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The Azores: In the Middle of Somewhere

Written by Posted On Monday, 01 August 2016 20:00

Much as we love our homes, we love to get away from them. Summer brings out the travel urge in all of us and I'm no exception.

Each summer, I go in search of new "Places to Think." My travel adventures concentrate on often-overlooked destinations that celebrate the wonder of their natural environment, bring their history to life while embracing the future, and welcome international visitors intent on invigorating, renewing experiences. Places-to-think destinations are provocatively different from home in a variety of ways. Spending time in these fresh, stimulating new contexts reveals what is taken for granted every day back home. This realization can painlessly expand horizons of thought and belief to uncover what has been overlooked and what additional or unexpected achievements are possible.

Thought-provoking new environments and experiences also challenge unconscious "we've always done it that way" thinking and offer fresh perspectives on the roles home, real estate, and finances can play in our futures. For instance, if you're wrestling with the "stay or move" decision, or are faced with business or relationship challenges which may dictate dramatic lifestyle changes, then putting some distance between you and your decisions - literally and figuratively - can reduce stress and bolster inspiration to achieve beyond-expectations results. The distractions of new, welcoming cultures and environments bring what really matters to you into focus without heavy-duty thinking or worrying. Relax and adopt a "live in the moment" attitude to immerse yourself in the world you're visiting and reap the benefits of international travel.

This year, my recommended "place to think" destination is an often-overlooked mid-Atlantic chain of 9 islands which invented "green" in all meanings of the word. The Azores Archipelago is the exotic extension of mainland Portugal, which is pretty exotic itself.

Multi-colored Hydrangeas line roads throughout the Azores

"Getting away from it all" does not mean disappearing into "the middle of no where." In fact, most people suffer from too little fresh, invigorating stimulation, not too much. The Azores demonstrate that physical distance from Europe and North America does not make this location "no where," but definitely in the middle of somewhere. Combining old world European charm with an historic "leading edge" has made the Azores a unique place to live and think. From the 1400's, when the archipelago was tied to West Indies exploration right up to the 20th Century when the islands became a vital center for transatlantic communication, the Azores have quietly moved ahead while cherishing tradition. Now, the islands, along with Portugal's mainland, are leading a practical, sustainable green revolution to drive the country and its residents into a sustainable future.

My Azores adventure combined a revisit to the largest island, San Miguel, and an introduction to the more westerly islands of Faial, Pico, and Terceria. As an addition to my June trip to Azores Airlines, the Portugese regional airline, had extended an invitation to spend 12-days exploring the islands. The airline set up the July island-hopping plane schedule and I filled in the rest with help from the Azores Promotion Board and local businesses. (FYI: My itinerary is posted on my blog

Blue sea, green field with yellow flower-lined path, black lava coastline: the Azores’ color pallet

During my twelve days in the Azores, I was immersed in every-day island life, however, there was always ample time to wander the coastline, ramble country roads, and relax chatting with locals. Never was this considered enough time to see everything on each island visited, nor enough time to explore all nine.

If your "place to think" adventure demands a lot of change and stimulation, you may let Azores Airlines hop you through the entire Archipelago to sample all the diverse environments and cultures. I'm more of an immersion traveler, less intent on tourist dictates than on discovering what the locals love. My goal was to uncover what it's really like to live on a small dot of land in the middle of the often-wild Atlantic Ocean. What's your exploration style? P>

Red-roofed villages dot rolling green farmland

The photographs accompanying this article were hard to select because the Azores is amazingly photogenic. All the travel essentials are there plus a diverse range of unique landscapes, cultural traditions, lifestyles, and more. From timeless stone-walled rolling farmland, dramatic coasts, and welcoming residents to small cafes offering locally-sourced, world-class specialities from pineapples to potatoes, seafood to sweet custard, grass-fed beef to glasses of vinho(wine), and much more... you'll be enthralled.

The Azores are amazing, but what really matters is what the islands and their residents can reveal to visitors about their own lives and homes.

Here are three practical, Azores-inspired perspectives on places to think and island destinations for travels this summer or some time soon. (You can also apply these ideas to staycations):

#1. Savor the Experience!

You can sail, kayak, paraglide, enjoy canyoning, scuba dive, swim in a natural ocean surf pool, climb a volcano, go horseback riding, experience whale watching, eat amazing seafood, visit vineyards, fish from the beach, take a boat out for bigger fish, laze in the sun…all in one day in the Azores - if you have the stamina. The challenge will never be finding enough to do in the Azores, but the challenge may be prioritizing your many choices. Just as our every-day "to do" and "must do" lists keep us so busy that we lack the time to savor life in our own neighborhoods, this can happen when traveling. Stop trying to pack everything in and relax. My best trips, like this one, leave me feeling both satisfied and unsatisfied, and always happy. Satisfied I've lived every moment to the fullest; unsatisfied because there is still so much to experience and so much I'd like to repeat; happy that I've enjoyed every minute and hate to leave. Relax and savor experiences - physical and sensory. You can always come back to the Azores for more.

Pico Island volcano rises above the Atlantic and the clouds, signaling arrival at the Azores

#2. Discover For Yourself!

Let the Azores surprise you. We've gotten used to following the "Top Ten…" lists of what someone else posts as "must dos." Travel is not a contest, nor is there a list of "must sees" you are obligated to tick off or else. One of the magic things about the islands of the Azores is that they are big enough in every way to offer a wide range of terrific things to do and people - locals and other tourists - to meet. The other important thing is that the islands are small enough that you can know little or nothing about what's where and who's who, and yet wander along to successfully discover the mysteries of each island for yourself. For instance, the smaller western island of Faial (pronounced f-eye-al) has ancient landscapes that range from outer-space style black volcanic masses to a mountain-top green crater with an exciting rim walk that are all yours to experience as if you are the first person to discover them. 

#3. Unplug & Go Real!

Choose your exploration methods - car, bike, all-terrain vehicle, boat, horse, or your own feet - and wander the countryside, shore lines, and elevations to explore your Azores island. You can't really get lost on an island, so cut your electronic GPS tether and let each island show you what it has to offer. Stop following surprise-squelching phone screen dictates and lead yourself into adventure. Make sure to take long looks with your own eyes at vistas and every little corner before you take a hundred photographs. Do you and your partner each take phone shots of the same things instead of joining together to share magic moments savoring experiences before you take a few photos?

Faial’s coastal volcanic masses invite you to explore

Azores Airlines flies direct from Toronto (5:35 hours), Boston (4:45), and other cities, so there may be no changing planes or waiting for connecting flights if one of these cities represent your starting point. Upgrades to leg stretching Business Class may only be a few hundred dollars depending on season. Here's another bonus…since most of the Azores Airlines crew are from the islands, Azores hospitality will bring the islands to you even before you even land.

I declare my bias: I am hooked on the Azores.

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PJ Wade

Futurist and Achievement Strategist PJ WADE is “The Catalyst”—intent on Challenging The Best to Become Even Better. A dynamic speaker and author of 8 books and more than 1800 published articles, PJ concentrates on the knowledge, insight, communication prowess, and special decision-making skills essential for professionals and their clients who are determined to thrive in the 21st-Century vortex of change.

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