It’s a mystery to me how the nine islands of the Azores, warmed by the Gulf Stream, have eluded travelers. Flung out into the mid-Atlantic, far from their parent country of Portugal, the islands retain an old-world authenticity that is hard to find elsewhere in the world. Having spent summers there as a child, I recall a landscape striped with vineyards and carpeted in wildflowers, and a people who welcome everyone—not just a local girl like me—as their own. On my trips back, I like to rent a bike and explore the lush island of São Miguel like it’s my first time. I’ll fill my flask with mineral-rich spring water that flows from aquifers belowground, then stop along the route at the Furnas, a popular natural hot spring, or at the rustic Ribeira Quente beach. In my basket are fresh sardines to grill at one of the roadside picnic areas.
But São Miguel isn’t all just bucolic countryside. Ponta Delgada has a raucous nightlife scene during summer, especially when the Senhor Santo Cristo Festa is on. To make the most of it, start your evening with an ice cream cone from a parlor on the marina, then catch the huge procession in honor of the statue of Christ discovered in the bay by fishermen in 1522. —Nelly Furtado