Two riders on a clifftop in the Azores overlooking the sea

Stunning riding in the Azores

The nine volcanic islands in the Atlantic that make up the Azores have incredible scuba diving, surfing, swimming – and jaw-dropping singletrack

There are some truly stunning mountain bike locations out there. We never tire of seeing them, even if we can’t necessarily get to ride there ourselves. But you’ve got to dream, right? Maybe that’s what makes them so appealing. Looking at these places, reading about them and plotting that one day you might just go there yourself.

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Here’s a place you’ll definitely want to add to your mountain biking wishlist. The Azores. A set of nine volcanic islands, way off the Portuguese coast (1,369km to be exact) in the Atlantic Ocean. A dream for anyone who enjoys their watersports but also home to some magnificent landscapes and mountain bike trails.

The ones on Santa Maria are relatively new trails, shaped, sculpted and (ahem) delivered by non other than the local postman, who came here from the largest island of the Azores – Sao Miguel. He started digging and clearing old paths to make a network of 20 or so trails, weaving there way down the volcanic landscape. They’re now maintained by local riders and offer a rich variety of riding for anyone who ventures there.

You can read more about what its like to ride these trails and what life is like in the Azores in the latest issue of MBUK but by way of a taster, check out these dazzling images taken by photographer Martin Bissig on his recent trip with Gerhard Czerner there.

A rider on a long, steep descent down to the sea
How about that for a descent? The landscape opens up as we make our way down to the coastal village
Two riders cornering in the forests of the Azores
The trails through the forests have been well sculpted and are maintained by the locals
Shot from the treetops looking down on two riders on a snaking trail
View from the treetops as the riders fly past
Two mountain bikers approaching a creek with a waterfall
A welcome pool at the bottom of the waterfall was perfect for a cooling a dip
Two riders at the bottom of a load of steps leading up to a temple
It’s a long walk to the top, but a blast of a ride back down!
Riders on a path between multiple hedgerows on the Azores
Picking the right line was a challenge
Popping off a bank in pine forest
There’s plenty of features down the trails to maximise the fun
Riding on volcanic rock above the sea
The dramatic volcanic cliffs add to the variety of terrain you can ride in the Azores
Riding through a root infested ravine on the Azores
Twisting roots and low slung branches keep things interesting through the forest

The Lowdown

The Islands

The Azores are a group of Portuguese islands in the Atlantic Ocean. There are nine larger and several smaller islands, located about 1,369km west of the European mainland and 4,382km east of North America. Mount Pico, on the island of the same name, is the highest point, at 2,351m. São Miguel and Santa Maria have the best infrastructure for mountain biking, as well as some incredible singletrack. There are bike shops, shuttle services and guides on both islands. Cross-country riders and roadies will also find plenty to entertain them here.

Getting there

The easiest way to get to the Azores is to fly to São Miguel (Ponta Delgada, PDL). Azores Airlines (www.azoresairlines.pt) will transport bikes. Direct flights leave from Germany and take about 4.5 hours. Small shuttle planes fly from São Miguel to Santa Maria daily. They’re cheap and transporting bikes is no problem.

When to go

The best months for mountain biking are May, June, September and October, when temperatures are around 22 to 24°C and the humidity is lowest. It’s also the quietest time on the islands.

Guiding and shuttling

Smatur organise shuttles, guiding, and other outdoor activities on Santa Maria (www.smatur.pt). Azures Adventure Islands offer full packages as well as individual tours and shuttles, and all the guides are top-notch enduro riders (www.azoresadventureislands.com). Trail maps can be found on the Trailforks website (www.trailforks.com). For general info, head to http://biking.visitazores.com. Trail maps:

Accommodation

Most tourist accommodation is in the main towns. You can find B&Bs as well as hotels and hostels. Hotel Colombo is the largest on Santa Maria (www.colombo-hotel.com), while the five-star Pedras do Mar resort on São Miguel is right by the ocean and does great food (http://pedrasdomar.com)

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