While mainland Portugal has little to offer the globe-trotting diver, its territories out in the Atlantic certainly do, especially the Azores. After a recent research trip to this archipelago, we are going to put our stake in the sand and say it is home to the best diving in Europe.
The Azores are made up of nine islands split into three groups. The Oriental islands of Sao Miguel and Santa Maria; the Central Islands of Pico, Faial, Sao Jorge, Terceira and Graciosa; and the Occidental islands of Flores and Corvo. Each has something different to offer on land and sea but what they have in common is excellent diving and beautiful scenery.
When it comes to the diving in Portugal it is hard to know where to start. How about virtually guaranteed encounters with manta rays, blue sharks and makos at the right time of year? Add in occasional whale sharks, large numbers of dolphins and whales and incredible visibility and it soon becomes clear why we are such big fans of this place. It really is world-class.
Away from the diving, the volcanic islands offer dramatic scenery and it is a hotspot for activities like hiking, biking, whale watching and wildlife tours. You could easily spend two weeks exploring the various islands. You wouldn't come here for a beach break in the sun as there aren't many good beaches but if you want an activity-led destination in easy reach of the UK then this is perfect.
When it comes to hotels, we have visited a large number of them to find the very best. This is not a luxury destination but if you look hard enough (as we have) you can find some real gems.
The message is simple. Go now before everyone else finds out about this place!