When Inntravel’s Aimée Smith heard that the Azores – a volcanic archipelago suspended in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean – was home to Europe’s oldest remaining tea plantation, she had to find out more…
In many ways, there is nothing so completely British as a good old cuppa – Churchill had a well-known weakness for Lapsang Souchong, George Orwell devoted an essay to the perfect brew and even Mick Jagger takes ‘tea at three’. Yet we weren’t always a tea-loving nation, and without the influence of trend-setting Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, who brought her loose-leaf tea with her when she came to England to marry Charles II in 1662, we might never have been.
Fitting then, that Europe’s oldest (and, for many years, only) tea plantation is to be found on the Portuguese island of São Miguel, the largest in the Azores archipelago. The family-owned Gorreana Estate has been growing high-quality teas in the island’s rich volcanic soil since 1883, and its remote location – approximately 900 miles west of mainland Portugal – and unique climate negate the need for any kind of pesticide, meaning the teas are as environmentally friendly as can be, as well as utterly delicious! It’s free to visit the estate, and wandering through the incredibly green plantations and witnessing the Victorian machinery in action is an unforgettable experience.
But, wonderful though tea is, it’s only one of many excellent reasons to visit Europe’s most tropical outpost – the walking terrain is remarkably varied, there are opportunities to go whale watching or swim with dolphins, and the views are simply breathtaking. In fact, it’s often difficult to believe this dramatic archipelago of hidden crater lakes and steaming fumaroles is European at all, but with flights from the UK taking less than four hours, the Azores offers the perfect blend of easy accessibility and uncharted exoticism.