Ben Fogle on working up an appetite for the Azores… and sampling volcanic hot pot
I have been obsessed with islands since I was a child. My young imagination was sparked by books such as Treasure Island, Lord Of The Flies and other works of fiction whose plots are inextricably linked with exotic blobs of land surrounded by oceans. This obsession has continued into adulthood. Indeed, I have an island to thank for my career as a broadcaster.
My experience in the BBC reality show Castaway 2000 – when I was marooned with 35 others on the isle of Taransay in the Outer Hebrides – led to the television presenting roles that catapulted me to fame. Since then I have visited islands as remote as St Helena in the South Atlantic and the Pitcairns in the South Pacific.
Spring time: Ben relaxes in the warm water at Terra Nostra Park
So after marrying into a family who love holidaying in Portugal, it was only a matter of time before I visited the Azores. I’ve always been intrigued by this chain of islands 850 miles west of the coast of Portugal and I was smitten soon after arriving.
The nine islands all have volcanic origins and the contrast between the fiery lava-rich soil and the lush green vegetation is breathtaking. A dip in the hot springs at Ponta Da Ferraria on São Miguel island is a must for any visitor. It’s a natural swimming pool on the coast formed by lava.
Sea water flowing into the pool is heated by a bubbling spring that pumps out water at a piping 60C. Thermal springs have had an important bearing on the culinary traditions of the Azores. At Furnas Lake, also on São Miguel, you can have ‘Cozido nas caldeiras’ (meat and veg stew) cooked for seven hours in pots buried 3ft deep in the ground – a kind of volcanic hot pot.
Soaring beauty: Mount Pico seen from the city of Horta on the Island of Faial
Energetic travellers to the Azores should climb the tallest peak on the islands – and indeed the whole of Portugal: the 7,713ft Mount Pico on the isle of Pico. It’s a challenging trip – which requires a guide – but the reward is a mesmerising view over the ocean from the summit. While there are plenty of activities to keep you entertained on shore, no trip to these islands would be complete without some whale-watching.
The seas around the Azores provide one of the best habitats in the world for marine mammals, and more than 24 species of whales have been sighted in these waters.
I headed out to sea early in the morning in a fast inflatable boat in the hope of glimpsing one of these magnificent creatures. Our boat leapt from wave to wave as we headed deep into the Atlantic swell.
There are few sights as majestic as that of a breaching sperm whale. These marine mammals, which measure up to 65ft, are elusive but with patience you will be rewarded with an experience that will take your breath away.
Sunvil (sunvil.co.uk, 020 8758 4722) offers packages to the Azores from £601. The price includes seven nights’ B&B at the Hotel Talisman in Ponta Delgada, capital of the Azores on São Miguel, return flights from Gatwick to Ponta Delgada with Sata International and transfers.
For more information on the Azores, go to visitazores.com.