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Escape the crowds in the Azores

Located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between Europe and North America, just two hours from Lisbon and the closest point in Europe to the US, the Azores are a Portuguese archipelago made up of nine volcanic islands warmed by the gentle currents of the Gulf Stream.

These beautiful islands sit atop an ocean ridge, which some say was the location of the fabled city of Atlantis!

Click here for a map of the Azores

The lush beauty of Terceira Island

Being pollution and very much stress free and having a mild ocean climate, the Azores are one of the healthiest regions in the world, but they are also a delight for the eye. The fertile volcanic soil gives them a lush and varied vegetation – hydrangeas, camellias, hibiscus and magnolias can be seen everywhere.

Here you can enjoy a relaxing holiday in unspoiled nature. Water sports, including swimming, wind-surfing, sailing, deep sea fishing, scuba diving and snorkelling are available, although the islands do not have sandy beaches. Golf, of course, can be played all year round.

Contrary to many people's expectation, the Azores are not dry and hot. The climate is however ideal for playing golf, provided you don’t leave those waterproofs behind. Unless, of course, you want to invest in some new gear - golfing equipment is very good value for money here!

TERCEIRA

Terceira Island has only one golf club but there will soon be another nine holes which should help in promoting the island as a holiday venue for golfers.

Terceira Golf Club
Terceira Golf Club

Terceira Golf Club, built in 1954 by Americans from Lajes Air Force Base, is located in an area of natural beauty, 13 kms from Angra do Heroísmo and just 10 km from the airport. The course features several ponds, ravines and lush fairways lined mainly with tall, closely-planted cryptomerias (Japanese cedars), all enhanced by numerous flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas and azaleas.

This undulating but easily walkable layout gives an impression of peace and serenity, with no housing development, and no rushing your putts because of people waiting behind you. At worst you may be distracted by the occasional cow mooing in a nearby field...

Terceira Golf Club

The course is not overly demanding. The first nine is quite short and straightforward and most of the fairways are fairly wide and bunkers scarce. Watch out though for the par 4 10th, where you have to cross a ravine and cope with water, as well as for the long par 5 17th which is extremely narrow off the men’s tee, and has a stream running across the fairway plus two ponds! Another testing hole is the par 3 18th, which has bushes or trees on either side, and a green that slopes dangerously towards the pond in front.

Terceira Golf Club is currently (June 2006) undergoing a complete transformation, the clubhouse resembles a building site, the course needs a little manicure and the trolleys are rather ancient, but they are working to improve things dramatically and everything should be up to scratch in a few weeks’ time.

Click here for club details

SAN MIGUEL ISLAND

The picturesque island of San Miguel offers year-round golf on its two championship standard golf courses and a new hotel resort and spa are being built in the middle of the island.

Campo de Golfe de Batalha
Batalha is situated on the north coast of San Miguel just 10 minutes from Ponta Delgada, the island’s capital. It is managed by Verde Golf and Country Club, who also manage Furnas Golf Club, and was designed in 1986 by architects Cameron and Powell.

The par 3 5th, driving over twin lakes

This well-maintained 27-hole layout has matured into a beautifully scenic course with tall trees, lush vegetation and good fairway grass offering the ball a good lie. It is a demanding but most enjoyable course featuring some long par 4s and offering dramatic, spectacular views over the sea and lakes that become deep blue when the sun is out.

The first nine faces the ocean, while the rest of the course plays through woodland with volcanic mountain views. The large undulating greens tend to be on the upslope so you need to club up by two more than you think! Another piece of good advice is to hire a buggy, as it a very strenuous walk and you’ll enjoy the views better if you're not slogging on foot!

Although it is hard to choose the best hole, we think the view from the par 3 5th tee, where you have to drive over twin lakes, or the soaring par 4 6th are strong candidates. (see image gallery above).

The large Clubhouse with its classic island architecture and modern facilities offers elevated views over the course and ocean, and it has an excellent Golf Shop with cheaply priced golf gear. Each year, Batalha hosts the most important international golfing event in the Azores - the Sata Azores Open - in conjunction with the Furnas course.

Click here for club details

Furnas Golf Course
Furnas is situated in one of the most beautiful parts of San Miguel, in the mountains above the Furnas Valley, famous for its tropical vegetation, hot springs and mineral water, and close to the beautiful Furnas Lake with its famous 'caldeiras' (see below).

Furnas Golf Course

The course itself, with its tropical vegetation, beautiful lakes, tree-lined, undulating fairways, small, elevated, contoured greens and black sand bunkers, is a tough challenge for most players - especially, as we found, when the fairways are soggy. At 1,700 feet above sea level, passing clouds sometimes mist the fairways or, on some days, considerably more than just mist them - the day we played, the mist looked like smoke pushed by the wind!

The trickiest hole is the 410m long 9th hole situated between two lakes with a small green at the end; the prettiest is the 18th, although it is rather daunting from the back tee where you must drive over water. We found it a very interesting course that we would have liked to play on a dry, sunny day.

Each year Furnas hosts the most important international golfing event in the Azores - the Sata Azores Open - in conjunction with the Batalha course.

Click here for club details

ABOUT THE AZORES

When you walk out of Terceira Island airport, you could imagine yourself anywhere: Scotland or Ireland come to mind when you look at the green pastureland on the hills and the numerous grey stone walls - until you notice the luxuriant tropical vegetation! Numerous different plant species grow everywhere here, among them agapanthus and the symbol of the island - blue or white hydrangeas (see image gallery below right).

Scotland - not exactly! Click to see the  vegetation

Terceira is very rural; every little plot of land seems to be used for agriculture, while cows are everywhere, even tethered in people’s back garden. They say that there are more cows than people on Terceira - the same is said of sheep in another beautiful golfing land - New Zealand. More exotic crops such as olives and bananas are also grown here.

In this tranquil and unspoiled natural setting, you can’t help feeling relaxed; people take things easy and the pace of life is different, so that you have the very pleasant feeling of going back in time. However short your stay here, you will leave feeling totally relaxed: in the words of an American pilot’s wife met at the airport “It does that to you!”

The island of San Miguel or The Green Island, 40 minutes south-east of Terceira by 'plane, is the largest and most populated island of the Azores.

It is just as beautiful and very similar to Terceira, but perhaps not quite so rustic, although there are plenty of cows, green pastures and stone walls to protect crops and cattle from the wind, and flowers everywhere, even alongside roads and bordering the golf course fairways. The island can also boast the only two tea plantations in Europe.

The 'Caldeiras', or hot springs
THINGS TO SEE

The 'caldeiras' are hot springs, a reminder of the volcanic origin of the islands, with both boiling water- and mud-pools.

The San Miguel “Cozida” das Furnas is a special dish using three meats (pork, beef and chicken) plus vegetables cooked in the hot springs. They also cook corn in the boiling water or use it to soak the material for making wicker baskets.

In Furnas, there are twenty varieties of mineral water with different therapeutic qualities: one is good for the skin, another good for eye disease etc. They are also rebuilding the Spa.

 

The Festas do Espirito Santo (Holy Spirit Celebrations), from May to September, are very important to the people of the Azores. They are celebrated in every village in the islands with the ceremony of the crowning of the 'Emperor' followed by 'charity' dinners –with everybody contributing, wine being distributed to the people around the villages and music and fireworks which can be heard for hours – a little unnerving when you’re trying to concentrate on your golf game! Traditional values such as faith, family and work still matter a great deal to the people here and tiny, colourful chapels for the Holy Spirit, called Imperios (left), are scattered throughout the island.

Bullfighting on a rope

Bullfighting on a rope (see right), in which a bull with padded horns is attached to a rope and let out into a square or street for the most daring to try their hand at bullfighting, which here frequently means climbing up to safety!

ANGRA

For over three centuries Angra do Heroismo was an important port in the middle of the Atlantic, stopover of many boats travelling between Europe, Africa and America. It is today a UNESCO world heritage site.

GASTRONOMY

The local gastronomy includes of course, on islands, a splendid assortment of freshly-caught fish specialities and tender meat dishes made using the locally-raised cattle. Also reputed in Terceira is the 'Alcatra', a pot roast with wine, bacon & garlic, and the 'Cozida das Furnas' from San Miguel, cooked in the boiling water of the 'caldeiras' (see above).

You can experience a traditional everyday meal such as would have been prepared in the well-to-do rural estates a hundred years ago at Quinta do Martelo, 25 kms from Terceira Airport. All the food is cooked in a traditional wood-burning stove and all the vegetables are home grown. Accommodation and all sorts of entertainment facilities as well as a museum where traditional craftsmen's workshops have been reproduced and an incredible array of old tools are on display.
E-mail : quintadomartelo@quintadomartelo.com
Website : www.quintadomartelo.com/

WINE

There are now three regulated regions in the Azores which are Pico, Biscoito (Island of Terceira), and Graciosa: Red and white table wines, mostly produced for local consumption.

-----oOo-----

This stunning group of islands must be one of the best kept secrets of modern tourism. Get there before it gets overdeveloped. Oh, and we were forgetting, you can also take part in one of the Azores special pursuits - whale or dolphin watching!

Whale and dolphin watching in The Azores
Whale and dolphin watching


WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Terceira Mar ****
A brand new hotel situated near the historic town centre of Angra do Heroísmo in Terceira, with 139 rooms, including 8 suites & 2 twins for handicapped guests.
Facilities include 2 tennis courts, a salt-water pool and a very good Spa and health club.

Hotel Terceira Mar
Rua Padre José Jacinto Botelho, 5
9700-097 Angra do Heroísmo
Terceira
Reservations: +351 213 300 541
Website : www.bensaude.pt/
Email : reservas@bensaude.pt


Hotel Avenida ****
Situated close to both Ponta Delgada town centre and the sea, it was completely renovated and enlarged in 2004.
Hotel Avenida
Rua Dr. José Tavares Carreiro
S. Miguel
9500-119 Ponta Delgada
Tel : +351 296 209 660
Fax : +351 296 209 669
Tel. Res. : +351 296 301 880
Fax Res. : +351 296 301 881/2
Website : www.bensaude.pt/
Email : reservas@bensaude.pt

HOW TO GET THERE

There are daily services to mainland Europe via Lisbon and a bi-weekly service to the US and Canada as well as regular inter-island flights.

SATA International offer weekly direct flights from London Gatwick to São Miguel in the Azores. Prices for a return flight start at £217 per person plus tax.

SATA International also operates daily inter-island flights throughout the islands of the Azores. They offer an "Azores Air Pass" (20% discount on the normal fare) for people who would like to visit other islands during their stay. A return ticket to visit two islands with the SATA Air Pass costs approximately £150 per person including tax.

Above prices valid 2006, for further information and bookings call SATA on 0870 6066 664 or visit their website at www.sata.pt.

For further information on Portugal and the Azores call the Portuguese National Tourist Office in the UK on 0845 355 1212 (local call) or visit www.visitportugal.com.


 Photo credits: © The Portuguese National Tourist Office - Hotel Terceira Mar - GolfToday

 



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