São Miguel Island is also known as ‘The Green Island’, and it is the largest and most populated island in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. The island covers 760 km2 (290 sq mi) and has beautiful diverse landscape. The island delights visitors with historical towns, beautiful volcanic lakes, hot springs, jungle-like forests, rolling hills and green mountains, tea plantations and deep blue ocean. São Miguel is unlike any other destination in the world. Once you see it with your own eyes, you want return over and over again…
1. Ponta Delgada
Ponta Delgada is a delightful town with 44 000 inhabitants, and it is the largest city in the Azores. Its roots in history date back to the 15th century when Portuguese explorers discovered the Azores islands. Most of the town’s oldest and beautiful black-and-white buildings were build during the 18th century. The small town is easy to discover by walking the mosaic streets. Ponta Delgada has also attractive city parks and small museums where you can escape the burning sun.
2. Sete Cidades
Lagoa das Sete Cidades, “Lagoon of the Seven Cities”, is a twin lake situated in the crater of a dormant volcano. These two small, ecologically different lakes are connected by a narrow strait, which is crossed by a bridge. The island of São Miguel was formed when this huge volcano erupted 50 000 years ago and created the Sete Cidades caldera and the lakes. However, according to an ancient legend, the lakes were formed of the tiers of a princess and a shepherd boy who were not able to get married. Anyway – these magnificent and ancient land formations offer the visitor unique scenery not seen in anywhere else in the world.
3. Ribeira dos Caldeirões
The Ribeira dos Caldeirões, situated near the town of Nordeste, is a park in the beautiful settings of old water mills, waterfalls and local vegetation. The scenery is dominated by the steep canyon as well as the exotic flora. Walking trails go up and down next to the waterfalls, streams and historical water mills. There used to be at least hundred water mills in the island. Now there are only seven left that are brought here from several places. If hiking is not your thing, the park is also a great place for picnic and there are lots of places for rest your feet and enjoy the views.
4. Lagoa do Fogo
Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire) is a crater lake within the Água de Pau Massif volcano in the center of the island. It is also the highest lake located on São Miguel and protected nature reserve. The volcano is the youngest on the island, formed approximately 15 million years ago, and its last eruption occurred in 1563. Paved road goes to the top of the hill overlooking the lake, but there are also many hiking trails around the lake. Between the crater wall and lake is a shallow beach and water in the lake is swimmable. This lake (and the drive there) offers the most beautiful scenery in the island.
5. Ribeira Grande
Ribeira Grande is the second biggest town in São Miguel with its 5000 inhabitants. It is located on the north shore of the island and its beaches get huge waves when it blows from the north. Ribeira Grande is founded in the beginning of the 16th century when the locals build several water mills next to the river that flows through the town. The old ruins and mill stones can be seen in the central park of the town. The town has well conserved hundreds of years old historical buildings, such as the Church of Nossa Senhora da Estrela.
6. Terra Nostra Garden
Terra Nostra Garden is one of the most beautiful garden parks in Portugal and, in my opinion, in the world. This 18th century park was created by American consul who brought different plants from all over the world into the island. Today, Terra Nostra has small lakes with large carps, hot water streams, colorful and exotic flowers, vegetation and trees, as well as century old trees of great botanical value. The park also features a thermal water pool where you can relax in hot water.
7. Natural Sea Pools in Mosteiros
Mosteiros is located on at the tip of the island, and surrounded by impressive coastal cliffs that reach 20 metres (66 ft). The natural sea water pools sheltered by the rocks offer visitor a unique swimming experience with hearing the music of the ocean waves and the wind. A phenomenon that occurred when the lava flows erupted, at sometimes solidified in contact with the sea water, formed the small coves of volcanic rock in Mosteiros. As a result, the locals and the tourists can enjoy these great salt water baths today.
8. Poca de Beija
Poca da Beija, located in the town of Furnas, has thermal pools that get its water from the hot springs of the nature. The average temperature of the pools is about 40 degrees Celsius. This is why the thermal pools are meant for relaxing rather that swimming. Since the hot water comes from natural sources, it contains different minerals. One of them – sulphur – makes the water a bit smelly, but your nose will get use to it in time…
9. Plantações de Chá Gorreana
The lush emerald green hills of the Gorreana estate have the oldest, and currently the only tea plantations in Europe. The same family has cultivated tea in this area since 1883. Even today, the tea here is grown hundreds of miles away from industrial polluters and without the use of pesticides or preservatives. The Azorean tea owes its unique characteristics to the climate, the acidic PH of the soil rich in minerals and the sea breeze that falls on the plantations. Today, Chá Gorreana’s plantation covers 32 acres and presently produces about 33 tons per year. The Gorreana estate has also tea boutique, factory and museum for visitors who can taste its tea products here.
Furnas is a highly volcanically active area in the middle of the Saõ Miguel Island. The Furnas Lake (Lagoa das Furnas) is surrounded by a beautiful flora and hot springs that serve as a natural kitchen. Cooking by burying food pots in the hot soil is a tradition in the Azores that provides a fantastic meal of mixed meats and vegetables. In the Furnas town, the Caldeiras (hot springs) are bigger and even more spectacular. Many openings in the earth sprout geysers of boiling hot water – and the smell of rotten eggs…
3 Tips for São Miguel
- Rent a car – there is so much to see in different places of the island!
- Remember to pack trekking shoes and swim suit with you!
- Outside the biggest towns, people do not speak English well – learn some words of Portuguese