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Looking for a vacation destination that's a little out of the ordinary? One that will make your friends and family ask "where?" Then look no further than the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and the Azores, an archipelago of Portuguese Islands known for their remoteness, unspoiled wilderness and exceptional sea life. The nine Azorean Islands, which consist of ancient volcanic craters, extend over an area of more than 370 miles, surrounded by some of the most pristine ocean waters in the world, so if you are into snorkeling, diving, fishing, whale watching or swimming with the dolphins -- the Azores has it all.

The Azores also feature two UNESCO World Heritage listed sites, as well as numerous geysers, lakes, wineries and believe it or not, pineapple and tea plantations. Although there are no five-star hotels on the islands, accommodation is plentiful with the choice of hotels, private villas and humbler cottages for rent. The Azores also boast a very temperate Atlantic climate with warm summers and mild winters.

Azores.com (tel. 800/652-9151; www.azores.com) offers discounted flights and packages from the U.S. to the Azores.

  • Oakland, CA to Terceira: $999 (Monday departures from June 12 to August 21)
  • Boston to S. Miguel: $479 (Tuesday or Wednesday departures between October 3 and 13)
  • Providence to S. Miguel: $549 (Saturday departures in June and September)

These fares must be booked and ticketed within 24 hours, are non-refundable and have a maximum stay of 14 or 15 days. Please see booking and cancellation conditions below. Taxes and fuel charge fees are expected to be between $125 and $200 per ticket. Children 2 to 11 years old receive $100 discount round-trip and infants pay a $75 fee plus applicable taxes.

Azores.com also has a Boston to Sao Miguel airfare and accommodation package that includes round-trip airfare on Azores Express from Boston to S. Miguel departing on a Tuesday or Friday and a six-night stay at one of the following hotels:

  • Terra Nostra Garden: from $659
  • Sao Miguel Park: from $699
  • Hotel Avenida: from $699
  • Holiday Inn: from $679
  • Vila Nova: from $589

These prices are valid for departures from November 3 to December 8, 2006 and January 5 to March 30, 2007. Add $90 per person for Friday departures and taxes of $120 per person.

They also offer a variety of one-day land or sea tours including swimming with the dolphins, prices from $64 per person for four or more people (or $80 per person for two people), whale watching in Faial (April 1 to October 31, 2006) from $44 per person and Jeep Safari trips on S. Miguel (east side or west side) including lunch from $76 per person.

Abreu Tours (tel. 800/223-1580; www.abreu-tours.com) is the largest travel agency in Portugal and has offices here in New York. Its "Super Azores" special features round-trip airfare from Boston to Ponta Delgada, inter-island flights, six nights' accommodations (three at the four-star Hotel do Caracol in the city of Angra do Heroismo, on Terceira Island with three at the four-star Holiday Inn in Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island), breakfast daily and seven-days car rental. Valid for travel from November 1, 2006 to March 31, 2007, this trip is priced from $83 per person based on double occupancy, or $323 land-only. A single supplement of $295 applies.

Its "Six Island Explorer" package is a 13-nights fly/drive package that includes round-trip airfare from Boston, inter-island flights, 13 nights' accommodations in three and four-star hotels (two at Aldeia de Cuada in Flores, three at Faial Resort in Faial, two at the Terceira Mar Hotel in Angra, two at the Hotel Five in Santa Maria and four at the Pousada do Colegio in Ponta Delgada), breakfast daily and 14-days car rental. This trip is priced from $1,983 for travel between November 1, 2006 and March 31, 2007.

Sao Miguel is the largest of the islands and home to the main airport, Ponta Delgada. Azores Express (tel. 800/762-9995; www.azores-express.com) connects the U.S. with the Azores with year-round flights from Boston, with connecting service to Lisbon, Porto and Madeira. In the spring/summer season, Azores Express offers service to the Azores from Providence, Rhode Island, and Oakland, California. Spring and summer airfares from Boston to Ponta Delgada start at $379 plus taxes and Oakland to Terceira from $999. A current search for a midweek October, 2006 departure from Boston to Ponta Delgada yielded a $518 plus tax price.

For more information about the Azores, go to their official tourism website at www.visitazores.org.

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