The Azores (or 'Açores') are an archipelago of 9 volcanic islands, approximately 800 miles off the coast of Portugal - about a quarter of the way across the Atlantic Ocean. The archipelago is composed by 3 groups of islands: The Eastern Group (Santa Maria and São Miguel), the Central Group (Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico and Faial) and the Western Group (Flores and Corvo).
The archipelago is the Westernmost territory of Europe and despite its remote location, there is a distinctly European feel to the islands which leaves you in no doubt that you are officially in Portugal. Azores were discovered in 1427 by Portuguese sailor Diogo de Silves. It settlement started in 1439 with people from the north and the south of Portugal.
In the next years would arrived settlers from other European regions such as the Flanders and Northern of France. Due to the strong influence of different people from other places, nowadays the islands possess a wide culture, a rich History and a unique landscape. Since 1976 we are an Autonomous Region with self-government.
There are small airports on all 9 islands, as well as ferry services (although some of these only run during the summer months). From tiny Corvo in the northwest to Santa Maria in the southeast, a journey from one end of the Azores to the other would cover more than 400 miles as the crow flies, the actual land-mass covering about 1800 square miles.
The largest island of the archipelago is São Miguel (St. Michael), was the second island to be discovered and is the unique that still preserves the highest volcanic activity. Ponta Delgada is the capital, and is a good base for exploring the rest of the island. Perhaps this is in part due to the variety of small shops, quaint cobbled streets, busy harbor, several impressive churches, and the imposing 'Castelo São Bras' fort which dates back to the 16th century.
Some of the craters which formed due to the volcanic explosions that gave birth to the Azores, gradually filled with fresh water to become lakes or lagoons. There is still some volcanic activity to be observed, with bubbling sulphur pools, hot springs, and hot mud pools in which sealed pots of food can be cooked ('cozido'). The town of Furnas on São Miguel is a good place to see these phenomena.