Best dish-Grilled octopus at Boca de Cena
Best view-Morning espresso from our deck in Furnas
Best activity-Ocean thermal pools
Best dish – Acorda de camarao at A Tasca
Best view – Top of the trail at Lagoa do Fogo
Best activity – All hot springs
Three things summarized our trip to Sao Miguel (the big island of the Azores): we love espresso and hot springs, everything on the island is unbelievably green, learning to drive a manual transmission in a hilly locale was a straining experience.
Our trip to the Azores began in Boston, home to one of the largest Azorean populations outside of the Islands. Boston has direct flights to Sao Miguel (St. Michael in Portuguese) but only on certain days of the week. Our flight, the red-eye, took off late Sunday night. Unfortunately, a 4 hour flight doesn’t give much time to sleep, and we were both pretty sleepy when we stepped off the plane at 6am local time. After gathering our bags/clearing customs/renting a car (a must if you plan to explore the island), we headed into down town Ponta Delgada for our go-to breakfast of espresso and chocolate pastries. Day 1 included some poking around the city, and a well deserved nap.
The island had a lot of these churches, very beautiful, white washed with volcanic rock. Unfortunately, we were unable to get inside any of them. The Azores is a beautiful place to visit, but not at all “touristy.”
Our second day included a trip to Sete Cidades (seven cities), which included some hiking and exploring of the local town. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and drizzling, so we didn’t get the opportunity to see the beautiful two colored lakes that you read about, one green and one blue, however, the hike around Lagoa Verde included some Two Traipser scrambling and tree climbing!
Taking a different route home, we passed by my favorite part of the trip, Ponta da Ferraria HOT SPRINGS IN THE OCEAN! There is a small rocky cove that has a thermal vent at one end, and you can bathe in ocean water heated from geo-thermal heat! While the drive was a little treacherous in our manual transmission car (hill starts…), it was certainly worth braving the wind and chilly temperatures to have a natural salt water Jacuzzi all to ourselves.
My favorite hike of the trip was Lagoa do Fogo. The hike began at the top of a volcanic cauldron, and zig-zagged down to a beautiful lake at the bottom. On the way down, you can see the Atlantic Ocean peaking over the other side of the cauldron. As you reach the bottom of the cauldron and begin to circle around the lake, you look around and feel like you’re in a Jurassic Park movie, all you can hear are hundreds of seagulls, and once again, we were all alone.
On the way from Ponta Delgada to Furnas, we stopped at the Queijadas de Vila for a snack and espresso. It was a charming experience watching them make and package the pastries and the pastries they made (queijadas) were AMAZING. We couldn’t help but buy a large box to bring back home (which we ate in Furnas).
We had planned to split our trip between Ponta Delgada and Furnas, Ponta Delgada had a variety of restaurants with some of the freshest seafood I have had, as well as some…unique local dishes (fried mackerel and blood sausage), our favorite was Boca de Cena (reservations recommended as we saw a number of people turned away, AMAZING food, all run by one man who served as maître d‘, chef and waiter). We enjoyed the ease of having a number of cafes and restaurants at our disposal. But after three nights, we were ready to head to Furnas.
After stopping at Queijadas de Vila we drove to Lagoa do Congro. Lagoa do Congro is another beautiful lake in a crater. To get here we had to drive down a dirt road (which was quite well signed, as were most landmarks on the island). The hike down to the lake is a mild 20 minute traipse. When we went, we were the only people there.
After we left the lake, we drove to our Airbnb in Furnas, which happened to be right next to the hot spring complex. The town of Furnas is much smaller than Ponta Delgada, with more limited dining and grocery options. By the time we arrived, there was a steady drizzle; however as it was Thanksgiving in the US we wanted to prepare a celebratory meal. We walked to the nearest grocery store where the selection was sparse… we ended up having mashed potatoes, mac n’cheese, garlic bread and some sort of “meatballs”. Overall, a great Thanksgiving!
On our first full day in Furnas, we decided to walk to the Lagoa das Furnas and see the Caldeiras da Lagoa das Furnas (sulfur hot springs). The sulfur hot springs were otherworldly. The smell of sulfur permeated the area and there was bubbling mud or bubbling water at every turn with sulfur steam seeping out.
After the Caldeiras da Lagoa, we found a trail to hike up on our way back to Furnas. The view of the valley from the top was amazing.
After our time at Lagoa das Furnas, we decided to the Terra Nostra Gardens and Hot Springs.
This was one of the few sites that had an entrance fee (6€). The gardens were pleasant but slightly underwhelming after the morning’s jaunt. The focal point of the gardens was the thermal pool.
While many people say this is a must, we much preferred the hot springs near our Airbnb. The thermal pool at Terra Nostra Gardens was crowded and lukewarm.
We walked back through the town of Furnas and stopped for a late lunch of Cozido das Furnas at at Restaurante Tony’s. Cozido is a stew dish comprised of pigs’ ears, and belly tossed into a pot, with beef, chicken, blood sausage, carrots, and cabbage. The pot is then buried in the ground near the sulfur hot springs and left to cook all morning. Each restaurant has their own slightly different recipe and you can see the different places that the restaurants bury their pots while walking through the Caldeiras da Lagoa. The result is an interesting stew with a slightly sulfurous taste that is served over rice. It was a hearty meal that is definitely worth trying while in Furnas.
We enjoyed the Azores; however we probably won’t go back. The hiking was great but there wasn’t much else. It would have been a great stop on the way somewhere or a long weekend. A whole week is better spent elsewhere.