I have a confession to make: I had never heard of the Azores. But as soon as I was told that they’re the ‘New Zealand of Europe’ I was on a plane. And, unlike the 25 hours it would take to get to NZ, I was on a near-empty flight for a mere four hours before we landed on an island of mountains cloaked in green, geysers spewing steam, bubbling hot springs and glistening lakes. Why was the flight near empty? I guess many others haven’t heard of this part of Portugal either…yet.

An archipelago huddled together in the Atlantic Ocean a two-hour flight away from the mainland, it’s deliciously unspoilt. The only hints at tourism are the hospitable locals and the abundance of activities to keep us busy. We spend our three days on São Miguel, although you can hop between the nine islands – each with its own distinct character – via local flights or ferries.

São Miguel is the largest and most regularly visited. It’s clear the locals take great pride in their land and have worked with Mother Nature to make it just perfect: the lush natural forests are well maintained, while the roads are dotted with palm trees and symmetrical flower beds. First up we meet our local guide, Tiago (you can request a tour guide through Visitazores.com), whose English is great and his personality even better, particularly his penchant for karaoke (after barely an arm twist he succumbed and proceeded to sing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ -‘Bohemian Rhapsody’! It’s six minutes long!). Our first outing is to canoe on Furnas Lake in Terra Nostra Park. Taking a minute to soak up the stunning scenery, we set off with confidence, only to repeatedly paddle round in circles. We’re in pairs and so I 100% blame this on my rowing partner, particularly as when she gets into Tiago’s canoe I manage to go straight… most of the time.

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Racing back to shore, we just manage to skip a downpour – the weather on the Azores is seemingly even more unpredictable than England’s, with four seasons coming and going in one day. Heading back for the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, we take a welcome dip in its hot-spring pool – the first of many of varying shapes and sizes.This one feels like we have stepped back in time: the natural stone pool carved into the ground, the statues looking over us in various graceful poses, and a gorgeous white summer house at the top of a flight of stone steps where I half expect Darcy to sweep down and carry me off into the sunset. Instead, I am accosted by a large group of tourists who had paid to simply come and look at the pool. They choose the precise moment I hop out for my towel as the time to stampede out, and so I jump back in with a squeal, much to their amusement. Where’s Darcy when you need him?

After a delicious dinner at the hotel (served by a waiter who has a brilliant resemblance to James Corden), Tiago takes us to Caldeira de Furnace, an area of steaming geysers and bubbling pools of boiling water. At night, the natural wonder takes on a particularly eerie atmosphere.

With visions of witches casting spells and sacrificial rituals conjuring up in my mind, it doesn’t help when Tiago points out a drum-like sound coming from inside one of the caves and tells us it’s the banging of a mad man who was swept into the cave and is still trying to escape. Whether it was that story or tasting some of the iron-filled water, I have some weird dreams that night.

Want to carry on reading about Caroline’s adventures in the Azores? Check out our eMag or pick up a copy of TNT on your travels around London.

Image credit: Photos supplied/Thinkstock