The Azores is one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal, an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean about 850 miles west of continental Portugal, about 936 mi from the African coast, and about 1200 miles from North America.
The climate of the Azores is very mild for such a northerly location, being influenced by its distance from the continents and by the passing Gulf Stream. Due to the marine influence, temperatures remain mild year-round. The locals refer to the Azores as the Hawaii of the Atlantic.
São Miguel is the largest of the nine islands with the Azorian capital in Ponta Delgada on the south coast. The island is about 40 miles long and up to 10 miles wide. The main features of the island are its many large volcanic lakes plus the numerous flora – in particular the hydrangea hedges which line many roads on the island.
We traveled to the Island of São Miguel of the Azores in October 2017 and spent 6 days hiking and touring the island.
Regular direct flights leave Toronto and Boston for Ponta Delgada. Flight times are 5 or 6 hours. Flight costs are quite reasonable and our return flight was about $600 CDN.
There is an island bus service but this is reported to be very irregular. You can also hire a car and driver and pay by the day. We rented a car which gave us the most flexibility.
A word of warning is that road maps are virtually useless as none of the roads are marked. We used our smart phone google maps GPS and found this to be indispensable. Google maps for the Azores has a few glitches but in general works well. The tourist center at the airport has an excellent island map.
There are two primary highways; one along the north eastern half of the island and the other along the south central part of the island. The remainder of the highways and roads are narrow with a lot of sharp curves through the mountains. The roads through the towns are narrow and often reduced to one lane due to allowed parking on the streets. Try and avoid the towns if possible. There are many roundabouts at road intersections.
We stayed at the Pedras do Mar hotel on the north coast near Capelas. Here are some pictures of the airport and hotel.
We traveled east along the north shore road to the Nordeste area. We stopped at several scenic overlooks along the way to our main destination which was the Arnel lighthouse on the extreme eastern end of the island.
The road down to the Arnel lighthouse is paved but extremely steep. Do not drive down without a four wheel drive vehicle. The descent is about 400 feet vertical and less than 1/2 mile. You can continue on down to a small fishing port but remember it is a long steep climb back to the car. Here are some pictures of this.
On day two we traveled to the most scenic place on the island – Sete Cidades. This is a double volcanic lake separated by a causeway. One lake, Lagoa Verde is a brilliant green color. The other larger lake, Lagoa Azul, is a brilliant blue color. Travel here on a sunny day for best viewing. You can view the lake from scenic points above or drive down to the town of Sete Cidades. Here are some pictures.
We then traveled to the extreme western end of the island to swim in a famous ocean hot spring at Ferraria and to see a black sand beach at Mosteiros.
Here are pictures of the Ferarria lighthouse, the Termas da Ferarria ocean hot spring and the coastline. The Termas hot spring is a pool adjoining the ocean. There are ladders into the pool and ropes across for guidance. There is a hot water source into the pool which is cooled somewhat by the colder ocean water. We were not able to swim in the hot spring pool due to wave action flooding the area.
On this day we traveled to the beautiful Lagoa do Fogo another volcanic lake surrounded by mountains. There are two trails down to the lake: a longer gradual trail; and a shorter steeper trail that is not well advertised. We took the latter. It is about 1/2 mile long descending about 500 feet to the lake.
Leaving this area we went to the Caldeira Velha, a beautiful volcanic fumarole. There are two main hot spring pools here. The largest upper pool is at the base of a small waterfall and has fairly cool water. The lower pool is smaller with hot mineral water. We spent time in both pools and had lunch here on the benches.
In the afternoon we traveled to the world famous Gorreana Tea Plantation. This is the only tea plantation in Europe. It was started in 1883 with the help of two Chinese experts and has been in production ever since. They have a very interesting video on tea production. We hiked through the tea fields on a well marked trail.
This day was spent in the region of Lagoa das Furnas. First we hiked around the volcanic lake, then had lunch in Furnas followed by a walk through the Terra Nostra Gardens with a swim in the hot springs pool. Late in the day we hiked down to another lake, Lagoa do Congro.
The day we visited the Lagoa das Furnas there was a two hour bicycle race around the lake a circuit of 4.7 miles. We hiked around this lake in the morning. One of the features of this lake is that local restaurants cook a stew meal in the hot sand of the volcanic vents. We later ate our meal which was the best meal we had in Azores.
In the afternoon we toured the Terra Nostra Gardens in Furnas. This garden was founded by Thomas Hickling in 1775. Over the subsequent two centuries the gardens and house have been modified and expanded to what it is today. It contains numerous varieties of flowering plants plus many huge trees dating from the beginning of the garden. This truly is a wonderful place to visit.
The walking trail around the town of Furnas and through the gardens was 4.1 miles.
The large hot springs pool in the Garden is a muddy brown due to the iron content of the water. It was very enjoyable if you didn’t mind getting your bathing suit, towel, and body coated with muddy brown iron. We then traveled to a small lake named Lagoa do Congro. It was a 1 mile return trek down 280 feet of elevation in the pouring rain.
In the morning we traveled to the beautiful port town of Povoacao on the south eastern end of the island. We had lunch at the Restaurente Jardim in the central square. We ate fresh caught fish called black mouth – an orange fish with very large eyes. This was served with roasted vegetables – a delicious lunch.
Our main reason for travelling here was to hike the Salto do Prego trail to a beautiful waterfall and to Aldeia do Sanguinho, an old mountain village being restored. This hike was 3.4 miles in length with total elevation rise of 960 feet.
On our final day in the Azores we toured an indoor pineapple plantation and then toured Ponta Delgada where we had lunch before catching our flight home. Lunch was at the Tasca restaurant which has a wide variety of reasonably priced items on the menu. I had the best tasting roast beef sandwich I have ever had. Beverley had the chicken sandwich which was not nearly so good. Jim and Brenda had a fantastic fish stew with manta, barracuda, clams, whitefish, shrimp and lovely puff pastry.