WHY GO: João Barbosa, market manager for the United States and Canada, Azores Promotion Board, says, “For starters, it’s only four hours from Boston and five hours from Canada with nonstop flights. This is an archipelago of unsurpassed natural beauty with breathtaking landscapes, impressive flora, and fascinating volcanic nature, and you can feel the Old World European charm in a relaxing, cosmopolitan atmosphere.” Active vacationers will find “trails for hiking and cycling, enthralling under-water adventures, and championship golf courses,” he says. In fact, while visiting the islands, visitors can go whale-watching, swimming with dolphins, birdwatching, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, canyoning, sailing, and surfing, among other activities. Plus, Barbosa points out, the Azores are made up of “nine islands ready to explore any season of the year.” He adds that the destination offers “rich gastronomy, based on regional products of excellence like seafood, fresh meats, tea, cheese, wines, local soups, sauces and pastry.” Must-visits include two UNESCO World Heritage sites: Historical Centre of Angra do Heroismo, and Landscape of the Pico Vineyard Culture, on the volcanic island of Pico.
COOL STAY: The 28-room Pousada da Horta, Santa Cruz Fort is a charming hotel located within a 16th century fortress, with stunning views of the Horta Bay.
BEST BET: Central Holidays’ 8-day Spectacular Azores Island Hopping tour (centralholidays.com) that includes visits to Sao Miguel Island, nicknamed the “Green Island,” Faial, also known as the “Blue Island,” and Terceira, more romantically known as the “Lilac Island.”
Eat up: When it comes to the destination’s dessert specialties, one of the most famous is Queijadas de Vila Franca do Campo (Vila Franca do Campo custards).
WHY GO: “These islands,” says Monica Sanchez, director, Tourism Office of Spain in Miami, “are known for being the sunshine center of Europe, offering mild temperatures and a range of outstanding natural attractions. Five of its seven islands have been declared a Biosphere Reserve, and the archipelago has four national parks. Its beaches are its most outstanding attractions, and are perfect for relaxing in the sun or enjoying watersports such as windsurfing and scuba diving. In the interior, you’ll find amazing landscapes that are ideal for hiking, cycling, and even caving. Some of the most spectacular include the volcanic scenery of Lanzarote, the beaches of Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria with its sand dunes, or the green forests of La Palma and La Gomera. The Canary Islands also offer a range of cultural options to explore, including the monumental site at San Cristobal de La Laguna, which has been awarded the World Heritage designation by UNESCO.” Two other must-sees are Masca, a lost village in a spectacular gorge, and Los Gigantes, volcanic cliffs rising out of the Atlantic Ocean.
COOL STAY: Bed & Chic Las Palmas offers a young, hip vibe in the heart of Las Palmas on Gran Canaria. Recommend the Attic accommodations (more traditionally known as the penthouse suite), with a private terrace and beautiful views of the Santa Catalina Park and the Puerto de la Luz.
BEST BET: Escapade Vacations’ 4-day Canary Islands City Package (escapadevacations.com) that includes plenty of time at leisure and 3-night hotel accommodations at Gran Hotel Bahia Del Duque or Sandos San Blas Environmental Reserve & Golf in Tenerife.
Eat up: Recommend clients taste the papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes), potatoes boiled in salted water, served with spicy and green sauces.
WHY GO: Daniel Eriksson, tourist office manager for the Gotland Tourist Information Center, points out that “Gotland is often described as a land of contrasts. We have everything from cultural heritage and medieval buildings to white, sandy beaches. Must-sees include the UNESCO World Heritage City of Visby with its roses, curtain walls, ruins and cobbled alleyways, as well as the island’s amazing plant life.” While in Visby, Gotland’s only town, recommend clients visit the Sankta Mary Cathedral for some 13th century architectural delights, as well as the Gotland Museum for a peek at the island’s history. Also a must is a detour to visit Sudret and Faro to see the giant rauks, natural limestone pillars that dot the coastlines.
COOL STAY: Design Hotels’ 18-room Fabriken Furillen offers a modern design in an industrial setting with a surreal landscape for a backdrop. The onsite restaurant serves dishes based on the local produce available year-round, some of which are grown on the property’s own farm.
BEST BET: Nordic Visitor’s 5-night Girls’ Getaway in Gotland (nordicvisitor.com/travel-agencies); highlights include 2-day bike rental in Visby and 30-minute classic Swedish massage at a Visby spa.
Eat up: Gotland speciality saffranspannkaka, a saffron pancake with red berries and cream.