The Azores islands, an autonomous region of Portugal, form an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic and are characterized by dramatic landscapes, fishing villages, green pastures and hedgerows of blue hydrangeas. Green, volcanic and remote, the islands were first settled in the 15th century and are popular for hiking, whale-watching, blue marlin fishing, surfing and diving.Consisting of nine islands, the Azores are divided into three groups: the eastern (Sao Miguel and Santa Maria islands), the central (Terceira, Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico and Faial islands), and the western (Flores and Corvo islands). Apart from international airports of Santa Maria, Ponta Delgada and Angra do Heroismo, there are flights to the islands (operated by the regional airline TAP Air Portugal) and ferry boats between the islands.Even the blase visitor will be touched by the sapphire blue and emerald green lakes, fertile prairies, volcanic cones and craters, colorful hydrangeas and azaleas, 15th century churches, and majestic manor houses. This legendary land, consisting of nine poetically-named islands, enjoys year-round mild temperatures (between 14°C and 22°C–57°F and 71°F) and is a peaceful shelter with a population of 250000 inhabitants, for whom the words “stress” and “pollution” are unheard.Santa Maria Island Offers excellent water sports facilities. Special mention to: Praia, Santo Espirito, Sao Lourenco, Sao Pedro and Vila do Porto, a village with superb manor houses, mother-church and Nossa Senhora dos Anjos Chapel (where Columbus’ crew prayed).Sao Miguel Island is The largest of all. In Ponta Delgada, the capital, the famous 18th century portals open up to a number of monuments that are worth visiting, most of them built between the 16th and the 18th century: Carlos Machado Museum and churches of Sao Sebastiao, Sao Pedro, Sao Jose, Colegio and Nossa Senhora da Conceicao; convent and chapel of Nossa Senhora da Esperanca and Santa Ana Chapel. Palaces: Fonte Bela and Santa Ana; Conceicao and Santa Catarina; Casa de Carlos Bicudo and the Pacos do Concelho. Other places to visit: Caldeira das Sete Cidades (green and blue lakes); Lagoa do Fogo; Ribeira Grande; Vale das Furnas (spas and hot mineral pools) and Vila Franca do Campo.
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