Heading Out of Ponta Delgada
We booked 3 days of tours on Sao Miguel Island with a local tour guide. Lisa was a Canadian now living in the Azores. We found her when we did our research on TripAdvisor. She was passionate about her adopted country and planned a great itinerary to explore the Azores. On our first day trip we explored the calderas in the Azores.
The weather forecast showed a high probability of rain so we packed for wet weather. Lisa adjusted the plan for the day with the weather in mind.
The first stop was at the Miradouro Do Ilheu. Climbing high on the volcanic rock we got a good view back towards Ponta Delgado. Looking the other way we could see the coast route that we would follow to get our first view of the calderas in the Azores. A fisherman was tucked into the rock as he fished.
Swimming On the Coast
We stopped a few times to see the pounding waves on the coast. We saw what looked like surfing beaches similar to what we had seen exploring the Algarve. Lisa explained that the surfing spots depended on the season. There was even a big surfing competition on Santa Barbara Beach on Sao Miguel in September. We would see the rolling waves when we toured the coast on Sao Miguel.
At Praia Noa Vigiada in Lagos we walked around the to look at the interesting swimming options. There were large swimming pools by the sea. They did not open up until June. Beside the swimming pools we saw natural pools created in the rocks.
Vila Franca do Campo
We drove slowly through the small historic town of Vila Franca do Campo. This used to be the capital city of Sao Miguel before a major earthquake levelled the town in the 1500’s. The capital was then moved to Ponta Delgado.
We headed to the port. This was the port used to get to a small island offshore to swim or snorkel in the crater pool. We saw yet more scuba shops in this port. While the water is warmer in the Azores than mainland Portugal, we did not packed for cold water scuba diving. That would need to wait for a return trip.
We found a small cafe in the port and settled in for a coffee break. With our coffee we had the local pastry specialty (Quejada). We had developed a real addiction for custard tarts in Lisbon and we looked forward to trying other pastry specialties in the Azores.
As we wandered through many of the small towns in Portugal we often found signs with “Canada” on them. This did not mean we were back home. Lisa explained that “Canada” meant “small road” in Portuguese.
Our First View of the Calderas in The Azores at Furnas
The first stop to see calderas in the Azores was at Lagoa des Furnas. As we drove up we could see the steam plumes everywhere. We walked to the lake escorted by very large ducks. They did not seem to shy away from the tourists at all.
There were calderas all around the site. Some were bubbling up with mud while others were just steamy waters. There were walkways around the site to keep people back from the scalding water. Lisa noted that in the past where there were no walkways and people could walk right up to the steaming holes.
This was a great first view of the calderas in the Azores!
Caldera Stew for Lunch
This was also the spot where the famous caldera stew (“cozido”) was made. A big stew pot was filled with vegetables and a variety of meats. This pot was then put deep in a steam hole. The steam then cooked the stew for 6 hours. The holes are dedicated to different restaurants. You can even order a custom pot. Lisa reserved a table for us right at the cooking spot.
After we walked around the calderas we did a short drive around the small town of Furnas. We passed by the botanical gardens. This was on our list of things to do. Since it was still drizzling, we decided to pass on a visit on this trip. We would see the gardens on another visit. Lisa noted that there was a smaller botanical garden right in Ponta Delgada that we might try to visit on one of our non-tour days.
We stopped at the sister location to our hotel in Ponta Delgada. The Furnas Boutique Hotel was a spa hotel. There were several thermal baths in the spa. This looked like a nice spot to stay on a return visit if we wanted to be away from the bigger town of Ponta Delgada.
A Most Interesting Lunch
Lisa had booked our lunch at Miroma. It was a busy spot so we were glad we had a table reserved and a cozido already ordered. We added a few sides and wine to order. Lisa cautioned us about the portion sizes. We ordered one cozido and it was enough for 3 of us to sample all of the great things in the stew.
The meat was tender and fell apart. The vegetables had picked up the flavour of the meat that were layered above the vegetables in the pot. It was a great warm lunch on a cool rainy day. This was just one of the interesting foods we ate when we visited the Azores!
Natural Water Springs
Several times we stopped to see the natural water springs. There were taps that you could use to get a drink or fill up water bottles. We were amused to find out that you could get both still and sparkling spring water.
We stopped at Gloria Patri and filled up bottles to take back to the hotel with us.
Calderas at Furnas
We visited our second calderas in the Azores site in Furnas. We again saw the steam coming up at various points. The grounds were green and covered with flowers between the caldera steam spots.
We found several large bubbling caldera pools as we walked through the site.
Don’t miss a chance to stop at different calderas in the Azores. They reminded us very much of the hot springs in Yellowstone Park.
Relaxing In The Thermal Baths
When we booked our day, we planned to do two thermal baths. You cannot visit the calderas in the Azores without taking some time to enjoy the relaxing benefits of the baths. The grey drizzly weather put us off. So we decided we would stop only at Dona Beija for our bath. There was a small entrance fee but the facility included changing rooms and showers.
We changed into our bathing suits and then tried to decide which pool to try first. Most of the pools were about the same temperature (39℃ or about 102℉). There was one pool that was only 28℃ (82℉). This felt freezing after we had enjoyed the hotter pools.
The pools were at different depths. Some had waterfall features and some had water that poured over your shoulders for a massage. We tried a number of the pools. Even though it was still drizzling a bit, it did not ruin our enjoyment of the pools.
The site was relaxing and beautiful. It was a different view of the calderas in the Azores. The pools were spread out with lots of landscaping and flowers along the way.
A Tea Factory
We were surprised to learn that Sao Miguel Island had tea factories. When the island went through a period where they could not export their produce, tea production was brought in from Macao (the Chinese island owned by Portugal at the time). They brought in tea plants and tea production processes.
We stopped at Cha Gorreanna. It was one of the oldest tea factories on the islands. We could see the acres and acres of tea plants around the factory and up the terraced hills. All around the tea fields we saw the brightest flowers.
Lisa explained a little about tea harvesting. Only the top of the tea plant was cut off. The rest of the shrub remained and produced new top leaves. A new tree plant was ready to harvest after 10 years and will continue to produce for decades. The leaf harvested actually had 3 different kinds of tea on it. The smallest centre leaf was Orange Pekoe. It was the more rare of the tea leaves. Surrounding this were the black and broken tea leaves. This factory also had green tea.
We walked around the factory and looked at the traditional machines used to process and produce commercial tea. Lisa showed us tea in various stages of processing as the twigs were removed from the tea. We saw the tea bagging machine. At the end we tried the local tea and some homemade tea ice cream.
Our Final Stop On the North Shore
We had one final stop on our long day trip that started with the calderas in the Azores. The viewpoint at Miradouro de Santa Iria gave us a great view up and down the north coast. We could see the mountain peaks buried in the clouds.
When we visited India, we were surprised to see the cows roaming freely. We were surprised when we drove around Sao Miguel and came up to large herds of cows as they crossed the highway. We were less surprised when we saw cows grazing in the fields. But it seemed like there were cows in almost every large green field. Many people commented that there were probably more cows on the Azores Islands than people!
A Great First Day Exploring Sao Miguel
We had a great first day as we explored the island of Sao Miguel. I had “calderas” on the list to things to do that I sent to Lisa. She made sure we saw a great variety of calderas in the Azores on our day tour. We tasted the local cuisine including the unique caldera stew. Viewpoint stops on both coasts provided stunning coastal view.
We still had several more tour days planned. We saw another caldera when we visited Caldera Velha. There was also a day planned for Sete Cidades on the far end of the island. We were excited to see more of Sao Miguel before we headed of to explore the island of Faial in the Azores.
Did you visit the calderas in the Azores? What was your favourite spot?
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