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Sao Miguel
The Azores

View Over Crater Lake, Sete Citades, San Miguel, Azores Islands, Portugal, Atlantic
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Crater Lake, Sete Citades,
Sao Miguel, Azores Islands

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Sao Miguel - The Azores. A beautiful island - This is our story.


Sao Miguel, the largest and most touristy island of the archipelago is also the most varied. Rich in culture and beauty, Sao Miguel is blessed with a wide range of natural phenomena, sightseeing opportunities, festivals and active pursuits. The most spectacular places to visit being; the hot springs and volcanic activity at Furnas; Sete Cidades with its beautiful double crater; and Lagoa do Fogo (Fire Lake), with its mystical glistening waters.

Activities are plentiful, ranging from any type of watersports to horseback riding, excellent hiking and cycling opportunities as well as golf (2 excellent courses), tennis, paragliding and of course the chance to see the famed Whales and Dolphins.

We highly recommend a holiday to Sao Miguel for up to a week. It has something for everyone. Read our adventures below.




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Tuesday: We are sitting on a plane from Terceira to Sao Miguel and when the latter finally comes into sight, I unfortunately sit on the wrong side of the plane. The people on the other side have the most amazing view of Sete Cidades and its double-crater, one of the main attractions of the island.

The drive from the airport into Ponta Delgada is an even bigger "civilization" shock than we had arriving in Terceira. New buildings are being drawn up and apartment houses, multiple stories high, come in and out of view. Our hostel, though, is a traditional, beautiful building, once home of a rich, local family. As we have only limited time on Sao Miguel, we decide to rent a car and immediately make our way to Sete Cidades, hoping to see the sunset from there. Taking the road into the crater, everything seems to be covered by dark green forest. There is no sight of the famous double lake yet but it is clear that this is the biggest crater in the whole of the Azores. Winding our way deeper into the crater, we emerge from the forest and reach the small town of Sete Cidades, nestling on the west side of the lakes. According to legend, seven men of the church once came here and founded seven towns - Sete Cidades - which today have merged into one.

Following one of the narrow roads, we soon stand at the shore of the Blue Lake. High above us, wispy clouds pass over the tree-lined rim of the crater. Water quietly slaps onto the shore, and the smell of hydrangeas hangs in the air. Too soon we need to move on, as the sun is getting low. The drive along the lakes and up to the rim is simply beautiful. We are speechless. The road upwards is steep and windy, surrounded by forest, which only allows occasional glimpses back down towards the Blue and the Green Lakes. Stopping at a designated viewing point on the other side of the road, we are surprised to see a third lake deep down in a tree covered crater. Shortly before sunset we reach the rim and arrive at the Vista do Rei - the King's View - from where we have the most spectacular view, just as seen on postcards. The entire crater is stretching out in front of us, and the scene is so big, it hardly fits into one picture. Mesmerized by the beauty of it all, the pale disc of the sun disappears almost unnoticed behind a thick cloud cover.

Wednesday: After a good, long breakfast, Sean, myself, and Cassie, a friend of ours, make our way to Faja de Baixo, a suburb of Ponta Delgada, where we want to visit a pineapple plantation. We step into a big yard, and apart from six sleeping cats we see nothing but greenhouses. sao miguel The azores - pinapple plantation We are being invited to look into every single one of them, and find pineapple plants of every stage, from the newly planted ones to those with fruit ready to be picked. The peculiarity of these pineapples is that, four to six months after being planted, the greenhouse is being smoked out. All windows are being shut and dry leaves are burned along the middle of the greenhouse. The next day, the greenhouse is being aired. This procedure apparently achieves that all pineapple plants bloom at the same time. However, from planting to harvesting, a whole year goes by. Thankfully, we don't have to wait that long and get to taste pineapple liqueur in the charming little visitors center. It's quite strong for my taste and I am not a particular fan of pineapple, but this concoction is not bad at all!

From here, we drive further inland, up to 800m altitude, where we hope to see the Lagoa do Fogo, the famous Fire Lake. Unfortunately, we don't see anything at all. It rained last night and a thick layer of cloud still hangs over the entire ridge of the island, whereby a fierce, chilly wind almost blows us off our feet. The Fire Lake got its name when the crater, in which it is located, erupted and began throwing glowing stones into the air for days on end. It was such a grand spectacle that it was visible all the way to Terceira, which is an hour's flight away. Today, this lake is considered one of the most peaceful and romantic in Sao Miguel, due to its shimmering water and white, sandy beaches.

Our next stop is a tea plantation on the north side of the island. Sao Miguel has two tea plantations, the only ones in Europe that are being used commercially. sao miguel The azores - tea factory The plantation of Porto Formoso is not very big and to a layman it looks just like a field full of hedgerows. Harvest is from April to September, and the different leaves are made into black teas of three different strengths. After a guided tour through the factory we find ourselves in a farmhouse converted into a lovely tearoom, where we sample the different brews, and buy some more to take home. The final destination of today's tour is Furnas, which is probably the touristiest place on the whole island - for a good reason. Near the town with the same name, there is a big lake, which looks unhealthily yellow. However, despite the high amount of sulphur in the water, this lake is teeming with fish. We haven't come here to go fishing, though. We want to see the famous hot springs of Furnas. sao miguel The azores - furnas hotspings As we follow the signs around the lake, which lies half hidden in the fog and surrounded by dense forest, we start smelling the springs before we even see them. Turning into the parking lot, the smell of foul eggs becomes almost overpowering. Smoke rises from uncountable openings in the ground, water boils, and mud bubbles. Even through our shoes we can feel the heat of the earth. The atmosphere is eerie, and it feels as if we have fallen into a huge witches' cauldron.

Some of the smoke holes have actually been transformed to hold big cooking pots. Here, the popular Cozido is cooked. The standard version of this dish consists of different kinds of vegetable, potatoes and beef. It is put into a big pot, which is then let into a smoke hole on ropes. The hole is being covered with a big wooden lid and then the Cozido is steamed until done, which is a process that takes hours. Another scrumptious delicacy made in these holes is a flat cake called bolo levedo. This is a kind of sweet bread and turns out to be my favorite local treat, especially once I have established that it doesn't take on any of the rotten-egg smell. sao miguel The azores - furnas hotspings

Moving away from the lake and into town, we find even more hot springs. Here, everything bubbles and smokes, from the actual springs to the gullies and the river, which, for that reason, is called Ribeira Quente (Hot River). I am absolutely bewildered by the fact that we are standing right on the outlet of volcanic activity, which is being pushed to the surface from way beyond sea level.

After a day full of exciting discoveries, we all slowly get tired. Twilight is setting in and we still haven't found the campsite in town, which, according to Ponta Delgada Tourist Office, is still open for business. Camping season in the Azores is relatively short, lasting only from June through September, but it is always better to ask before going anywhere as opening times are taken as guidelines rather than rules. So we say goodbye to Cassie, who takes the hire car back to Ponta Delgada, and make our way to the tourist office, which - thank goodness - is open. The answer to my question though, is a perplexed "The campsite? It's closed! The season is over!" And here we are again, standing dumbstruck, as this is not the first time we have been misinformed. I feel rage welling up inside and am close to yelling at the poor lady "Your colleague at the airport said the campsite is open, Ponta Delgada Tourist Office said it is open, it is foggy, cold and rainy, the last bus back to Ponta Delgada has left, my boyfriend is standing outside with four big pieces of luggage, we are incredibly tired, were looking forward to a warm shower, and you are telling me the campsite is closed!!!????" Realising that we won't find any help here and not having a big enough budget to stay in one of the guest houses in town, we shoulder our bags and leave.

After another 45min walk we set up camp in the forest near the lake, always looking out for the police coming to tell us off, because there are big "No camping" signs everywhere. An ironic thought crosses my mind a prison cell would at least be dry and warm And as if all of that is not enough, a thunderstorm breaks loose in the middle of the night. Our tent stands on a hill on a clearing in the middle of the forest, 20m from the lake. We are both awfully exhausted after over a week of backpacking and rough camping, carrying all our belongings with us, and in need of a good night's sleep, but we are too scared to be hit by lightning to lie down. And so we sit, fully dressed in rain gear, with packed bags and ready to jump and run anytime if necessary. Only when it quietens down, some four hours later, we dare to relax a bit and fall asleep, totally shattered. No doubt, this is one of the worst nights of our lives.

Thursday: A new day dawns but it looks like the fog and rain are here to stay all day. Tired and frustrated we pack our things and start hiking around the lake. On a sunny day, this would be a wonderful walk, but we have only half an eye for the beauty surrounding us. Back in town, we want to try to leave most of our bags at the tourist office, as our bus does not leave till 5pm, and there are still places to be explored in Furnas. But the office remains shut today. It's a holiday. I am starting to think I have worked in tourism in the wrong countries. From all my experience so far, tourism professionals always work when other people have a holiday - or so I thought. So we take all our stuff and march on to the Terra Nostra Garden, which is hiding a wondrous attraction in its middle.

sao miguel The azores - furnas hotspings The very kind staff allows us to leave our luggage at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel before going into the garden, which inhabits an abundance of exotic plants. We admit, though, that in this very moment, we just want to do one thing - dive into the heated outdoor pool! Our moods finally start lifting when sinking into the murky brown water. This is bliss pure! The water is naturally brown, because of all the sulphur in it and I would recommend not wearing your favorite swim gear, as it might never lose this sulphuric shade again. The water is warm like in a bathtub and heated only by the natural hot springs in the area. There is even a powerful hot water stream - which is crystal clear by the way - coming from a tap, which you can let pour down on you for a nice shoulder and back massage. Is there a better place to be on a foggy, wet, cold day!?

The Azores - Nine Islands of adventure - Our stories
left button SAO MIGUEL - Adventure abounds left button FAIAL - Island tour by Scooter
left button FLORES - Walking holiday a must left button CORVO - The good old days
left button PICO - Mountain climb left button SAO JORGE - Beautiful walking
left button TERCEIRA - World Heritage site left button GRACIOSA - Remoter than you think
left button SANTA MARIA - A weekend getaway

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