The Azores • Mid-Atlantic Arcadia
Everywhere a visitor looks in this Portuguese archipelago—a group of nine volcanic islands huddling in the middle of the Atlantic—lies evidence of a turbulent geological past: steaming geysers, thermal pools and lush calderas, as well as the occasional whiff of sulfur in the air. But each of these isolated gems has its own personality. There’s Pico, for example, with its almost eight-thousand-foot snow-capped peak; São Jorge, where ancient paths snake down to fertile plains at the base of sea cliffs; and Faial, whose colorful port still welcomes international yachtsmen. The largest two islands of the Azores, São Miguel and Terceira, positively define verdancy. Navigating the twisty roads that course through these hilly lands, one can find tumbling waterfalls, cerulean lakes, hydrangea-hedged roads and, unexpectedly, golf courses, each of which reflects the amazing variety of Azorean landscapes.
Where to Play
Batalha Golf Course * * * *
The championship A and B nines at this twenty-seven-hole layout on the north coast of São Miguel offer links-style golf with stiff winds and sweeping sea views in combination with more protected woodland holes. The most challenging of the Azorean courses, Batalha hosts an event on the PGA European Tour’s satellite circuit. Its long, broad fairways lead to large, fast and tightly bunkered greens that are beguiling to read. Pampas grass, eucalyptus trees and other decorative plants complete the tableau.
Rua do Bom Jesus Aflitos, São Miguel; 011-351/296-498-540, verdegolf.net. YARDAGE: 7,037. PAR: 72. GREENS FEE: $70. ARCHITECT: Cameron & Powell, 1997.
Furnas Golf Course * * * *
One of Portugal’s oldest courses and, along with Batalha, the longtime host of the Azores Open, this forested design has rolling fairways tightly flanked by massive trees, many of them Japanese cedars. Clouds scuttle overhead, and surrounding volcanic peaks add to the aura. The often elevated greens are small, contoured and protected by deep bunkers filled with black volcanic sand, making short-game finesse a must.
Achada das Furnas, São Miguel; 011-351/296-584-341, verdegolf.net. YARDAGE: 6,815. PAR: 72. GREENS FEE: $70. ARCHITECTS: Mackenzie Ross, 1939; Cameron & Powell, 1991.
Best of the Rest
Terceira Golf Club (terceiragolf.com) is a lovely course laid out amid lush pastures threaded by low lava-rock walls. It was designed in the 1950s by American Air Force personnel stationed nearby.
Where to Stay
The art deco Terra Nostra Garden Hotel (rooms from $128; 011-351/296-549-090) on São Miguel, twenty minutes from Furnas Golf Course, offers botanical gardens and a geothermal iron-water swimming pool. Set above the south coast a half hour from the Batalha course, the Caloura Hotel Resort (rooms from $92; caloura.com) has a diving center on the premises. On Terceira, Quinta de Nossa Senhora das Merces (rooms from $112; quintadasmerces.com) is a renovated eighteenth-century manor house in the Brasil Mountain nature reserve, ten minutes from Terceira Golf Club.
Where to Eat
A Colmeia, in the Hotel do Colegio on São Miguel (hoteldocolegio.com), creates innovative twists on traditional fare, such as horse mackerel stuffed with corn bread and chorizo. In Angra, the capital of Terceira, Quinta do Martelo (quintadomartelo.com) serves organic produce and spicy stews in a restaurant above its 150-year-old grocery.
The only airline flying direct from the U.S., SATA International (azores-express.com) runs seasonal nonstops to Terceira from Boston and to São Miguel from Providence, Rhode Island. Flight time is four hours.
Cha Gorreana, a nineteenth-century tea estate on the northeast coast of São Miguel, offers tastings of its green and black teas. Enjoy a warm out-door shower at Caldeira Velha, a São Miguel hot spring cascading into a flower-draped pool. In Terceira’s capital, with its centuries-old buildings, the Angra do Heroi´smo Museum traces the history of the island. Every weekend from spring to fall you can find Terceira’s unique bullfighting—the bull is tethered in the city streets. In Biscoitos, a coastal village, Casa Agricola Brum has wine tastings and a small museum of viticulture.