São Miguel Island, Azores

The Azores are a group of nine islands in the Atlantic Ocean. They are administered as an autonomous region of Portugal and the regional capital is Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel which is about 1500km west of Lisbon. On my recent trip I visited three of the nine islands, namely São Miguel, Faial and Pico. This post is about the first of these.

View of downtown Ponta Delgada.

View of downtown Ponta Delgada.

São Miguel island is the largest in the archipelago but is still only 63km long and 16km wide at its broadest point. Around 150,000 people live on the island, more than all the other islands put together.

One of the main squares in Ponta Delgada featuring Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião and the City Gates.

One of the main squares in Ponta Delgada featuring Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião and the City Gates. The statue is of Gonçalo Velho Cabral.

A 15th century mariner, explorer and monk called Gonçalo Velho Cabral is credited with having discovered the uninhabited São Miguel in 1432 and settlement of the island began a decade or so later. On his first visit he brought a herd of cows to release on the island. Their descendants are still there!

View of Furnas town from Pico do Ferro viewpoint.

View of Furnas town from Pico do Ferro viewpoint.

Being in mid-Atlantic, the Azores are affected by the gulf stream, producing a mild but changeable climate with temperatures seldom exceeding 25°C in summer or dipping below 11°C in winter (record high 28, record low 3). It rains all year round with more in winter.

Sete Cidades crater lakes.

Sete Cidades crater lakes. The two lakes shown here are known as the Blue Lake (above) and the Green Lake, though they looked a pretty similar colour on this day.

The islands are of volcanic origin and the landscape is peppered with craters or calderas evidencing the explosive eruptions which formed the islands.

A lake-side trail at Sete Cidades.

A lake-side trail at Sete Cidades.

Sete Cidades, in the western part of São Miguel, is the name given to a parish and village located inside a massive caldera containing two adjoining lakes known as the Blue Lake and the Green Lake. There is a hiking trail around the rim of the crater and footpaths through forest and fields at the water’s edge.

At Furnas you can experience fumeroles, bubbling pools, hot springs and a strong smell of rotten eggs.

At Furnas you can experience fumaroles, bubbling pools, hot springs and a strong smell of rotten eggs.

Another spectacular caldera is at Furnas towards the east of the island where a major dormant volcano slumbers inside a massive 8 x 6 km crater. It has erupted twice since São Miguel was settled; in 1444 and in 1630. On the edge of the small town of Furnas, bubbling mud pools, boiling hot springs and fumaroles emit steam and sulphurous, rotten egg gasses.

At the beautiful Terra Nostra Garden, you can find flora typical of the Azores, as well as numerous plants native to countries with climates that are completely different to that of Furnas. Having a frost free climate and fertile volcanic soil, the Azores are a gardener's paradise.

At the beautiful Terra Nostra Garden, you can find flora typical of the Azores, as well as numerous plants native to countries with climates that are completely different to that of Furnas. Having a frost free climate and fertile volcanic soil, the Azores are a gardener’s paradise.

In the town’s beautiful Terra Nostra park there is a thermal pool where you can take a relaxing warm soak in the rather muddy mineral waters said to bring health benefits.

The thermal spring supplying the pool, at a temperature of between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius, provides a sensation of rest and relaxation available at very few locations in the world. The water, charged with essential minerals, is one of the best ways to restore one’s energy and experience the mystical natural surroundings characteristic of Terra Nostra Park.

The thermal spring supplying the pool, at a temperature of between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius, provides a sensation of rest and relaxation available at very few locations in the world.
The water, charged with essential minerals, is one of the best ways to restore one’s energy and experience the mystical natural surroundings characteristic of Terra Nostra Park.

With a write-up like that how could I resist a soak in the pool? What the park’s management don’t say is that the water will stain your swimming trunks a rusty iron colour!

The Azores offer excellent whale-watching opportunities. More than 20 different species of whales and dolphins can be found in the surrounding waters.

The Azores offer excellent whale-watching opportunities. More than 20 different species of whales and dolphins can be found in the surrounding waters.

The Azores are reckoned to be one of the best places in the world to go whale and dolphin watching, though with unpredictable weather and frequently rough seas, the whale watching tour boats may not always be able to sail, especially outside the summer months.

Moby Dick Tours guarantee that you will see whales or dolphins. If not they'll refund your money. Unfortunately rough seas and inclement weather meant that the tour was not running during my visit.

Moby Dick Tours guarantee that you will see whales or dolphins. If not they’ll refund your money. Unfortunately rough seas and inclement weather meant that the tour was not running during my visit.

The town of Ponta Delgada is by far the biggest settlement in the Azores although small by world standards with a population of around 50,000. The historic town centre contains many fine old buildings and churches, mostly in a uniform white and grey colour scheme.

The Museum of Sacred Art at Igreja do Colégio, Ponta Delgada. This museum at the former Jesuit College and Church contains a magnificent 18th century carved wood altar piece described as the greatest wooden monument in Portugal.

The Museum of Sacred Art at Igreja do Colégio, Ponta Delgada. This museum at the former Jesuit College and Church contains a magnificent 18th century carved wood altar piece described as the greatest wooden monument in Portugal.

Tourism to the Azores is picking up. There is an international airport at Ponta Delgada with flights to UK, Germany, USA and the Portuguese mainland among other places. Azores is also a convenient stopover for transatlantic cruise liners. 

P&O Cruise Liner Azura at Ponta Delgada.

P&O Cruise Liner Azura at Ponta Delgada.

With no white sandy beaches (only black volcanic sand beaches) and a somewhat rainy climate, this place does not appeal to the sun-worshipping younger crowd. Nightlife is tame to non-existent. But for those more interested in cultural pursuits, hiking, parks, nature, volcanos, whales, superb scenery and some of the most unpolluted air in the world, Azores is hard to beat.

This entry was posted in Portugal, Sao Miguel Island Azores and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to São Miguel Island, Azores

  1. Beautiful photos of Azores!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s