Hi all! Here I am writing about past travels. This was a trip I took for 2 full days in the beginning of January in 2016 and was an awesome experience. So, let’s tell a bit of how my trip to São Miguel, an island we all know here in Portugal to be stunning, happened.
My friend from Canada I met in Prague during my Erasmus would visit me in January 2016 and suggested we’d make a trip together. I had also thought about it. She had been here once already and saw plenty of mainland Portugal, so I suggested we’d go to Madeira or Azores. I saw crazy cheap flights to São Miguel, like 25€ round trip, and suggested this to her. I have to admit it took a little longer to book the flights, since questions popped in my head and I asked my local connections:
Will it rain too much so we can’t drive?
Are public transportations any good? Do I really have to rent a car?
If I have to drive, are roads not too slippery?
We know weather in Azores is very moody. You can get the 4 seasons in 1 day. And you can also get by now that I never had driven a car that wasn’t mine. Since my boyfriend doesn’t drive and my friend is used to automatic vehicles, I felt anxious (absolutely with no reason). So, the answers were:
It depends. Let’s hope for the best.
Yes. You really have to rent a car.
Roads are good, don’t worry.
So, after this consultation, we went for it. The flights were 35€ round trip from Lisbon with Ryanair and Easyjet, still a great deal! We were hoping for a better weather than here in mainland Portugal, since my friend came hoping for sun (last time she had been here was in June and the weather was perfect) and she got rain and clouds all week. Literally. In Lisbon. This is super rare. Instead, we got quite good weather when we landed in Ponta Delgada, the largest city of Azores. The winter here is very mild, with 17-18ºC maximum temperatures for the days we stayed. The problem is rain and wind (the weekend after we went there was a tropical storm so we were hugely lucky)! We got by well though.
We got ourselves a triple room at 1ofus Hostel in the center of Ponta Delgada. We found this place through AirBnB and this is perfect. Literally. Please stay here if you ever come to Ponta Delgada. For 3 nights, I paid about 44€ and we had breakfast included (and awesome fruit jams from the island), free cookies and tea all day long, a kitchen and also a reading room. The hostel is owned by two siblings, Marcos and Patrícia, who are some of the nicest hostel owners I ever met. When we arrived, Marcos welcomed us with a passionfruit liquor, typical from Azores, and we all toasted to our stay. The furniture was painted by Patrícia and the place is so cozy! Unfortunately I only have pictures from the kitchen, just come to check it out.
We rented our car with the company that Marcos had recommended, Auto Ramalhense. The car was right in front of the hostel at 8AM since we had little time to see the island! We rented a Toyota Yaris and the driving was very easy. We paid 24€ per day for the car + the gasoline refill in the end. Splitting the costs, we paid each 21€ for transportation for the stay. In the end we split driving (my friend still knew how to drive manual) but I started first and felt so good! Our first stop was in Lagoa, a town 13 Kms east of Ponta Delgada, where we walked a bit to see the natural swimming pools limited by basalt stone, see some street art and buy “bolo lêvedo”, a type of sweet bread from Azores. This is so fluffly, I’m gonna die! =D
NOTE: São Miguel has plenty of natural swimming pools by the sea. Some of them are warm due to the mixture of the cold sea water with the hot thermal water from volcanic activity. The most well known is in Ponta da Ferraria, in the western part of the island (not visited in this trip, hopefully next time).
The next stop was Vila Franca do Campo, still by the sea. This town is about 27 Kms east from Ponta Delgada and has a curious isle right in front. The isle of Vila Franca do Campo has hosted already a stage of the Red Bull Cliff Diving competition where contestants dive into the inner lagoon of the isle. I have a friend who went there in the summer and got to the isle (boat access is only possible in the summer) and snorkeled there and said it was amazing, lucky her! There we had the chance to eat our lunch, with the amazing local “queijadas” for dessert, and go all the way up to Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz to have an amazing view to the ocean and see some tiny little cows, being Azores a famous archipelago for the immense number of cows it has.
It was time for one of the main highlights: Furnas! This place is booming with thermal activity. Here you can find the natural swimming pools, where hot water with a strong sulphur smell comes out. You can take a soothing bath in soup-like temperature waters in Parque Terra Nostra or Poça da Dona Beija (we went to both!) or use one of the “fumarolas” (smaller openings that let out the hot water) in Lagoa das Furnas (the lagoon in the entrance of the village) to cook the famous “cozido das Furnas” (Furnas stew), with lots of meat and vegetables. We did not see the “fumarolas”, but strolled around the opposite side of Lagoa das Furnas , where you can find Ermida de Nossa Senhora das Vitórias, a marvellous chapel built in the 19th century in neogothic style. In order to go inside this chapel, you need to pay a 3€ fee. However, the thing I liked in the lagoon was to see the trees with underwater roots. Seemed a bit haunting, combined with some fog setting in.
Parque Terra Nostra is an absolute delight. The entrance is 6€ and you can visit the luxurious gardens and its animal sculptures. However, the best is to bathe in the warm orange waters. It truly felt I was a vegetable in a soup! Anyway, having to shower in effing cold water afterwards is not so nice, but this is a relaxing experience like no other.
The sun was setting but the warm baths were not over! Poça da Dona Beija only closes at 11 PM so we went there to relax and be on the baths under a sky full of stars. I unfortunately have zero pictures from here, but you have to believe me, it’s magical! The entrance fee is 4€ + 1€ if you want a 5 min warm shower after. There are 6 warm baths and a cold one that you notice because there’s no one there. We went to the cold one to get our temperature to normal levels again for a short while.
After a good night of sleep, and weather forecast of a rainy and foggy day, we set ourselves to go to the quintessential natural attraction of São Miguel, Lagoa das Sete Cidades. This lagoon is composed of two lagoons, a blue and a green one. The legend is that a princess and a shepard fell in love and, saddened by their forbidden love, they cried so many tears of the color of their respective eyes. Truthfully, the color difference is due to algae. Anyway, in a foggy day like this, both lagoons are grey. There is a famous viewpoint, Miradouro do Rei, where you get stunning pictures from the lagoon but we could see nothing. It felt a bit like an horror movie. Still, I loved being there, since it was so different from the touristic views we all get from this place.
We decided to have lunch in the north of the island, so we set our direction to the second largest town in the island, Ribeira Grande. The GPS thought the best way to get there would be through a secondary road which was very narrow and had fallen branches. Visibility was not ideal of course so I was spooked. Anyway all was. It is a quite charming town with fishermen houses and a nice park by the sea, where a orange river meets the sea. All thermal activity in the island is amazing!
A curious fact about Azores is that it is the only territory in Europe where tea is grown and produced. We went to the old factory of the local tea, Gorreana, about 12 Kms east of Ribeira Grande. I have to add the road to Gorreana is so beautiful! The landscape of the north coast of São Miguel is so beautiful with cliffs that made me think of Ireland and how I should go there someday! And also lots of cows by the side of the road. Visiting the tea factory is free of charge and you can see the old equipments to process the tea leaves dating back from the 19th century. In the end of the visit, when arriving to the cafeteria, you can serve yourself from two Gorreana tea varieties, the black and the green. I tried both and it’s quite good! You can leave a tip if you want, which we did. It’s also nice to walk around the tea plantations just outside the factory.
Time was running out and we had to get back to Ponta Delgada to give back our car. We rested a bit in the hostel and then went out for dinner at Mandarina, a restaurant right by the fish market. Before dinner, we just passed through Portas da Cidade (Gates to the City) with its three arches. There is a myth that, when you pass through the three arches, you are making a resolution that you will come back. In fact, the Azorean community in the city of Fall River, Massachusetts, USA, built a replica of Portas da Cidade. Gosh, I should go there after I move to Boston to feel a bit closer to my roots. For dinner we had squids and also an Azorean steak. The meat is as soft as I’d been told.
After dinner, since the restaurant did not have Azorean wine (it is produced in the island of Pico, where my maternal grandmother is from and where I went when I was 8), we went to a nice bar called Tasca in the same street of the hostel. We drank a glass of wine each for 2€ and the wine is quite different from mainland wines, more acid I guess, and the bar has live music and board games. A great choice!
Unfortunately our stay was super short and we had to leave the next morning! I have to say that this amazing weekend, in total, cost about 160€, including the flights. A true bargain! Of course you don’t get the beautiful blue skies you expect from the summer, but you get a very nice time in Azores off season too. I really hope to go back someday, probably in the summer to try water sports too, and also to explore the other islands.
If you want additional tips about São Miguel and Azores, I guess the biggest specialist is Geeky Explorer. Bruno was my colleague during the MSc and for so long I had no idea he had a travel blog (duh) and it’s quite successful. He was born in São Miguel and I contacted him for advice before I went. Find his guide for São Miguel here.
Did you visit São Miguel already? If not, is it on your bucket list? Would you visit in the Winter like I did?
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