For more than 500 years, the Azores, an archipelago of nine widely dispersed islands in the middle of the Atlantic, have remained almost completely unspoilt. Volcanic in origin, they are rutted with deep craters, some overflowing with shimmering lakes, others covered with flourishing vegetation. Geysers and health-giving sulphur springs abound.

The islands are Corvo, Faial, Flores, Graciosa, Pico, Santa Maria, São Jorge, São Miguel and Terceira. The islands are enormous in the interior and forested, leading down to long beaches and fishing harbours. There are quite a few hot springs and spas.

You might want to take up Velvet Adventure Sailing, and spend some time sailing between the islands and exploring what each one has to offer.

Most travelers to the Azores more appreciate the very striking landscape. Daylong strolls can be made in many places along mountain ridges or crater lakes with numerous breath-taking views. Watersports are widely available such as scuba-diving and whale watching; equally popular are yachting, horse riding, cycling and hiking.

The Azores are also distinguished by large tracts of arable farmland, sprinkled with little settlements of whitewashed houses. The smoothly sloping hillsides are planted with vineyards and fruit trees. The coastlines tend to be uneven and somewhat frightening, but there are plenty of bays, and rocky inlets for swimming and sunbathing.

The waters around the Azores are visited by a great variety of whales and dolphins, as told in Herman Melvilles famous Moby Dick. Whale-watching is one of Picos main attractions, done on small boats in the company of a guide. The trips can last for about three hours, and may be booked at the tourist office.

A small whaling museum, Museu dos Baleeiros, recalls the time when whaling was a traditional part of Azorean life. Its fine scrimshaw collection contains engraved sperm-whale teeth and ivory walrus tusks.

São Miguel is the biggest of the nine islands, known for a captivating natural wonder, the twin lakes. In the sunlight, one lake is blue and the other is green, best seen from a vantage point called "Vista do Rei" south of the crater. Another curiosity on the island is the food prepared in hot volcanic rock. A much loved dish is "Cozido das Furnas", in which meat and vegetables are stewed in pits in the heat of the volcanic earth. Furnas itself is a popular whitewashed town with hot springs used in the treatment of respiratory ailments and rheumatism.

Nearby is the beautiful Parque Terra Nostra, a garden with a extraordinary collection of trees and plants, as well as a peculiar swimming pool with warm yellow water.

The capital, Ponta Delgada, is also the capital of the entire archipelago and the tourist heart of the island. Its arcades and 18th century city gates, fine baroque churches, and volcanic cones rising on distant hills are its main sights. In the center of the island is a majestically stunning spot, Lagoa do Fogo, a crater lake formed by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century.

An activity that takes place in São Miguel that doesnt happen anywhere else in Europe is tea production.

Santa Maria is the island where Christopher Columbus stopped, and there is a church where he knelt in prayer and a statue memorializes his visit in the fishing village of Anjos. To the north is São Lourenço Bay, popular for its slender beaches with turquoise water. This serene island enjoys the most hours of sunshine and the waves of its petite beaches are good for surfing.

The island of Terceira was the third Azorean island to be discovered and where Vasco da Gama buried his brother Paulo after their journey to India. It is distinguished by its capital, Angra do Heroismo, which is on UNESCOs World Heritage list as a prime example of European town planning. Its 16th-century cathedral, fine churches, and mansions are all of considerable interest.

The best view of the harbor and the city is from Monte Brasil, a crater on the western side of the bay.

To the northeast of the island is Algar do Carvão, a dramatic volcanic hole with an enormous subterranean cave open to visitors.

A memorable experience in Terceira is the "Touradas à Corda", the running of rope-restrained bulls that takes place from spring to autumn.

The island of Graciosa is a small, peaceful island, as its 'graceful' name suggests. It is known for its Dutch-style windmills and white houses with wrought-iron balconies and oval windows in its largest town, Santa Cruz.

On the opposite end of the island is Furna do Enxofre, where visitors can descend into a volcanic crater with a huge cave and lake of hot sulphurous water.

São Jorge is mostly famous for its delicious, cured cheese, which is exported to mainland Europe. It is a long, thin mountainous island, where sheer cliffs drop to the sea, offering magnificent views of the central islands.

The island of Pico is also known for its wine, frequently exported to mainland Europe. Its vineyards are protected as a World Heritage Site.

Top 10 Experiences in the Azores
1. Strolling through the attractive streets and squares of Ponta Delgada in the island of São Miguel.
2. Finding the dazzling sight of the Sete Cidades lagoons in the island of São Miguel.
3. Going whale and dolphin watching in Faial or Pico.
4. Taking pleasure in a meal cooked underground in the steaming volcanic hot springs in São Miguel Island.
5. Having a magnificent walk and relaxing by the waters and magnificent luxuriant vegetation of Furnas in the island of São Miguel.
6. Climbing the faultless cone of majestic Pico Volcano often wearing a cloud veil for its fantastic panorama in Pico Island.
7. Wandering around Angra do Heroismos World Heritage old town center, appreciating its graceful architecture, ending at Monte Brasil, a volcanic crater with an outstanding view of the harbor.
8. Admiring the fascinating landscape of Capelinhos volcano in Faial Island.
9. Taking in the view of Corvo Island from the rocky shore of Flores Island followed by a walk through the islands verdant valleys and dramatic peaks, finding remarkable waterfalls, abundant crater lakes, and the large quantity of flowers the island is named after.
10. Standing by the marina of gorgeous Horta in Faial Island for the view of the imposing Pico volcano in the distance, followed by a break at the famous Peters Café Sport for a drink and a chat with sailors from around the world.

Over the years the Azores Islands have gained the trust of visitors longing for a holiday that is safe and exciting yet serene.