walk from the marina and houses a fantastic restaurant where you can book for lunch or dinner once you realise how good the food is at breakfast.
Rooms start from €110 a night.
Zenite Boutique Hotel & SPA
Situated in the heart of Angra do Heroísmo, the Zenite Boutique Hotel & Spa, a modern 4-star, is one of the newest on Terceira Island.
The owner, João Luís Gonçalves, transformed the ruined 18th-century manor house and enlisted Nini Andrade Silva to decorate the interior. Inspired by the Portuguese discoveries period in history, you can find accents of gold, silver, stone and wood, as well as many a map featured on the carpets and light fixtures.
The single standard room with its own mini-bar and bathroom was just what we needed. However, if you're looking for something a bit bigger, there is a junior suite with a luxurious bathtub that, depending on the room, may end up at the bottom of your bed or a master suite with a living room and sofa bed that is perfect for families.
The hotel also boasts a restaurant, outdoor and indoor swimming pool, spa, basic gym and bar area, so you could essentially entertain yourself for the whole day without even having to leave it—something you may well want to do after five full days of site seeing.
We'd suggest booking a one-hour relaxation massage as a thank you to your body for surviving the many outdoor activities you put it through, or just surviving life and then spending the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool. You deserve it.
Rooms start from €96 a night.
What we did
Angra do Heroísmo
You're going to want to set aside some time to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pick a morning and stroll through the colourful streets before things get busy.
You can start at the Sé Catedral, the biggest temple of the islands, then wander through the many manicured levels of the Duke of Terceira Garden. Once you've taken it all in and enjoyed a quick coffee at the restaurant, Casa do Jardim, the Angra do Heroísmo Museum is only a two-minute walk away. Finish at the Obelisco do Alto da Memória, a stone obelisk with fantastic views of the marina built to pay homage to King D. Pedro IV, who was visiting during the Portuguese Civil War.
There's also the option to go wherever your feet and camera take you and call it an adventure. We preferred the latter.
Angra do Heroísmo Museum
Terceira was at the centre of trade between Europe, America and India during the 15th and 16th centuries and has seen many a battle on its shores over the years. So naturally, it has plenty of stories to tell.
Stop off at the Angra do Heroísmo Museum if you'd classify yourself as a history fanatic or if the idea of immersing yourself in ancient artefacts in a beautiful 17th-century convent is a welcome one.
The building was originally the convent of Saint Francis and now houses the church of Saint Francis, the Church of Our Lady of Guia, so the stunning architecture, statues, sculptures and woodwork are bound to be a bonus to your museum visit.
Venture up to the choir loft while you're there, and you'll not only get a fine view of the church, but you'll also be able to view the harpsichord and built-in organ that resident organist Gustaaf van Manen plays. The museum is free on Sundays, and if you happen to pick the right one, you might just hear Gustaaf play.
Entrance is €2 from Tuesday to Saturday and is free on Sunday.
Monte Brasil is an extinct volcano formed by a submarine eruption. It overlooks the city of Angra do Heroísmo and is a protected area housing the São João Baptista Fortress, occupied by the Portuguese army, but is open to the public during the day.
Take a 7.4km hike to the top, passing the fortress walls, the chapel of Santo António, the caldera (the basin that forms when a volcano collapses after eruption) and the ruins of Quebrada Fort on your way.
If you don't have three hours to spare or your legs aren't up for it (ours weren't), you can drive to the top. There you'll find the Pico das Cruzinhas monument and a few abandoned anti-aircraft guns from the Second World War. Plus, an amazing view of the island and surrounding ocean. On a clear day, you may even be able to see the outline of the largest volcano of the Azores, Mount Pico, on the horizon.
Find a hidden path through the trees while you're up there, and you'll come across whale watchers camped out with binoculars and walkie-talkies. They're the ones who patiently survey the waters for signs of life, signal to the boats below when they find something and hopefully send you racing off in the right direction.
Impérios do Divino Espírito Santo
A fun challenge is to see how many of the 70 or so 'Impérios do Divino Espírito Santo' or Holy Spirit Houses you can find throughout your trip. They are easy to make out as they tend to be the most colourful and ornate buildings around. During the celebrations of the Holy Spirit that happen over the eight weeks between Easter Sunday and Trinity Sunday, these small buildings act as the central point for all the festivities.
While the decorations were still visible in the streets of Angra do Heroísmo, we just missed the Sanjoaninas, a ten-day celebration honouring Saint John and the biggest festival in the Azores.
People dress up in traditional costumes and dance and sing their way through the streets while food stalls offer a variety of local delicacies and drinks. There are also musical concerts, theatre performances, fireworks and sporting events.
The festival takes place for ten days around the 24th of June. Exact dates are announced the year before.
There are so many water-based activities available in Terceira. There's a shipwreck, cave and the remains of a submarine volcano to explore as a diver. Or, if you're more comfortable with a snorkel, you can swim with dolphins. Sailing, SUPing, canoeing and kayaking are all options for a day on the water, and there's even the possibility to go surfing or body boarding in select areas.
Honestly speaking, we wanted to do it all, but naturally, our schedule had other ideas, and we ended up swimming, snorkelling and whale watching our way to a good time.
While there are two main sand beaches on the island, one in Praia da Vitoria and the other in Angra do Heroísmo, which we enjoyed when we wanted an evening dip without the walk, we'd say the best places to swim are where there is no sand at all. With that in mind, we picked out three of our fave bathing areas below.
The Wharf of Silveira
If you're looking to cool off before the day has even begun, set off from the city square and head west along the main road Rua do Salinas until you come across Fanal's bathing area (more on that later) and a coastal path. Follow this until it leads you back to a road, and then a few minutes later, you should find yourself facing a calm bay with crystal clear water.
There are several outcrops to set yourself up on, and since it's early, you should have little trouble finding a spot amongst the older women and men armed with their deckchairs and pool noodles. Arrive in the afternoon, though, and it's likely to be overrun by yelling teenagers.
We showed up at 9 am when the only noises were of other early risers greeting each other before their morning dip, a few outcries from those not quite used to the chilly water and the morning catch-ups that took place once they'd entered.
You'll have plenty of space to float along in peace, though, enjoying the ocean view before you with Monte Brasil in the background.
Fanal's Bathing Area
Told you we'd be back. We'd never gloss over literal stairs leading to a swimmer's heaven. Fanal's Bathing Area is a staircase surrounded by a stretch of concrete following the line of the bay that swimmers use as a seating area.
The good news is that it doesn't seem to get too busy no matter the time of the day and provides the perfect place to consistently dip and then dry without having to travel more than a few steps.
Take a book or doze off to the calming sound of the waves (with SPF well applied, OFC). Regardless, it's a nice way to relax after a couple of full-on touristy days.
Biscoitos bathing area
We'll be talking about Biscoitos when it comes to all things wine, but another thing the northern area has going for it is a natural bathing area.
Black volcanic rock lines the coast and surrounds natural pools and a bridge providing access to the sea. Lifeguards are dotted in and amongst the rock formations, and a number of food trucks and vendors are set up nearby so that you don't need to go far for your post-swim snack. Or some Instaworthy content.
Whale watching is entirely weather-dependent but a must if you luck out weatherwise and aren't pregnant or struggling with back issues.
We left early and headed to Angra do Heroísmo Harbour, where we were greeted by our guide from Picos de Aventura, who ran through safety procedures, how to look for whales and what species could be found in the area. About a third of the world's whale and dolphin population pass by the islands, so Terceira is an ideal location to see both, and with a 99% success rate, we were confident the company would get us our whale sighting.
Armed with a rain jacket, life vest and many a whale-watching hope, we were off. Men o' war littered the way out to deeper waters, and sightings of pilot whales and spotted dolphins came relatively easy (we weren't holding back tears, we swear). But the real fun started when we got a radio call from one of the watchers on Monte Brasil that had us racing further out to sea in search of what they were careful to say could have been whale spray but also could have been a false alarm.
We rode the waves like a rollercoaster and spotted some blow a couple of times but weren't able to identify the species. Despite this, we all returned with silly grins across our salt-sprayed faces. Oh, and a sore bottom or two. Book as soon as you get to the island to avoid missing out, as spaces seem to fill up fast.
Whale and dolphin watching is €60 for 3 hours with Picos de Aventura.
Another weather-dependent and Portuguese men o' war-dependent must is snorkelling which we organised with OceanEmotion.
All the men o' war we had seen earlier in the day meant there was a chance our snorkelling trip would turn into a glass-bottomed tour of the coast but luck and a green gear-donning diver, who knew the area and tested out the water beforehand, were on our side.
After signalling that the coast was clear, we plonked our way ungracefully into the water and got moving. Being fans of any and everything water-related, we were just happy to be emersed in it all. Still, for those less enamoured with the deep blue, the starfish, urchins, rumoured seahorses (we never actually saw any), a large variety of fish and a surprise appearance from a manta ray may be more appealing.
We'd recommend combining your snorkelling trip with a visit to the Ilhéus das Cabras (Cabras Islets). A protected area, The Cabras Islets are home to many different fish and seabird species and have some caves along their coast that you'll be able to explore if the waters are calm.
Snorkelling is €35 for 2 hours with OceanEmotion.
If water sports aren't for you (we won't pretend to understand, but ok), don't worry, there are plenty of adventures to be had on land. Cycling, mountain biking or horse riding around the island are popular, and you can even get involved in paragliding or canyoning if you want to take things up a notch.
We opted for good old hiking mixed in with a few visits to some of the world's most unique Geosites. No biggie.
Well-known hiking trails on Terceira Island are the Mistérios Negros, a 5km hike with views of the three domes formed during the 1761 volcanic eruption and the Serreta, a 6.8km hike in the Natural Park of Terceira.
We did the newer Algar do Carvão – Furna do Enxofre, a 6.2km circular hike connecting the volcanic chimney with the fumarole field. It was great to finally find ourselves surrounded by the prehistoric-looking flora rather than viewing it from afar. And the mist that had rolled in for the day only added to our feeling of having been plucked from real life into a Jurassic Park sequel. Chris Pratt remained well hidden, and we lost out on the views due to poor visibility, but overall it was one of the best experiences we had on the island.
Regardless of your chosen route, you'll want to make sure you lather yourself in SPF with or without the presence of the sun and have appropriate footwear and plenty of water on hand when you go.
Algar do Carvão
Ah yes, one of the Geosites we briefly hinted at earlier: Algar do Carvão. We'd heard about it from a number of people ever since we'd arrived but seeing the 90-meter volcanic chimney in real life was something else.
The site is made up of two chambers and a lagoon which you can enter by way of a curved tunnel lined with medieval-looking torches and a concrete staircase that winds along the edge of the chimney, down to the lake and back up to the adjoining chamber known as the 'Cathedral' - where the impressive acoustics lend itself to a concert every now and then.
The deeper you go, the more moisture seems to cling to everything around you. And the journey down is punctuated by the sound of dripping water. Look up at any point on your way down the stairs, and you're met with an incredible view of the volcanic crater with light streaming in from above.
The cone walls are covered in thick flora (83 different species worth) that slowly thins out as it gets darker further down, only to be replaced by milky stalactites along the walls.
Because of the light coming in from above, pictures don't do it justice (or perhaps that's just what amateur photographers, like ourselves, say to make themselves feel better), so you'll have to visit this one to really appreciate it.
Be sure to check the opening times online and book beforehand as they are only open in the afternoon and have different opening hours depending on the season.
Entrance is €8 per person.
Furnas do Enxofre
Hot volcanic gases wander their way mysteriously out of vents in the Earth as you look on from a series of wooden walkways surrounded by greenery. Try time it so that you visit the fumarole field on a clear day to make the most of the views and vegetation.
Wine tasting is a land-based activity, right? We think so. After your dip in the natural pools of Biscoitos, you'll most likely want to wander your way up to the nearby vineyards.
There you'll see how the grapes are grown low to the ground and surrounded by black basalt walls for warmth and protection from the wind and seawater. Both the volcanic soil and proximity to the ocean influence the taste, so if you're curious to try some, head to Casa Agrícola Brum, a winery and wine museum that have dedicated five generations to producing wine in the Biscoitos area.
Casa Agricola Brum wines are made with the Azores Verdelho and Terceira Terrantez varieties. Viniculture fanatics will enjoy hearing about the history of the vine and wine of Terceira Island. Those less interested in the cultivation may find the sample at the end of the tour more appealing.
Arts and crafts
Whilst a spot of arts and crafts maybe not be the first thing that comes to mind when visiting an island, the half-day tour we did with Sea Adventures was a nice way to mingle with the locals and a humbling reminder of our somewhat lacking ceramic skills.
Olaria de S.Bento
Our first stop on the creative trifecta was the last traditional pottery shop on the island Olaria de S.Bento run by Ricardo Simas. Sadly, most of the pottery used in everyday life back in the day has been replaced by plastic, but thanks to the island's traditional beef stew Alcatra (made in a pot), there is still some demand for clay.
The main building is filled with rows and rows of carefully crafted handmade pieces, and you only need to watch Ricardo at work for a few minutes to see his love for what he does. Something that has no doubt contributed to the survival of this place.
After a brief history of all things pottery and a tour of the property with its original outdoor kiln, you'll be able to try your hand at the wheel and, if you're anything like us, realise just how easy Ricardo makes it look and how difficult it really is.
After our somewhat disappointing performance at the wheel, we were glad to redeem ourselves at the following location. Azulart is a cute store/studio where you can browse through the many ceramic works of art the owner, Aurélia Rocha, has created and try your hand at some tile painting.
Aurélia runs through the steps herself before leaving you to your own devices, where you'll have the opportunity to make magic or something slightly resembling it. You'll then leave your tile at the studio for a couple of days to be fired, and if you think it's worth keeping and there is enough time, Sea Adventures will get it to you before your departure.
We kind of liked being able to take a bit of the Azores back home with us, even if it will only be displayed in an area of the house with minimal foot traffic.
Bordado dos Açores
The final stop is Bordado dos Açores, an embroidery store displaying and selling products made by locals from the design stage all the way through to the finishing touches. Warning, the pieces are so well made that you'll probably leave with yet another souvenir.
The arts & crafts tour is €40 per person with Sea Adventures.
Full-day tour of Terceira
If you don't have a car on the island (we didn't either), all hope is not lost. A full-day tour is a great option to see a few sites in one go and get lunch in the midst of it all.
Choose a tour of the west to see Monte Brasil, Biscoitos, the wine museum, Furna do Enxofre, and Algar do Carvão all in one go. And end it all off with a trip to Quinta dos Açores, a restaurant and ice cream shop showcasing just how good the dairy of Terceira is.
The full-day tour of the west of Terceira is €65 per person for 7 hours with Picos de Aventura.
What we ate
With all the cows dotted across the landscape, it makes sense that Terceira would have some of the best beef, milk, butter, cream and cheese around. Naturally, being surrounded by water, its seafood is also worth a mention (understatement of the year).
What we loved about each restaurant we visited was that despite the size or location, the quality of food and wine was superb, and each one gave off a warm and homely feel that only added to an already great experience.
Chefes do Pátio Restaurant
Perched above the Angra do Heroísmo marina is a small restaurant, Chefes do Pátio. Pick a seat outside, and you'll be able to enjoy the view of the beach and Monte Brasil while you wait for your meal.
We could imagine ourselves eating there regularly with our entire family if we were local, but alas, we had to make do with the one visit. The limpets (apparently a crowd divider) were a favourite of ours, and the redfish we had as a main was pretty darn delicious too.
Tasca das Tias
Tasca das Tias has a tavern-like feel with its wooden furniture, paper placemats, flask cutlery holders and beer taps adorning the bar, but it's the place to go to try out the local delicacies.
We had a feeling we'd be getting our fill of fish throughout the week, so we went rogue and ordered the vegetarian pasta, which was delicious but probably didn't do the restaurant justice. However, our company for the night, who all happened to be a lot wiser, opted for the fish soup and tuna and only had good things to say about them.
We ended the night with some pineapple from the island of São Miguel and espresso, a tradition we hope to implement in our daily lives. Fruit and coffee after dinner? Don't mind if we do.
Oficina da Esquina
If you're staying at The Shipyard Hotel, you'll be able to enjoy Oficina da Esquina each morning.
Upon arrival, you'll be presented with a base of bread, cheese, ham, butter, jam, honey, a fruit bowl, and the freshly squeezed juice of the day (we lucked out with watermelon and carrot, both equally as refreshing). As well as coffee and milk in fine ceramic jugs that may make you question your ceramic skills even more.
You'll then be given a menu where you can mark off any extras you'd like, such as pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausages and even cake. Our faves had to be the soft sweet bread and fruit selection that changed daily.
Quinta do Espirito Santo
Whilst Quinta do Espirito Santo is actually a bed and breakfast in a restored 18th-century manor house with orchards and plantations surrounding it, the food we had whilst visiting was some of the best of the trip and definitely worth highlighting.
These days we often don't even interact with the people who run the B&Bs and hotels of our choosing, which is why this one is so special. Francisco Maduro-Dias and Lucília Maduro-Dias, have created a haven where visitors can interact with their hosts daily in an environment rich in traditional architecture and period furniture. Hosts who just so happen to be warm and welcoming with so much knowledge of the island to share.
If you do happen to stay here, you can make a special request for a homemade meal which Lucília herself will oversee. We were treated to carrot and leek soap, parrot fish with beans and potatoes and the most phenomenal orange tart with melon on the side (we had about three servings. It was that good). If you're after a delicious home-cooked meal seasoned with conversation and cat cuddles, this is the place.
Apart from a continental breakfast buffet with more options than we'd ever be able to try over our four-night stay and a surprise appearance made by almond milk, we were also lucky enough to dine at the Zenite Restaurant for dinner.
We started with a basket of bread and three different kinds of butter - salted, seaweed and paprika. Next was a vegetable soup, fish with potatoes and salad and a cheese pudding topped with vanilla ice cream.
Unsurprisingly, considering the success we'd had with all our other seafood-based meals, the cod covered in cornbread was the highlight and something I'll be trying to recreate for many years to come.
Book a night as soon as you check in to ensure you experience Terceiran chef Vasco Silveira in action.
O Forno Bakery
On one of your days in Angra do Heroísmo, you'll want to stop by the O Forno Bakery for a regional sweet treat and a coffee. Opt for the Dona Amélia cupcake to take a trip back in time, to 1901 to be exact, when the cake was created to honour a visit from the Queen of Portugal, Maria Amélia.
The cupcakes resemble a sort of fruit cake thanks to the raisins, cinnamon and nutmeg and are covered in icing sugar so sweet they most certainly are.
Quinta do Martelo Restaurant
Take a ten-minute drive northwest of the city centre, and you'll find yourself on a large plot of land made up of orchards, woods, agricultural areas and a few different buildings.
At Quinta do Martelo, you'll find a restaurant that prides itself on its traditional cuisine and the ability to transport you back five centuries to a rural Terceiran farm. The restaurant is situated on the main road of the farm above a small traditional grocery store.
Before you make your way to the restaurant, stop at the grocery store to try a variety of homemade snacks eaten during festivities. You'll want to avoid doing what we did: stuffing ourselves full of fava beans, samphire, potatoes, olives, bread, lupins, corn, cheese and an interesting combination of wine and orangeade to the point where eating lunch straight after seemed impossible. *Spoiler alert* it was not impossible.
Once you're satisfied, seat yourself at an old-fashioned wooden table surrounded by religious paintings and bottles of wine and prepare to be wowed.
We'd say the Alcatra is the way to go if you eat meat. It is one of the most well-known dishes of Terceira and is made in a traditional clay pot with beef and a variety of spices and served with sweet bread.
The fish is also a good choice, and all the items on the menu are prepared in a wood-burning oven using organic ingredients from the farm.
O Caneta Restaurant
Originally a snack bar, O Caneta grew into a large family-based restaurant with a homely feel and terrific food.
Meat is the most popular option here, but as usual, we went off script and got a seafood stew with fish, prawns, clams and potatoes. We had zero regrets, although the Alcatra looked pretty tasty, too.
The restaurant can be found in the northwest, so you may want to visit on your way to or from Biscoitos.
Taberna do Teatro
We may have already awarded the favourite meal of the trip to another fine establishment, but Taberna do Teatro was another fave for sure.
The tapas restaurant is right in the centre, so it is easy to walk to if you're staying in Angra do Heroísmo, and you have the option to sit outside if the weather is pleasant or cosy up indoors if it happens to be a bit chilly out.
Our first tuna steak of the trip was cooked to perfection and came on a bed of vegetables with some delicious thinly sliced sweet potato chips on the side. This could explain why we dug in before even taking a pic.
You'll also be able to take some photos and enjoy the city as the light starts to fade on your way back to your hotel with the happiest of bellies.
q.b. restaurant is unique in that it has a snack bar and pizzeria on the bottom floor and a fancy restaurant on the top floor. Pick the restaurant if you think your seafood experience can't get any better because, trust us, it can.
We had parrot fish on a potato puree with mushrooms, spinach, pine nuts, tomato salad and the most incredible crispy leek, followed by quinoa and avocado salad. Naturally, the seafood was the star of the show.
Our last supper took place at Garajau, a relatively new restaurant right above the beach in Angra do Heroísmo. It had a lovely view of the bay and Monte Brasil, and even better squid.
How we got there
We flew from Heathrow Terminal 5 directly to Terceira island in 3 hours and 50 minutes with British Airways. The airline has direct flights to and from the island every Sunday during summer.
You'll want to hire a car to make the most of the island. While many tours will pick you up, take you out for the day and drop you back at the hotel, having a car is vital if you want to do your own exploring at your own pace.
During the summer season, restaurants can book up pretty fast, so make sure to book beforehand to avoid any disappointment.
Take some layers for the evenings, as things can get chilly after the sun sets.
While most tourists visit in summer, winter is also an option for those looking to escape a harsh climate. Temperatures remain mild, with the lowest being about 12 °C and the highest being about 16°C in February.
Some travellers like to combine a few of the islands, but considering we only mentioned a selection of what is available on Terceira, we'd say stick to just the one to make the most of your stay.
You Might Also Like