If Hawaii and Ireland had a love child, the Azores is how the baby might look. Columbus stopped here in 1492 on his famous journey. Round-the-world sailors still do. My mother’s family is from the Azores, so I’ve always been curious. Our first stop was Pico island. Pico is famous for its volcano, which you can climb. The vegetation is so unusual it feels like you’re on another planet. Pico is also home to the most unique vineyards in the world – built on volcanic stone. Yes, some monks figured out how to grow grapes on rocks. The photo above with the rows of stone walls is actually a vineyard. The wine is delicious.

The Gulf Stream keeps the temperature in the Azores consistent – never too hot or cold. So nature has a chance to shine. And shine she does. Blue, white and purple hydrangeas are everywhere. You’ll also find plenty of hot springs and thermal pools like the one pictured above in Ponta da Ferraria.

The next island we visited was São Miguel. It’s a hiker’s paradise, and we took full advantage, exploring Seta Cidades, Lagoa Azul and Verde, Furnas Hot Springs, and the Gorreana Tea Plantation, the only working tea plantation in Europe. Also spent an afternoon at the Poca Da Dona Beija spa for some black belt-level relaxation. By luck we were in Ribeira Seca for the St. Peter festival. Hundreds of men and women dress themselves (and their horses) in splendid medieval attire, and parade through the streets.

Pedro Rodrigues, a fishing boat captain with Trilhos da Natureza, took us trolling for bluefish and barracuda. His stories and local knowledge made for an entertaining afternoon. We went searching for family history in the streets of Ponta Delgado. I found lots of names of relatives including Correia, which is my mother’s maiden name.