São Miguel, the biggest and most populated island in Portugal’s Azores archipelago (and the one that welcomes low-cost International flights from the US) is a bucket list destination for all travelers. People who travel to Azores are people who appreciate nature at its most jurassic and surreal. The islands are still virtually untouched by commercialism, and remain raw and beautiful. The blues and greens of the water and mountainsides are so vivid they can make your eyes hurt (in the best way possible).
We had the opportunity to visit these beautiful islands twice, and each trip felt completely different. Candy-colored hydrangeas line the winding roads, and it very much like you jumped into a painting. You may be thinking I am completely overselling this island – but I promise you, I am not. The Azores have been on my bucket list since I was a child, it is where my parents met. And it completely lived up to the hype. This all combined with it being only a 5-hour flight from the US, you can’t go wrong! We visited in the month of June & July – their peak tourist season – and still felt like we had the island to ourselves.
I have compiled a list of the three A’s: Accommodations, Adventures, and Appetite! If you have any questions about São Miguel or our trip please send me an email!
We stayed in an Airbnb both times we visited. Our first place was in Sao Roque and was a great location for exploring Ponta Delgada! Martinho’s House had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, washer dryer, and outdoor sitting area. It was very spacious and well located on the island. The host was very kind and accommodating. I loved how close we were to the beach here, and to downtown Ponta Delgada. You will quickly learn, that nothing is “far” on the island, and only takes about 30 minutes to drive from north to south, and 1.5 hours to drive east to west. I would highly recommend this Airbnb to any families or couples traveling to the area!
The second Airbnb we stayed at was in Ribeira Grande at Casa Amarela de Santana. This was one of our favorite places to stay for a few reasons. One – the house is well decorated and modern/updated. Two – the massive garden in the backyard! Quick overview of the house – three bedrooms, one bathroom, full kitchen, all that good stuff. But the backyard…. it is one enchanted and beautiful garden full of flowers and fruits/vegetables for you to pick at your leisure. The kids loved picking strawberries every morning before breakfast. There were lime trees, banana trees, cucumbers, squash, grapes, and a lot more. It is very well located, walking distance to one of the best steakhouses on the island and a short drive from the famous surfing beaches of Ribeira Grande! The hosts also surprised us with a gift basket bull of surprise goodies for breakfast, so thoughful! Highly recommend – my only tip is that you find out the location before arriving. The home doesn’t have a technical address and can be hard to find.
Ananases Arruda – This historic pineapple plantation is a great way to start your trip to Azores. Offering free tours and a sample of pineapple liquor, Ananases Arruda was a fun way to spend an hour. São Miguel is the only place in the world where pineapples are grown in greenhouses!
Igreja de São Sebastião – 16th-century church featuring an elaborate facade, intricate interior wood carvings and a clocktower. It is the church at the center of the Ponta Delgada near the city gates. Very beautiful to see the intricate details.
Gruta do Carvão – Have you ever heard of an ancient lava tunnel? This was a very unique experience just outside Ponta Delgada. Along the cavern walls are speleological structures such as lateral benches, lava bridges, branching galleries, lava balls, stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and spongy lavas. Video footage is not allowed, but photos are welcome. We had a great time here, I recommend bringing closed toed shoes and a jacket (it is a little chilly down there!).
Ponta Delgada City Hall & Bell Tower – Located in Central Ponta Delgada is the beautiful City Hall. Thanks to a tip, we walked to the side and there a small opening allowing you to walk up to the top of the bell tower (free!). There was no one else there when we climbed the narrow stairways. It offers beautiful 360 views of the island, highly recommend.
Sao Francisco Square & Holy Christ of Miracles Chapel – This is a wide open beautiful square, making it a great place to grab a beer and let the kiddos run around chasing pigeons. There is a very old and large tree that is held up by stilts, something we have never seen before.
Holy Christ of Miracles Chapel is on one side of this square, and is a beautiful site to see. The festivals in honor of the Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles occur on the fifth Sunday after Easter, the day on which a great procession winds the streets of the provincial capital, and ending on the Thursday of Ascension. These events are the most and oldest religious devotions still carried out in Portugal. There were many people bringing offerings and in prayer, so be sure to be respectful while visiting.
Monte Palace Hotel – Built in the late 1980s, Monte Palace Hotel was the only 5-star resort in the Azores. However, 18 months after it opened, the owners declared bankruptcy. Ironically, the Monte Palace hotel received the award for being Portugal’s finest on the same week that the hotel closed its doors for good. It has become a tourist attraction, much to the government’s frustration. There are signs posted to stay out – but that really isn’t stopping anyone. We peaked in because curiosity got the best of us, and it was wild to see what could have been. The views are incredible, and maybe one day it will be reimagined and reconstructed.
Miradouro da Vista do Rei – Across the street from Monte Palace Hotel is this beautiful viewpoint, here you get to see the twin multi colored lakes of Sete Cidades down below surrounded by the lush green volcanic crater.
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno – If you only had time for one thing in Azores – I would say this hike would be it. The most famous view in all of Sao Miguel – go on a day when the skies are clear. That being said, the weather here changes every 30 minutes so even if it isn’t clear – wait it out a bit. There is a road you can take to get closer to the viewpoint, but the gate was down when we went. We parked on the road and hiked 20 minutes to the viewpoint. It is a fairly easy hike, though the last 5-10 minutes is uphill and is when my kids started asking are we there yet. I get chills thinking of our time up here, it was surreal. You really will need a moment (or 15) just to take it all in and appreciate its beauty.
Ponta da Ferraria – This natural thermal-water pool in the Atlantic Ocean is a unique spot. There is a paved road down the cliff to a parking area, not for the faint of heart. This road was VERY steep with blind curves, but we made it! At low-tide the water is too hot, at high-tide you won’t be able to feel much of the heat – so timing is key. You will want to bring water shoes and swimmies for the kids. They have ropes in the water to hold onto if a wave comes in, so you can steady yourself. The water was fairly cold when we got there, but if you waited you could feel the hot water swirl around you. To have that element of hot and cold water together was a very unique experience.
Gorreana Tea Factory – Gorreana is the oldest, and now the only tea plantation in Europe. It is family run and offers free tours of the factory. People are also encouraged to explore their fields of tea leaves, the maze of lush greens with the ocean backdrop was a stunning sight. We enjoyed free samples of three varieties of tea and chatted with friendly staff. Great place to get some unique flavor tea to bring home (I got pineapple and cinnamon and it is delicious!).
Miradouro do Pico do Ferro – This lookout is the most famous viewpoint over Lagoa de Furnas. Unfortunately for us, we were in a cloud the whole time and couldn’t see it! Which truthfully was still pretty fun.
Terra Nostra Park – This park has lush, beautiful gardens and is home to a huge thermal water pool. The thermal spring supplying the pool, at a temperature of between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius, is charged with essential minerals, promoting relaxation. The color may turn you off, but it comes from the iron in the water. Be sure to wear darker color bathing suits, as lighter colors will stain. I would also recommend not putting your head under, it can make your hair very dry. If you are going with children, please make sure they do not digest the water. My daughter started having very painful stomach cramps, and though I never saw her put her head under water, we believe somehow she ingested a small amount of water.
Caldeiras da Lagoa das Furnas – Furnas are known for their volcanic boilers where meals are cooked underground. If you arrive around lunchtime (11:30-1) you can see the meals being taken out of the ground and transported to restaurants. It a very “green” and sustainable form of cooking that was incredible to see. If you want to try on of these meals, order 24 hours in advance so they have time to cook it for you! A caldera is a really big hole in the ground caused by a volcanic eruption. You can see them here and watch them constantly boiling.
Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara – Santa Bárbara Sands form one of the most extensive beaches in the region, stretching for about 1km. This beach is a prime leisure area where surfing and bodyboarding are common. We were able to watch surfers for a while, but swimming was then stopped by lifeguards because of rip currents and jelly fish. We spent the afternoon here before our flight back to the US, playing in the sand and having a beer and ice cream at the cafe. Side note – this beach stood out to me because it is accessible, kudos!
Santana Astronomical Observatory – This is a learning center and observatory featuring rotating science exhibits, with a focus on astronomy. We went here on a whim, and tickets are cash only (we had to go to an ATM!). This was fun for the kids, and while there isn’t that much to do, we were basically given a private tour by one of the scientists. He gave our girls a science lesson on the sun, and showed them the sun through a telescope, describing what they were seeing. It was an amazing learning experience for all of us, and well worth it!
Kayaking on Lagoa das Sete Cidades – We had an amazing time renting a kayak for 30 minutes and cruising around Lagoa das Sete Cidades. You are able to paddle from the blue lake to the green lake, and yes – you can see a color change! The scenery is out of the world, and you feel an overwhelming sense of peace afterwards.
Jardim Botânico António Borges – Built 1858–1861, this urban botanical garden with trails and grottoes showcases rare & exotic plants. There is also a playground for the kiddos. We walked from downtown Ponta Delgada, but I would recommend driving. There is a huge tree here that I became obsessed with – just look at its roots! This was a fun, free activity for the whole family.
Museu Militar dos Açores – Housed in the Fortress of São Brás, the military museum maintains the historically important heritage of the Portuguese Army and its presence in the Azores. This was a great story to learn about the island.
Cascata do Salto do Cabrito Waterfall – If you aren’t in the mood for a hike, drive to this beautiful waterfall located along the waterpipes of Azores. If you are in the mood for a hike, the entire trail will take a little over 2 hours. The road down is very steep, no surprise there, but not that long thankfully. From the parking lot you will walk 5 minutes to the waterfall. It is gorgeous and bring your bathing suit, it is a refreshing swim!
Restaurante da Associacao Agricola de Sao Miguel – One of the most popular restaurants in the Azores (for good reason) serves famous steak prepared with Azorean beef, known for its fantastic quality and flavor. This was hands down some of the best steak I have ever tasted! We did not have reservations, and none were available the date we wanted to dine… that being said, if you go anytime before 6PM you will be able to get a table. Europeans eat late, so you will find tables available earlier!
Caldeiras & Vulcões – Located in in Furnas, this is where we tried the famous Cozido das Furnas – a meat stew which is slow-cooked in the hot volcanic ground on the shores of Lagoa das Furnas. If you want that meal you must order 24 hours in advance, I ordered it by emailing them a week before our arrival. We got the plate for two, which could EASILY serve four. The service was great, ad we enjoyed our time here dining on local history.
Green Love Restaurant – After touring Monte Palace and kayaking on Lagoa das Sete Cidades, come eat at this lakefront restaurant. Grab a cold beer, prego, and enjoy the company around your table. Our kids especially loved picking out an ice cream after lunch!
Tasquinha Vieira – Tucked away on a side street of Ponta Delgada is Tasquinha Vieira, an upscale restaurant with an ever-changing menu. This is a tapas style restaurant, and the food was delicious. The tuna tartar was definitely my favorite – I am still drooling… The only downside was there wasn’t much for our children to pick from on the menu, but we still made it work!
Casa Cheia – This general store also has a food counter serving up some tasty dishes at unbelievably low prices. We got two delicious pizzas for $1.50 (an adult can eat both, our daughter had one and a half). Our older daughter got a huge burger and fries for around $4.
Taberna Açor – This place is downright fun. The atmosphere is lively, children are welcomed with open arms, and the food is outstanding. The food was traditional and presentation was fun for the whole table… just look at our smoked sausage that was lit on fire table side! I would highly recommend this place!
Until next time…