São Miguel, Azores

The Portuguese Jungle

Contrast, «an obvious difference between two or more things» (Cambridge Dictionary).

I was in Lisbon since one month only when my flatmate saw some Instagram story of the Azores and proposed me to go… What do I usually do when someone propose a trip to me? I start checking flights of course and, as a matter of fact, the following weekend I was flying to Ponta Delgada with other 11 friends – a random group that was trying to escape the curfew recently established in the continental Portugal.

For those who don’t know yet, the Azores are an archipelago of 9 volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and represent one of the two autonomous regions of the country (the second one is Madeira – in case you are wondering: yes, it’s on the list already).
A covid test was mandatory for those traveling to the Azores and free because registered with the flight ticket, so right after booking our flight to São Miguel – the biggest island – we also booked the test to do not more than 72 hours before check in.
We were almost surprised to find out that all the 12 of us actually tested negative.

On a Friday evening, after work, we wore our masks and gathered at the airport, ready to show with pride our negative results at the gate. Direct flight Lisbon-Ponta Delgada, Ryanair.
We landed around 11pm (note: there is one hour difference between the mainland and the islands), took our rented car and drove to our Airbnb where some of us were already starting the party with drinks and chips.

My flatmate Fanni and I had made research and a plan to visit as much as possible of the entire island in only two full days time; the others seemed to appreciate the effort even though we all know that during a trip nothing ever goes as planned – especially when 12 people who just met less than a month earlier travel together for the first time.

Anyway we are all still friends after all, so probably it did not go too bad. 😛

Day 1: one by one we all wake up, have breakfast and get ready.
First stop Miradouro da Barrosa, a view point from which it is possible to see the whole Lagoa do Fogo surrounded by mountains and clouds… yes, we were on the clouds and behind them we could see the city, the coast, the ocean. Stunning.

After taking some photos, we walked back to the cars to drive to Caldeira Velha: natural hotsprings immersed in a jungle basically, where the green around looked greener than normal (it’s a feeling I had all over the island).

You will notice that the color of the water is brownish; that’s because of the iron contained in it which could also possibly stain your swimsuit – with great satisfaction I can say that, since I had none in Lisbon, for only 3,60€ I bought a nice and simple swimsuit in Decathlon which is still in perfect conditions after that trip.

If you want to go to Caldeira Velha only for a visit, the entrance will cost 3€ but honestly, once you are there, why not taking a bath in those warm pools?! Pay only 8€, get the bracelet that allows you in and relax. I really think is worth it.
When we were there only 9 people per time could stay in the pools, most probably because of the virus but it was even better like this: nobody likes overcrowded pools, plus those are not even that big.
Also because of the virus, showers were not available but we could access to some changing rooms and get rid of the wet swimsuits.

We lost some more time than planned in Caldeira Velha because we really enjoyed to relax in that warm water surrounded by spectacular nature, a kind of nature which you don’t expect to see in Portugal.
Once worn our dry clothes, we went for a slow lunch before heading to Chà Gorreana, tea terraces that happened to seem quite disappointing to us; maybe it was not the right season but the landscape we found ourselves in front of was nothing like the photos we saw on the web during our research.
You should anyway know that this tea factory is the oldest and currently the only tea plantation in Europe. This was the reason why I really insisted to make a stop there…
After 5 minutes and two photos, we opted to leave.

The last destination for that day was the Terra Nostra thermal spa in Furnas but we got lost in the lands of São Miguel and, according to Google, the complex was already almost closing so we put into reverse and went home for a shower – well, 12 showers – before having dinner in the cute small center of Ponta Delgada.

Just a quick mention about the weather since it came to my mind that having dinner outdoor on that Saturday night we felt pretty cold.
I heard that in the Azores they have a saying: “if the weather doesn’t convince you, wait half an hour”.
It was November and the overall weather was quite acceptable for the whole weekend: in the city wearing just a shirt on a t-shirt (both long sleeves) during the day was enough, but wearing the Kway on the top of the Miradouro da Barrosa was a smart choice.
On the second day we got some rain – bring the Kway was still an amazing idea – but in the evening we had dinner outdoor again and this time denim shirt on the long sleeves t-shirt was more than enough.
Conclusion: the weather was surely warmer than in Lisbon but also very unpredictable (remember you are in the middle of the Ocean), therefore in case you go there I suggest you to dress in layers.
Do you get that proverb now?

Day 2: Sete Cidades, the west part of the island where the main point of interest is the beautiful lake surronded by Miradouros and nature. The day was a continuous driving from a spot to another around the lake, getting lost through amazing viewpoints characterized by this shining green. Beautiful! But we basically spent the day in the car.
That Sunday a friend’s friend joined us; she moved there from Rome since a couple of years and she works as tour guide, it goes without saying that thanks to her we could visit places that we did not read about, such as an haunted hotel…

I am talking about the abandoned Monte Palace Hotel or what it remains of it.
This former five stars hotel was built at the end of the ’80s and it’s closed since more than 20 years already: the owner declared bankrupt after only one and half year from the opening.

I must say that in spite of the impressive view you could have admired from the windows, in my modest opinion it was not the smartest decision to open a hotel in this location, on the top on the hill and far from everything; so remote that without a car guests could not get anywhere.

Same as those guests would have probably done, after hanging out on the ruins and graffitis of the hotel, we took our cars and drove to the coast to consume our packed lunch. We found a random spot where the black of the volcanic beach met the turquoise of the oceanic water, the same colors we encountered again in Ponta da Ferraria a while later.

When searching infos about Ponta da Ferraria, Fanni and I had the dreamy idea of us all watching the sunset in this thermal waters while holding a glass of sparkling wine.
Dream vs. reality: we parked the car and it started raining – that kind of little and annoying rain drops; it was cold and windy and the consequence was rough sea.
Braving these conditions we went into the water anyway because we felt we had to, since it was supposed to be a unique experience.

This that you see in the photo is the natural hot water pool of Ponta da Ferraria: a sort of cove where the sea coming in contact with the volcanic rocks turns very hot (up to 30°).
The phenomenon depends anyway on the tide and when we were there the big waves carried the cold oceanic water all in: not only we didn’t feel warm but we did not even relax because due to the strength of the waves we could barely hang on the ropes.

Can you imagine how would it be to also try to sip from a flute of champagne?

After acting calm in order to take an acceptable photo, I chose to get out of the water and go back to the changing room trying to warm up (there were outdoor showers available – at least I could wash away the salt).

Despite the terrible image I’m presenting you… This place is really worth a visit, even only for the landscape and its fascinating contrast of the black rocks lighted up by the shining green leaves growing among the stones, or the blue of the ocean which was hitting against those black cliffs.
These contrasting colors filled my eyes with wonder; the same wonder I felt by watching the bright green of the nature surrounding the brownish water of Caldeira Velha.
But if I chose the word contrast for this trip it is also because in São Miguel you will find on one hand a wild and scenographic nature and on the other small towns where you can have breakfast kissed by the sun, sitting in front of the harbour.

Little homework for when you’ll visit: try to count all the cows you’ll meet on the way because someone says that in the Azores there are more cows than humans 😀

Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the page…
I’ll read ya!

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