Written below are some of my favourite places and experiences (there were too many to write in one post) in Sao Miguel, Azores, which I travelled to in September, 2018.
Earlier this year, I sat at my desk at work on a dreary Tuesday morning, but only in body. As I stared into my computer screen, like most Millenials, my mind started to wander: where on Earth could I have been at that moment, rather than sat in the office? I then spoke out to my colleague sat opposite, who is a master at wanderlust conversation having once worked in the travel industry, and asked her where she reckoned I should go.
As though she already knew where my mind had veered off to, instinctively and immediately she answered the question with a question – “have you heard of the Azores..?”
Upon gazing at its beautiful, kaleidoscopic landscapes on Google images, I searched and found some super cheap flights from Manchester Airport to João Paulo II Airport in Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores (mouth-full). Then I found a travel companion, and we booked for early September, when the temperature is consistently low to mid-twenties. Even though, as we soon found out, you can have four seasons in one day, and the temp is hugely variable depending on your altitude on the island.
The flight took four hours, and then we landed on Sao Miguel island. After speaking to tourist info, some locals and some fellow tourists, we decided Logoa do Fogo should be our first stop.
FIRST DESTINATION: LAGOA DO FOGO
We climbed up into the clouds in our Ford Focus rental (renting a car definitely seems the best way to get around the island), from the city of Ponta Delgada below, and instantly got a sense of island life. We were happy to be stuck behind a herd of cows up a windy lane for four miles as it gave us a chance to take in some of the breathtaking views and wildlife. Once over 3,000 feet above sea level, we parked and began the hike down to the lake.
The hike is steep, and slippy when wet, but completely worth it. The views are some of the best I’ve personally ever seen. The calm lake is juxtaposed against the jagged terrain which gives a supernatural air to the surroundings. And the quietness and lack of people makes you feel as if you could be back in the Jurassic period, or even in the theme park itself…
SECOND DESTINATION: CLADEIRA VELHA
You will def feel like jumping into a Jacuzzi after hiking to see Lagoa do Fogo, so why not jump into a natural one? Cladheira Velha is a twenty minute dive from there, and the perfect remedy.
You pay 8 Euros in to the park for access to the natural hot pools, where you can sit, relax, and take in the tropical atmosphere. It’s geared up for tourists with changing rooms, lockers, and man-made walkways, but this doesn’t much take away from the feeling of being in and amongst nature. You also get to witness water at boiling point that isn’t coming out of a kettle ready to make a cuppa with. Pretty cool.
THIRD DESTINATION: PONTA DELGADA
After doing quite a bit of driving on the first day, we decided to check out the capital of Sao Miguel island, Ponta Delgada. The city centre and main square were around a 15 minute walk from our Air Bnb, which offered a leisurely coastal stroll into town. The city has so much variety to it, it seems to have something for everyone. This includes a stunning harbour, from which you can go on boat tours to whale and dolphin watch, something we regrettably missed, so will have to do next time. There’s an impressive market (Mercado da Graca) to buy fresh fish, fruit, and veg, a natural and man-made swimming pool, with cool buildings spread throughout the city. For the evening, restaurants and bars are aplenty, and the city comes alive with live music. Epic.
FOURTH DESTINATION: SETE CIDADES
Sete Cidades requires another 40 minute drive from the centre of Ponta Delgada, but man, is it worth it! It is a little parish, with a population of around 1,000, located at the centre of a volcanic crater. Before arriving at the village, there are various viewpoints at which to look down over the lake – definitely stop at one of these because your mind will be blown. It’s also worth having a quick look around the village; it feels relatively untouched by tourism, and the colourful buildings and beautiful church again give you a sense of being transported back in time. However, the main attraction of Sete Cidades is the lake. Check out the images above because I can’t do it justice with words. One very cool thing they’ve only started doing this year is watersports on the lake. As such, we kayaked to our hearts’ content. Also, there were only around 10 other people on the lake which is why I’d urge you to visit this place sooner rather than later.
FIFTH DESTINATION: SAO ROQUE BEACH
BEACH DAY. In need of another break from the car, Sao Roque beach was around a 90 minute scenic walk from our accommodation. On our way we actually passed another natural swimming pool overlooked by some giant rock formation. The beach in Sao Roque is awesome – it has black sand, fairly warm water, and somewhere to get a beer. Perfect. It is also overlooked by a 400 year old, stunning church. I’ve never been laid on a beach listening to church bells ring before, I’d recommend it. When the sun had set, we strolled 5 minutes up the road to a beach front restaurant where we ate fresh fish and drank white wine. Again, couldn’t recommend it enough.
SIXTH DESTINATION: FURNAS
As our adventure came to a close, there was one last village and lake we needed to visit – Furnas. We drove straight to the lake, which is encircled by a walking path. I didn’t think there could possibly be another breathtaking lake on one small island, but I was proven wrong. And the cool thing about it is how different they all are. Furnas lake has lots of greenery surrounding it, and you get a chance to see volcanic steam coming out of the ground. The locals make use of this steam, and use it to cook a traditional dish called cozida, basically a meat stew cooked in big pots under the ground. After walking around the lake, we went into the village and ate at Tony’s restaurant. I would recommend this restaurant for its vibe, and wine, but not sure the cozida was for me. Not gonna lie, it was pretty tasteless, but I can’t argue with the huge portions Tony served us up.
Jordan Peterson: “When you explore boldly, when you voluntarily confront the unknown, you gather information and build your renewed self out of that information. That is the conceptual element. However, researchers have recently discovered that new genes in the central nervous system turn themselves on when an organism is placed (or places itself) in a new situation. These genes code for new proteins. These proteins are the building blocks for new structures in the brain. This means that a lot of you is still nascent, in the most physical of senses, and will not be called forth by stasis. You have to say something, go somewhere and do things to get turned on. And, if not…you remain incomplete, and life is too hard for anyone incomplete.”