this year we travelled to the azores for a family vacation. we rented a house in furnas, a town on the east side of the island of são miguel.
furnas has hundreds of small springs and streams, all with different properties. in some areas of town, there is a strong smell of sulphur. the geysers and the boiling, smoking hot springs are evidence of volcanic activity. the views of the furnas valley are stunning. we ate fresh corn boiled in the bubbling springs and bathed in some of the streams.
we took it easy and from our temporary home we strolled around town and through lush gardens and parks. just around the corner, there was a bakery selling bolo levedo for our long breakfasts, (an azorian muffin type of bread) and the fishmonger van drove by the house once a day (fresh tuna for eur.3/kilo!!).
from here we drove around the island, stopping at every view point to take pictures and enjoy the immense beauty of the island. salto do cavalo was a favorite with a magical view from atop of a hill. we visited fishing villages, and even spent a few afternoons on the dark sandy beaches.
these are a few of the places we visited and loved –
- terra nostra garden – we spent a whole morning walking through these gardens, lush and so well maintained, we walked for hours and took pictures of the amazing flowers and plants. they have a thermal iron water pool which was so much fun to dive in. (entrance fee is eur. 6 and located in furnas)
- santa bárbara beach – the beach is huge, with very fine dark sand and has a great beach bar managed by the santa barbara eco beach resort. we had delicious grilled shrimp and limpets, a local delicacy, and the best caipirinhas ever, i specially recommend the local passion fruit one – i might have had more than i would like to admit…
there was a stand where we could buy freshly made pineapple juice, so sweet and delicious!
- furnas lagoon – surrounded by an abundant vegetation, on the margins of the lagoon there are hot water boilers where the typical local stew is cooked, burying it in sealed pots in the soil, for 6 hours. we were told they make around 50 stews per day, for restaurants around and personal use too. (entrance fee is 0.50 eur. and located in the furnas valley)
- poça da dona beija – these natural hot springs are rich in iron, the water is in permanent contact with rocks subjected to high temperatures, reaching an average temperature of 39º C (102º F). there is a more shallow pool perfect for kids too, so it was fun that we could all join in. it has been recently fixed and now has a great infrastructure, with showers so you can rinse off the muddy iron before leaving. (entrance fee is eur. 3 and located in furnas)
- pineapple plantation – the azorean pineapples are grown in greenhouses, since the islands don’t benefit from hot equatorial sun. there are 6000 greenhouses in são miguel and the pineapples take 2 years to grow from flower to fruit. we ate tons of azorean pineapples, they are small and sweet and so good. (entrance is free at the arruda family plantation and located in the outskirts of ponta delgada)
- gorreana tea estate – the only tea plantation in europe, it’s the only remaining of the 14 original tea producing estates in the azores. we visited the main house where the tea leaves are processed on vintage 19th century english machinery, and then explored the tea fields. we couldn’t resist getting lost in the corn fields too!
- lagoa das sete cidades – it looks like a green lake and a blue lake next to each other, but it is only one lake. located inside a dormant volcano on the western side of the island, the views of the lake are breathtaking.
- caldeira velha – located on the north slope of the fogo volcano, this is another great spot for bathing in natural hot springs rich in iron (entrance fee is eur. 3 and located in the lagoa do fogo natural reserve.
- ponta delgada – the capital city, it’s beautiful and easy to walk around in, the church of the jesuit college, the doors to the city and the gorgeous portuguese sidewalks (which i am obsessed with everywhere i go!!) were a highlight.
other restaurants we liked –
restaurante ponta do garajau in ribeira quente – great local seafood and grilled fish, we also tried cracas, azorean barnacles, for the first time.
furnas boutique hotel – cute brand new hotel, we strolled from the centre of furnas, the restaurant has a really cool decor and the food is azorean fusion.
alcides in ponta delgada – a classic , you must order the azorean grass fed beef steak, cooked with plenty of garlic.
terra rostra hotel – everything was wonderful, specially the local cozido soup (a stew soup made with vegetables and boiled pork meat, cooked in the thermal hot spring by the lake) which in itself is worth the trip!
santa barbara eco beach resort – after our lunch at the beach bar we decided to try the resort’s restaurant. some of us had sushi, which was really good, and some had the tuna steak. it’s not a surprise that azorean tuna is so good and fresh, but their tuna steak, covered in sesame seeds, was seriously the best we had on island. on our next trip i would love to stay here for the perfect beach-nature combo, with the added bonus of some of the best food we had on our trip.
this was the perfect trip to spend some rest and relax time with the family, and julia loved being spoilt by everyone! it was my 4th time visiting the islands but i hadn’t been in over 10 years, i remember the first time i visited, the beauty of the island struck me so much, i seriously thought i was in paradise.