Discover Meredith Vieira's Azores: New Packages with Air & Hotel to the Dramatic Islands of the Azores

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Who says Europe is not affordable? Azores Express, with year-round flights from Boston to Portugal's Azores Islands, is offering new hotel and air packages this fall and winter that start at $709 per person. To reserve, call 800-762-9995 or visit http://www.sata.pt for more details.

Horta on Faial

Authentic, unspoiled, and likely to remain so.

Recently, NBC Today Show host Meredith Vieira explored her family roots in the Azores Islands, Portugal. All four for of Vieira's grandparents came from the Azores, three from Faial (one of the nine islands in the archipelago). Until this summer, Meredith Vieira had never been to the islands of her ancestors.

Now, Azores Express is offering 7-day/6-night air and hotel packages priced from $709 to $1,199 per person (not including taxes) for travel from September 16, 2008 through June 15, 2009. Prices vary depending upon choice of hotel. Package includes six nights hotel, plus breakfast each day. Kids under 6 stay free and pay only a child's airfare. Passengers can upgrade from coach to SATA Plus Business-Class for just a few hundred dollars each way. All flights depart and return from Boston on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Three hotels are offered on the island of Terceira, one on Vieira's family home island of Faial, one on the island of Santa Maria, and 10 on the island of Sao Miguel. Included are the cosmopolitan city of Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel and the historic city of Angra on the rugged island of Terceira. New to the packages this year is the island of Santa Maria, the southern most island in the Azores.

The National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations recently named the Azores Islands as the world's second most appealing island destination in its fourth annual Destination Scorecard survey. A panel of 522 experts reviewed conditions on 111 islands and archipelagos. The Azores are noted as "Authentic, unspoiled, and likely to remain so."

The Azores are the closet point in Europe to North America. The islands were created by volcanic activity millions of years ago, resulting in a landscape that is unexpected and dramatic. From the black lava cliffs of the island of Terceira, to the mythical mountain crater Lake of Fire on São Miguel, the Azores offers varied terrain and varied experiences. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores enjoy a mild climate year-round between 60°F and 80°F.

Santa Maria, the first island to be formed in the archipelago, about 5 million years ago, is about 50 miles square, with has rolling hills and a bucolic countryside dotted with small white houses, towns and family farms. The main town, Vila do Porto, is the oldest in the Azores, with many palaces, a fort, and several historic churches. Santa Maria is also known for the finest beach in the Azores, the Praia Formosa, with a mile of golden sand bordering the warm and enchanting south-facing bay.

The Hotel Colombo is a contemporary, four-star property set on a hill outside of Vila do Porto and 10 minutes from the airport. With 87 large rooms, including suites and all with private balcony, the hotel offers an outdoor pool and deck, and a free airport shuttle service.

São Miguel, with its lakes, geysers, and quaint seaside villages, is the main island in the Azores and the one where all flights from Boston arrive in the fall, winter and spring. With easy access to the airport and major roads, Ponta Delgada is a great location from which to make day trips to the Sao Miguel's rugged coastline, to venture to volcanic crater lakes on the island or to the steaming thermal lakes in the interior. Golf opportunities are also close at hand.

The Hotel Ponta Delgada, in the center of town, starts at $709 per person in the Azores Express package. It offers 98 double rooms, a pool, solarium, Jacuzzi, sauna, gym, on-site restaurant, bar, poolside cafe, a private garage and Wi-Fi access in the public areas

The Royal Garden Hotel is located in Ponta Delgada, a short walk to downtown. The hotel opened five years ago with 193 rooms, a health club, pool, large common areas and modern, Asian-inspired décor.

The four-star Hotel Do Colegio is also in the center of Ponta Delgada, with 55 rooms, a fitness center, sauna, Turkish bath and outdoor heated swimming pool. The hotel was once a traditional Azorean school and today, its A Colmeia Restaurant is considered one of the finest in the city.

The island of Faial is famed for its harbors, where yachts from around the world meet, and as the site of a 1958 volcanic eruption. The island of Terceira home to the city Angra do Heroísmo, which has been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage city.

The volcanic genesis of the Azores is unmistakable. Thousands of years of vegetation cannot hide the deep craters, some of which are filled with deep lakes today. Geysers and sulfur springs are common. The Azores are also known for rolling landscapes sprinkled with tiny settlements of whitewashed or black stone houses. The hillsides are planted with vineyards, tea and fruit orchards. Some coastlines are strewn with black rocks, rugged and often plunging hundreds of feet into the emerald sea. Coastlines have plenty of welcoming bays, natural pools, beaches, and inlets for swimming and sunbathing (the water temperature is warm enough year-round). Water sports, fishing and whale watching are widely available. Equally popular is yachting, horseback riding, cycling and hiking.

Azores Express (part of the SATA Group) connects New England with the beautiful islands of the Azores. Year-round flights are available from Boston, with connecting service to Lisbon, Porto and Madeira. In season, Azores Express offers direct flights to Lisbon from Boston, and seasonal service to the Azores from Providence, Rhode Island, and Oakland, California. For information call 800-762-9995 or visit http://www.sata.pt. For Portugal info go to http://www.visitportugal.com.

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