Sunday, February 24, 2013

Whale watching in the Atlantic...

Whale watching in the Atlantic...

Sea it all ... dolphins at Azores


Published: 23rd February 2013

AS the boat glides through the water all eyes are fixed on the horizon, straining to glimpse a spurt of water or the splash of a tail.

Alas today isn’t our day and the mighty sperm whale eludes us.

However, they are not the only mammals in these waters, and we are greeted by at least 100 common dolphins who seemed as interested in us as we were in them.

As the boat bounces across the surf they follow us, diving underneath us then jumping out of the water.

If this sounds like a bit of all right to you, the Portuguese Azores are the place for you.

They are also perfect if you are looking for an untouched part of Europe that isn’t full of so-called Irish pubs and all-day English breakfasts.

Whale of a time ... giant sperm breed

The Azores are a group of nine volcanic islands poking through the middle of the Atlantic just four hours away from Gatwick airport.

We flew into Sao Miguel, the biggest of the islands.

The first thing that strikes you is the abundance of greenery contrasting with a sea a shade of indigo you only get right in the middle of an ocean.

Sao Miguel is known as the Blue Island because the roads are lined with hundreds of wild hydrangeas.

The sea is warm and welcoming and there are a few good beaches. But this location offers so much more than a bucket and spade holiday.

I’m here for the wildlife and there’s lots of it.

Stunning ... Sao Miguel view

We set sail on the lookout for some of the 12 different whale species that hug these shores.The main one on our hit list was the sperm whale.

This giant of the sea can be spotted through much of the year, apparently. Just not by me.

The best time to see one is from May-July, and whale-watching tours range from £35 to £45 per person.

They are available on most of the islands.

But if you have left your sea legs in Blighty don’t despair — there are hundreds of other activities.

You can zoom a bike around one of the many lakes, or follow a walking trail that leads to a dormant volcano.

Or if that’s too active, sample some of the fine wines and liqueurs at a traditional vineyard. And if Sao Miguel isn’t enough for you just hop on a ferry or plane and explore one of the other islands.

Rock on ... glorious ocean view

To truly relax, treat yourself to a stay at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel in Sao Miguel’s Furnas Valley.

This 1930s hotel amid manicured botanical gardens has a thermal spring perfect for a lazy afternoon.

And if you get a taste for hot spas, try Ferraria in the south west of the island for two more naturally heated pools with modern spa facilities alongside.

After all this hard work and/or relaxation you really work up an appetite. And you’ll struggle to find a bad meal.

Seafood is the main staple but don’t worry — Flipper isn’t on the menu. We chose to eat at the new harbour complex in Sao Miguel with all the different restaurants looking out to sea.

The tuna steak that was served to me in Restaurant Canto da Doca was the biggest I have ever seen. I managed to finish it all (just) but had to be wheeled away from the table.

Smoking ... waters at Furnas

And what better way for us Brits to round off the day than with a nice cup of char? The Azores have their very own plantation, the Gorreana Tea Estate, which is the only one in Europe.

Pop along for a tour and try before you buy.

The Azores are the perfect getaway — charming, cheap and fun for all.

I may not have managed to see one, but yes, I had a whale of a time.

Go: Azores

GETTING/STAYING THERE: The Sao Miguel Experience package is a week-long break, staying at the boutique hotel of Quinta do Mar on a B&B basis. It also includes return Gatwick flights, four-day model B car hire, a full day jeep tour and a half-day whale and dolphin watching excursion. Prices start from £1,051 per person departing in April. See azoreschoice.com or call 0176 877 5672.

FIND OUT MORE: At visitazores.com

Read more: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/travel/4808689/Whale-watching-in-the-Atlantic-Ocean-by-Portugese-Azores.html#ixzz2LokOc1HW

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