Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sao Miguel: Just Passin' Through

+ADW and I saw and did everything we could in Sao Miguel: we climbed mountains, braved the ocean, walked into the mouth of a (sleeping) volcano... Actually, the entire island is a series of lush volcanic craters so that doesn't really say much other than we're crazy and the people who choose to live there are even nuttier than we are! We stayed at an unassuming modern zen style hotel recently constructed on the north-western coast that boasts quite the facilities; few of which we bothered to get acquainted with--if we wanted spa services, we wouldn't have travelled so far for them.

The Azores boasts a variety of active excursions as well as those for the less actively inclined. For those wanting to get out and about, activities range from water to land and everything in between; there is certainly something for everyone; some of it seasonally dependant such as surfing. For those who are less inclined to trek into the wilderness (so to speak), you'll find that the food and drink is pure and unadulterated--fresh in a sublime sense--it still brings envy (and a bit of drool) to realize that this is the standard; as well, many of the island's landmarks or 'museums*' are easily accessible by car--something I highly recommend for one travelling in the Azores.

*I use this term broadly since I can't quite find the best word to describe places of scientific and historic exhibition, discovery and research.

Instead of organizing my posts in the typical day-by-day adventures I've composed previously, I figured visitors might not be limited only to Sao Miguel; after all, there are nine islands. We start with my list of top 5 must do areas/features for a shorter length of travel on Sao Miguel.

1. Lagoa das Sete Cidades
This is probably one of the most popular image in a Google search of the Azores. These two visually distinctive lakes, located in the western third of the island, are situated in the crater of the civil parish of Sete Cidades and attract visitors and locals alike, to take in the stunning landscape. It's a view that simply can't be captured on camera and I'd say, one of the most breath-taking views I've witnessed in person and there are many look-outs. The views are so amazing that someone thought to cash in on it by building a hotel (Hotel Monte Palace) that overlooks the lagoas but didn't take into account the view is only viable when it isn't covered in fog--which is often--and today, the hotel stands abandoned.

For those looking to head out into the wilderness on foot, day hiking around the lagoas is an excellent way to see the natural landscape. An alternative would be to contact one of the equestrian companies of the island to see if they have any tours on horseback.

Not far from the two lagoas, there are natural thermal ocean pools that are a great trip for (what I consider) the brave: Ponta da Ferraria. The link is quite extensive so I won't go into detail, but stress that this feature is VERY MUCH dependant on weather and time of day. Go at the wrong time and you may be dragged out to sea or smashed against the rocky shores. There is no admissions for the natural pools but the (safe) man-made ones charge bathers.

2. Furnas
For me, this was my favourite area to visit. Not just because there is volcanic activity and a clowder of friendly felines:

A photo posted by Deborah (@my_examined_life) on

Located in the eastern-centre of the island, Furnas features huge calderas, fumaroles, geysers and hot-springs throughout the civil parish. The region is also home to one of the top hotels in Portugal: Terra Nostra Hotel, styled in art deco fashion and built in the 1930s, to attract "monied" visitors. The hotel is also keeper to a stunning gardens ground that is a must to check out (charge admissions). On the other hand, if you don't end up staying in Furnas, you could spend a morning taking advantage of the mineral hot springs--something we didn't feel inclined to do (in this instance).

Instead, we wandered into the parks area of Lagoas das Furnas where we thought we were going to take a brief stroll around the park but discovered a research and monitoring facility of Furnas: Centro de Monitorizacao e Investigacao das Furnas. Much of the island has been heavily burdened by the increase in agriculture practices that put the indigenous flora, fauna and fresh water reserves at risk but the government is taking steps to right poor practices that threaten the unique environment. I highly recommend visiting, in addition to the gated garden (you can get combo admissions to both but just make sure you have enough time to do both and are dressed appropriately).

We also visit the parks where the locals utilize the unique geology to cook food, by volcanic activity: cozidos. At this point in our trip, I was missing my two fur-babies and it was as if fate just knew (as always), and the moment I stepped out of the car at the park, a tortoiseshell kitty happily trots towards me in hopes of getting a hand-out. It doesn't surprise me that stray cats decide to populate this area since it's likely they'll get a meal. There are several restaurants that feature this menu and we visited one of the most well-known: Tony's.

One place we didn't manage to fit into our schedule (and I REALLY wish we did) is the Microbial Observatory of the Azores because I am a proud microbiologist by education, indirectly through my various forays into home fermentation and by work (seeing as many diseases are caused by microbes).

3. Ponta Dalgada
Ponta Delgada is the largest, most populated municipality and administrative capital for the region. If you're looking for some souvenirs and have a little less than a day, you could check out Fort de Sao Bras:

and wander the main part of the city and pier area. If you're looking for a more adventurous excursion, make your way to the pier see if you could sign up for a whale watching outing. This is unfortunately, highly weather dependant and it's tricky to tell from land so if you want to do this, try to book it early and if you need to re-book, there's still time to reschedule. Unfortunately for us, ADW was quite the sad panda since we didn't have that chance to head out. #nexttime

4. Vila Franco do Campo
If you're a history buff, this one would interest you because while Ponta Delgada is the current "capital", it wasn't always the case. Vila Franco do Campo was the main settlement until October 1522 when a violent earthquake shook the region, causing landslides that killed more than 5,000 of the inhabitants--many who were buried alive. The area has since been re-settled but has never regained its prominence as being the primary "capital". That said, it's still worth seeing because from here, you can visit or view (depending on the time of year and your interests) a crater islet about 1km from the south shore with indigenous flora/fauna and a small crater lake where visitors can swim and snorkel.

Bottom of the chapel steps
As we discovered about the Portuguese, they are a religious bunch and one of the most incredible churches we visited is the Our Lady of Peace Chapel, where this chapel is situated high on the top of the hill, providing an amazing panoramic view for any who visit, along with the beauty of the chapel itself. Be prepared for a hike well worth it and don't look back/down until you get to the top so you can be wowed.

There is also a regional cookie/cake made here that is worth trying when you're wandering around and looking or a snack.

5. Nordeste
The eastern third of the island shows visitors a more raw and untamed section of the island--full of death-defying mountain side roads and what appears to be more of the indigenous flora and fauna. Driving out to explore this area is a driver's dream come true with narrow winding roads carved into the sides of the mountains or passing over deep forested gorges.

Farol Ponta do Arnel
A highly recommended stop over here is the lighthouse on the most eastern point: Farol Ponta do Arnel. It's a functional lighthouse that is occasionally open to the public (usually a Wednesday) and worth seeing. The hike down to the house is steep so be sure you're prepared with the right shoes, water, endurance and clothes (hiking sticks help too) because going down is one thing, but coming back up is entirely another. Pack a picnic and you can chill out near the parking lot before or after your visit.

One of my favourite things about the island is the various gardens and look-outs along the roads where you could stop to enjoy the view, the company and a snack. One of the prettiest ones we visited was Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada.


  1. I think Nordeste and driving around the eastern part of the island are definitely highlights! Too bad no whales this time...

    1. the eastern area is quite different than the west and definitely under rated by travellers. whales another time, my friend...

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  3. I love traveling! Very cool and thanks for sharing :)