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Europe, Portugal

Visiting this green and blue archipelago, where the ocean touches the sky, is like watching the world being born in front of your very eyes. Here, the horizon disappears into infinity, time stands still and the paradise of these nine islands remains permanently unchanged.

In the East, closer to the European mainland, are the islands of Santa Maria and São Miguel. You'll be delightfully surprised by the vineyards of Santa Maria, which spread over the terraces of the hillsides in the form of an amphitheatre, suggesting steps that have been built specially for giants. Overlooking a large bay, Ponta Delgada, in São Miguel, is the island's main port. It is a dynamic city, its attention turned almost completely towards the sea, and with a busy economic life. The lakes of Lagoa do Fogo and Lagoa das Sete Cidades charm visitors with the music emanating from the songs of the wind and the legends that are told about them locally. They are truly unforgettable and breathtaking places. Feel the power rising up from the earth at the island's geysers, hot water spas and volcanic lakes, and make sure that you sample the famous "Cozido das Furnas", a dish that is slowly stewed inside the earth itself.

The central group of islands consists of Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial and Graciosa, scattered harmoniously over the surface of the deep blue sea, where whales and dolphins frolic happily on the surface of the water, to the great delight of visitors.

The classification of World Heritage site that has been awarded to Angra do Heroísmo gives Terceira a quite unique status. In the streets of this city, the architecture of the olden days is perfectly preserved, protected by the powerful wall that defended both the population and the port itself from pirate attacks. Dotted across the criss-cross pattern of the verdant plains are the silhouettes of dairy cattle, contrasting with the bright colours of the gaudy chapels known as "impérios", interspersed amidst the white houses.

On the island of São Jorge, which gives the impression of a magical boat eternally anchored in the midst of the ocean, you can admire the peculiar fajãs (seemingly flat surfaces on the sea) lying at the foot of high cliffs, in this fertile land of steep slopes and beautiful crosscountry footpaths. Make sure to take advantage of your stay to sample the island's cheese with its unique and unmistakable flavour.

The Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture, classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, establishes a contrast between its hard, dark basalt terrain and the white summit, covered in winter snow, of the majestic volcanic peak that gives its name to the island, rising to a towering height of some 2,350 metres above a lava-covered landscape. Clearly visible to the west is the marina of the island of Horta, known to all oceangoing yachtsmen, where seafarers leave their paintings behind them on the walls and ground, reminding people of their passage through this region. Soak up the special atmosphere of the port by enjoying a drink at Peter's café, a bar that welcomes sailors from all over the world and makes them feel perfectly at home. While you're still on the island of Faial, make sure to visit the now extinct volcano of Capelinhos, standing in stark contrast to the living nature all around it and giving the impression of a lunar landscape.

The green island of Graciosa, which is "graceful" both by name and appearance, is also famous for its curious windmills, reminding its visitors of the far-off region of Flanders, from where some of its first inhabitants originally came.

In the western group of islands, nature reveals itself in all its wild exuberance and time seems to pass by much more slowly. On the island of Flores, it is impossible not to be charmed by the beauty of its natural waterfalls, but be sure also to take the chance to go diving in the Atlantic Ocean and discover its unique brightly-coloured underwater species. Corvo is a small community of white houses, living at the gentle pace of nature itself and extending a warm and heartfelt welcome to its visitors, just like all Azoreans.