Back in May, we were trying to figure out the most intelligent and efficient way to come home. We knew we were going to be coming from the south of France, we knew we were going to land on the East coast, and we knew knew we still wanted to check out Lisbon. Looking at a map, the Azores are pretty much on the way, and flights from Lisbon to Ponta Delgada were relatively convenient, so… that’s how we ended up flying into Joao Paolo II Airport in the early afternoon on a cool, sunny day.
Our first impression? Sao Miguel is a pretty chilled-out island, and Ponta Delgada (the main city) is much the same. It took us about an hour (a mellow one) to get our rental car, and then it was an easy ten-minute drive into town, where we were staying at Casa da Galeria, just on the north side of the old town center. Our welcome was warm and wonderful, our little studio apartment was convenient and cozy, and the rooftop pool was… well, it was warm and wet. Home runs all around.
So what did we get up to for nearly a week of knocking around? Plenty.
Hike The Bluffs
Sao Miguel is basically a temperate rainforest, and there are trails everywhere. It’s like hiking in Hawaii minus all the sweating. We spent a day walking along a stunning bluff near Praia dos Moinhos, agog at the amazing bluff views. It’s another one of those places where the azure-blue ocean crashes with stunning force against sheer cliffs and sea stacks. We could have stared at that sea all day, but burgers and beers at the Moinho Terrace Cafe beckoned. It’s a perfect beach bar; we ate, drank, and ended the afternoon with our feet in the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Gaze at the Crater Lakes
The Azores are dormant volcanoes, so several of the collapsed craters have formed lakes, with all of the attendant wonders that come along with that. We hung out at Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azul – legend says they were formed from the tears of a star-crossed couple – and found them to be just fine (an expression which here means a little tricky to access but ultimately extremely beautiful). There’s not much to eat in town out there, so we got picnic stuff from the little town store and ate on a little wall on the lake.
Hot Water Part I – The Ocean
Volcanoes usually mean geothermally heated baths, and the first one we hit was at Ponta de Ferraira, a basalt-littered spot on the coast where hot water from the ground meets with freezing water from the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a nutty place; people just scatter their stuff on the rock, then climb a metal ladder down to the pool, which is continually swelling up and down with the natural action of the ocean. As you float there, you get swamped with warm water, then cold, then warm. They have little ropes to hang on, but as we had Fiona with us and were focused keeping her un-drowned, it was a little harrowing. Neat spot, though.
Everything Geothermal at Furnas, Plus Waterfalls!
Furnas is… well, a natural furnace. It’s one of the most geothermally active places on the island, and there’s a big tourist industry around the place. We went to Grena, where local restaurant owners put together big pots of stew first thing in the morning and then bury them in the ground to cook them. It’s a bit of a schtick, but a lot of fun to see.
But that wasn’t the neatest thing – Grena used to be a run-down commercial operation, but new operators have turned it into a park. It’s a little expensive to enter, but it was well worth it. We climbed 500+ stairs to Cascado de Grena, and… well, see for yourself. It was stunning.
How to end your day after a larger-than-expected hike? First off, cozido (stew), fresh from that day’s in-ground pots. Then a soak in the natural hot springs of Poca de Dona Beija, where the water is so iron-rich it’ll turn your swim trunks orange. A small price to pay for a bit of bliss.
Hot Water, Part III
We made an appointment (definitely make an appointment – spots are limited) at Caldera Velha, another natural hot-springs place near Lagoa do Fogo. On the way, we tried to get to a the main lake viewpoint, but it was pretty much impossible – the parking lot was mobbed with other tourists, and trying to finagle a spot was frustrating. We went up the hill a bit and got a look at it from higher up and… not too bad! It turns out we were lucky; the previous few days had been totally fogged in.
The Caldera was fun (although we liked Dona Beija a little more). There’s nothing quite like soaking in a hot spring while surrounded by verdant jungle.
Ponta Delgada town
We loved walking around Ponta Delgada. It’s a nearly perfect little tourist town, with outdoor cafes and restaurants galore, fun little shops, cobblestoned streets, and friendly folks. Things were pretty hopping as we got to the end of our week, as the Sete Cidades music festival was in town. We obviously did not go, but we had a fun tangential festival moment. One night we were sitting at a restaurant table, and a small group of people came by who were definitely not tourists. Multi-colored, waist-long dreadlocks, platform combat boots, many tattoos, and trailed by two older-looking people in studied casual outfits with phones glued to their ears.
“That’s a band,” I said.
“No way,” said Julie
“Seriously,” I said. I picked out the obvious leader, a dude with scattered tats, dyed-blonde hair and a perfectly styled outfit. “That’s either the singer or he’s the artist and the other guys are the band.”
Julie did some Googling trying to prove me wrong, but we ID’d him quickly from the music festival lineup: Mod Sun.
No, we didn’t know who he was either. But we did go down a rabbit hole and find out that he’s currently dating Avril Lavigne. At that moment he was having a pretty intense phone conversation, so did that mean that he was on the phone with Avril right then? Our minds were blown.
Anyway, festival-opener-rock-guys aside, Ponta Delgada was excellent. On our last night we went to a dinner at Louvre Michaelsense, sat outside, and watched the people while we ate. It was warm enough to wear sandals, cool enough to be comfortable, and just buzzy enough to feel like we were almost cool kids.
Sao Miguel is wonderful. The only sad thing (for us) is that there are several other easy-to-visit islands in the Azores, and we didn’t get to any of them on this trip! So we’ll have to go back! And in the meantime, go to the Azores if you get the chance.