This summer (2018) we visited the most perfect island – the land of milk and honey – and amazing avocados, pineapples, seafood, lakes, hills…
Thanks to its location in the Atlantic archipelago of the Azores, São Miguel is an incredibly fertile volcanic island. Everything we ate there was incredible, and everything that grows there was thriving.
It almost felt like we had visited the place where weather was made; we could walk in and out of micro climates – my raincoat has never been on and off so frequently, and as a Manchester girl that’s saying something!
We could be walking in a valley shrouded in mist and rain, then within minutes the clouds and rain would move on entirely, revealing the lushest, greenest slopes and blue (or green!) waters.
For a small island, Sao Miguel really packed a punch. We stayed in the port city of Ponta Delgada, home to some great restaurants and beautiful black paved streets. I particularly recommend Calcada do Cais for seafood, we had the Octopus risotto which was so incredible I didn’t get a good picture before devouring it. Also make sure to book, the places stay open very late which is great because to eat at 9pm without a reservation was pretty tricky in the better places. Another place that’s worth a visit is Taberna Acor, where you cook your own fish on a hot plate at your table.
We stayed in the beautiful and friendly Casa Conforto which had a great location – right in the centre of Ponta Delgada. The hotel was great value and friendly, just don’t book their breakfast – we found it pretty thoughtless and not that fresh, it would have been much better if we had bought our own in the local markets and prepared it in the communal kitchen. Next time!
From the get go we loved the place and found it far easier to get around than we expected. The local buses were easy to use and were more like coaches – we took one to Furnas. We also used the yellow hop-on hop-off bus company, one of which was an open sided jeep style minibus, with plastic tarp ‘windows’ for the rain – much more fun than the mainland Europe versions! They went to the main sites nearby Ponta Delgada – Logoa do Fogo, Sete Cidades, Ribiera Grande, doing two different routes on alternate days and ran hourly, which meant we could spend 2-3 hours at each location. The bus stops for 15 minutes at a designated viewpoint overlooking the Sete Cidades lakes, however the best view is actually from the roof of the abandoned hotel over the road, a little fence-hopping and a wait for the next bus is well worthwhile!
The Monte Palace Hotel was built in the late 80s, with high hopes to become the first 5* large scale hotel on the island. Unfortunately, it took a while for the Azores to reach any kind of level of popularity that could sustain such a large, remotely located hotel. Even now the island is mainly visited by cruise ships, though we came via a Ryanair flight and without a hire car so it’s clear things are changing, and the hotel is rumored to be redeveloped within the next couple of years.
After nearly a decade of planning and construction, it took just 18 months for the brutalist hotel to become a financial burden on its owners. It was subsequently abandoned, leaving a sole guard to wander the corridors, fighting back against decay and destruction until inevitably the money ran out, and the hotel became a different kind of destination – first for looting and then for urban exploring.
The state of the interior nowadays reveals nothing of its 80’s opulence, graffiti covers the empty concrete and lift shafts and other sudden drops are left exposed. The danger is worth it for the unrivaled view – taking a small staircase up will bring you to a room where you can climb out onto the top of the building, and look over the Sete Cidades lakes.
One of the last things we did before leaving was spend a day exploring Furnas. Our first stop was the Terra Nostra park, home to a huge thermal pool with rust coloured, suplhuric waters. We bathed in each of the pools in the park, surrounded by incredible green foliage. An important thing to note is that the water will stain everything orange, so bring or buy some darker towels and swimwear!
After relaxing in the large pool at the park, we decided the best way to finish our day was by relaxing some more! We had seen pictures of the thermal spas at Poca da Dona Beija, which just looked unbelievable, and had to visit. For just 6e this was the most incredible experience – 7 small pools each with a different water temperature and atmosphere – some still, some with cascading water.
The Azores is made up of 9 stunning volcanic islands – we only stayed 10 days, and definitely found enough to explore on the main island of Sao Miguel, although for a more varied or longer trip there are local flights and ferries to take you to the other islands, which each have their own charms.