ExperiencePlus! Blog

Azores Gravel Explorer: Green never looked so fun

biking through a tunnel of trees on Sao Miguel island, Azores

When photos from the inaugural Azores Gravel Explorer started appearing in the tour photo gallery we got a few goose bumps. First, it was thrilling to see the tour finally in action. Developing a tour located on a remote island 900 miles west of Portugal in the North Atlantic comes with a few more challenges than developing a tour on the continent. It is incredibly rewarding to see all that work pay off.

Second, the photos brought to life the places that those of us not involved in scouting (which is to say everyone but two ExperiencePlus! staff), had only read about. But there they were! ExperiencePlus! travelers biking on a stunning road in a subtropical paradise! Enjoying drinks out of a pineapple, having a picnic overlooking the ocean, and conversing with the local cows! And everything is so so GREEN.

We knew tour leader Luis Pegado was a major draw to joining this first Gravel Explorer tour in the Azores, and participants admitted this readily. But our hope for future departures is that the destination, combined with the exciting opportunity to get off the beaten track will capture the hearts of cyclists who maybe wouldn’t do this on their own.

And… the cycling! When asked how to describe the riding conditions, ExperiencePlus! Director of Tours John Giebler, who joined the inaugural tour and made some stunning videos, said, “They ranged from singletrack along the cliffs – very likely the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike – to forest roads with gravel and no traffic at all, to hard-packed dirt roads you could easily ride a road bike on.” Click to see the Instagram reel John posted from the tour.

And yes, the riding is challenging. “E-bikers loved it,” John said. “They were able to bike everything they wanted.” Folks who were worried they’d run out of battery never did. Meanwhile, cyclists on what the European bike industry now calls “muscular bikes,” had appropriately trained for the Level 4 rating and enjoyed the challenge.

Ride highlights

This compact, 7-day Gravel Explorer tours São Miguel, the largest island of the Azores archipelago. The route follows a roughly counter-clockwise horseshoe trajectory from the southeast shore to the southwest shore. Highlights noted by tour leaders and customers include:

  • Day 2 loop ride to Furnas: this first ride takes you to the small town of Furnas where you’ll see a lot of bubbling volcanic pots. There’s a scenic ride around the lake at the top. By late morning you can see locals come pull their “cozido” pots out of the ground where they’ve been cooking stew using thermal heat from the volcano
  • Day 3 ride to Nordeste: There’s beautiful tree-lined Alameda followed by gorgeous forest road much of the day. This is where you cross the most untouched, natural landscape São Miguel has to offer.
  • Day 4 ride to Ribiera: Although the hardest day on tour because of terrain, it’s a beautiful coastal ride with a visit to a tea farm and an old whale outlook.
  • Day 5 ride to Capelas: Perhaps the funnest day of riding. Many of the photos from John’s Instagram reel capture the feeling.
  • Day 6 ride to Sete Cidades: In sunnier weather, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place, riding around the crater rim with two stunning lakes to your right and the ocean to the left. The view looking down on Sete Cidades is one of the most photographed spots on the island.
Highlights from Gravel Explorer: Cycling the Azores