Jennie Carr, presenter of the Silver Travel Show on The Wireless, meets Ben Fogle, adventurer, broadcaster and traveller, to chat about his love for islands and the 'otherworldly' Azores.
Ben Fogle has a fascination for islands. His book, The Teatime Islands, is the narrative of his journey around the world visiting some of Britain’s most far-flung outposts.
When I spoke to Ben at the Royal Geographic Society, he talked about his passion for islands. He sees a 'great attraction about their isolation' and describes them as 'castle-like, surrounded by their watery moats'.
He says: 'If you look at literature - children’s literature and adult literature - so much of it revolves around islands. And I’ve been obsessed to the point of going to live on one for an entire year.' (A reference to his appearance on the BBC reality show Castaway in 2000, which followed a group of people marooned on a Scottish island for a year)
Listen to the full interview with Ben Fogle
He really likes the Azores, all 9 of them (Flores, Corvo, Graciosa, Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, São Miguel, Santa Maria) stuck out in the mid-Atlantic - the result of a volcanic ridge, caused by an active triple junction between 3 of the world's large tectonic plates.
He explains what makes the Azores special: 'What’s amazing about the Azores is they are this volcanic range, many of which are less than a million years old, which started as nothing afnd have been transformed over many years with this fantastic rich flora and fauna, which creates this bizarre, otherworldly place. Which for me, I’m attracted to like a moth to a light.'
There are parts of the Azores that I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world
He's aware that not everyone sees the volcanic islands in this light. Many view them as this 'bleak, black, volcanic, ash-covered island chain'. For Ben, this adds to that 'otherworldly' charm.
'There are parts of the Azores that I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world.' He says: 'It’s like stepping on the moon, with its thick ash and pumice stone, and the lava that’s been frozen into these fantastic shapes.'
The Azores offers a wonderful vision of contrasts upon contrasts. The scene is lush with verdant flora, grown on the rich black volcanic soil, with deep blue, green lakes in collapsed craters, interspersed with bubbling sulphurous waters. Its cliffs are dramatic, plunging almost vertically into the ocean in places.
Ben says: 'It just creates this bizarre mix, where you’ll look one side of a mountain and it’s just bleak, blackness, and you’ll look at the other side and it’s the complete opposite end of the colour spectrum. You’ve got blues and rich colours of flowers...'
The flora and fauna on the islands are truly special, and indeed in some cases unique, with the laurisilva forest being without rival on the planet. Ben talks about the ‘busy’ weather because the Azores, as with so many islands in the Atlantic, can have amazing storms.
His approach to them is entirely practical: he recommends getting a good waterproof jacket, then embracing the wild rain and wind.
The climate here is sub-tropical, which leads to some wonderful plant life to be enjoyed on the many excellent hiking trails. And for the fit and active, canyoning and kayaking are on offer too.
Ben remarks that the Azores run very much on island time, so the pace of life is relaxed and feels a decade or two behind Great Britain for example.
He enjoys island hopping as a great holiday pastime, each one of them having a quite different character.
And there's always the possibility of spotting a whale while en route too.
Ben’s enthusiasm for the Azores is plain to see. The islands must have something special then, as Mr Fogle could probably go anywhere he chooses, but at the moment, it seems, he chooses the Azores.
This article is brought to you by Silver Travel Advisor.
You can listen to the Silver Travel Show on The Wireless on Wednesdays (6-7am) and Fridays (6-7pm).
Find out more information about trips to the Azores.