In the middle of the Atlantic ocean, about 900 miles west of Portugal and 2400 miles from the East Coast of North America, lies a group of nine volcanic islands that belong to Portugal called the Azores.
Two of the islands were our first stops on our Transatlantic cruise from Florida to mainland Europe - Terceira Island and Sao Miguel Island.
The ship's shuttle took us to the town square of Praia da Vitoria. With no plans in mind, we walked around the square for a few minutes before coming back to where the shuttle dropped us off to find a lady working for a car rental company that had two cars left to rent out. Given the small size of the island, she said it would be possible to drive around in about 3 1/2 hours, so we decided that would be the best way for us to see everything on our own timeline.
We walked around town first before starting the drive north to explore the rest of the island. The town itself has a very European feel and is small enough to see on foot in about an hour or two, even if one walks into its beautiful churches and stops at one of the cozy little cafes with outside seating or walks around the beach.
We first drove up to the viewpoint that overlooks the town, Miradouro Do Facho. There is a steep walkway up the top of the hill that can be seen from the town itself and many of our fellow cruisers that didn't rent a car chose to hike up to see this beautiful view. We then drove North around the coastline to get a feel for the rest of the island.
What I enjoyed most was the quiet and peaceful feel of the whole island. Full of vibrantly colored fields, cozy little villages, and breathtaking coastlines, it seemed as if life had paused here. No rush, no stress, just people living very simple agricultural-based lives in a beautiful place where there are likely more cows per capita than people.
There was a gorgeous viewpoint near Ribeiras where we stopped and took too many pictures as we made our way to Biscoitos.
We stopped in Biscoitos on the Northwest end of the island to check out the natural bathing site where the rocks form magnificent natural pools. Since it was warm but not warm enough to get in and we were under a time constraint, we just looked around and then drove a few more minutes to Altares where we found another gorgeous viewpoint overlooking the lush fields with the sound of the birds chirping and the waves crashing on the coastline behind us.
We then made our down to the south of the island to Angra De Heroismo to see the extant volcano of Monte Brasil. The weather was cloudy by that point so the views from the top were not as magnificent as those we had seen earlier but nevertheless worth seeing if one is visiting the island.
We made it back with enough time to grab a local beer and a glass of wine from a food truck by the port before heading back to the ship.
IF YOU VISIT TERCEIRA:
We would highly recommend renting a car as public transportation is very limited on the island and excursions organized by the tour companies are relatively limited in scope.
The island is very rural and Praia De Vitoria and Angra De Heroismo are the main towns with the rest of the island being mainly little villages.
To really be able to take in the island while driving around, allocate at least six hours so that you can stop at the main overlooks, take plenty of pictures, and go on short hikes.
You can view a tourist map of the island here: http://www.orangesmile.com/common/img_city_maps/terceira-island-map-0.jpg