Island-hopping in the Atlantic with Azores Airlines
Black volcanic cliffs shrouded in mist, fantastical ferns and flowers that look like props from an episode of Star Trek. I’ve just returned from a big adventure, island-hopping in the Atlantic Ocean with Azores Airlines (SATA).
The two-island 12-day package took us on a voyage of discovery to a part of the planet we’d never been before: the holiday garden island of Madeira (580 miles from Morocco) and São Miguel, an island in the Azores (900 miles west of Lisbon, Portugal). Both archipelagos are autonomous regions of Portugal. The flights were with Azores Airlines (SATA), an airline based in Ponta Delgada, Azores. It’s been a long time since (my husband) Pat and I enjoyed a flight/flights so much. Let me introduce you to my new favorite airline.
SATA is actually an old and established company, founded in 1941 to end the isolation of the remote Azores islands. Continuing its mission to connect the Azores to the rest of the world, Azores Airlines carries North American and European travellers to destinations in Portugal and Europe.
Azores Airlines offers phenomenal flight deals from Toronto, with refreshingly low taxes and fees. With flight time from Toronto to Ponta Delgada under six hours, a stopover in the Azores makes getting to Europe a lot more comfortable. As destinations themselves, Madeira and the Azores offer stunning landscapes and European charm, without Europe’s tourist crowds or prices.
The first leg of our Azores flight experience–from Toronto to Madeira via Ponta Delgada, Azores–was festive and relaxing. At the boarding gate, we found ourselves surrounded by Canadians of Azorean descent returning home for the holidays, many wearing red sweaters, carrying babies and gift parcels. It was a pleasure to hear Portuguese spoken all around us and we immediately began to pick up a few words.
Onboard, we found the cabin very well managed. After takeoff, flight attendants rushed around filling babies’ bottles with warm milk, lights were dimmed and, rocked by slight turbulence, everyone fell asleep as if by magic spell. Two and a half hours later, we woke rested and amazed (on my last overnight flight to Europe with a major carrier I slept not one minute in eight hours), to a hot meal served with wine. One subtitled movie later (another opportunity to learn Portuguese ‘on the fly’!), we landed in the Azores where we connected with a smaller plane that took us on to Madeira.
We enjoyed the same warm European in-flight service on all our Azores Airlines flights. While the entertainment system and bar service were basic and there were no on-board duty-free sales, we enjoyed the less-busy cabin and appreciated that we did not have to present a credit card to obtain snacks, pillows or earphones. In fact, beyond a $20 fee each for seat selection on the way there, we did not incur any other flight expenses. For our return flight, we checked in online the night before and chose seats without a fee. Did I mention Azores Airlines is a real bargain?
When is a good time to go? December was fine, sunny but cool enough for comfortable walking. Both Madeira and the Azores are lovely Christmas destinations. Avenues, shops and palm trees in Funchal and Ponta Delgada are draped with holiday lights. Nativity scenes and Christmas market stalls adorn church squares. In Madeira, huge poinsettia bushes bloom just in time for the season. We got a head start on holiday shopping, buying crafts both in Madeira (wicker items, a hand-knit wool sweater at a roadside stall for 30 Euro) and São Miguel (silver jewelry accented with local black basalt or volcanic stone, miniature nativity scenes hand crafted in porcelain). Food was another trip highlight: fresh and authentic, focused on local produce and fish.
We can’t wait to explore more of Azores Airlines destinations in the Atlantic soon.
Check out flights from Toronto to the Azores, Madeira, Gran Canaria and Europe at Azores Airlines.
For vacation packages Toronto, Azores Getaways offers great travel deals.