Tour Guide: São Miguel, Azores, Portugal

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Tour Guide: São Miguel, Azores, Portugal

There are nine hidden gems of islands that make up Portugal’s Azores. São Miguel island is the largest in size at about 288 square miles with approximately 135,000 people. It is also home to the capital of the Azores: Ponta Delgada. If you’re unfamiliar with these islands, it is ideal to begin your adventure in São Miguel. The scenic, forested landscape remains untouched and its natural beauty is the star of the show, which is why it’s known locally as The Green Island.

Here are the top things to see, do, and devour on São Miguel island.

Tiffany Leigh is a food, drink, and travel writer. She is a James Beard Foundation Scholarship Recipient and always travels with her companions #PinchietheLobster and #PJthelobster.

1. Furnas, São Miguel

Furnas is a Freguesia (civil parish) in the Povoação municipality. The hot bed for volcanic life is about a 45-minute drive from Ponta Delgada. The area occupies a large portion of land that contains active sulfur boilers; many locals and tourists take advantage of it for bathing purposes. The large boiler belongs to an inactive volcano, often referred to as "the valley."

These Furnas boilers also feature a lagoon (Lagoa das Furnas) where the "Cozido das Furnas" dish is cooked using the water springs that have thermal properties. You can spot all the designated plots where restaurants bury their stews to cook.
Photo by Tiffany Leigh

2. Terra Nostra Garden

Dating back to 1775, the Terra Nostra Garden holds a rich and storied past. Opt for a guided tour of the 31-acre property to familiarize yourself with its plant and flower life. There are many unique features not to be missed, including a large oval iron geothermal water pool to bathe in, endemic species, the uva de serra (mountain grape) that is unique to the Azores, a Ginkgo Biloba avenue, and subspecies of European shrubs and trees such as laurel, chestnut, heather and holly.

The semitropical and temperate climate of this region is why so many types of plants and flowers are able to thrive.
Photo by Tiffany Leigh

3. TN Restaurant

Located inside the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, TN Restaurant offers sprawling views of the Terra Nostra Garden and features contemporary and traditional island dishes. If you've never tried Cozido das Furnas before, this is the perfect place to change that. You have to call the restaurant in advance to reserve this unique menu item, which is a meat and vegetable stew cooked for at least eight hours using the heat and steam from the inactive Furnas Volcano. Pork, beef, and chicken are delicately seasoned and cooked with root vegetables.
Photo by Tiffany Leigh

4. Furnas Boutique Hotel

Located in the Povoação municipality, the Furnas Boutique Hotel offers indoor and outdoor thermal pools so you can bathe in the mineral properties known for rejuvenating skin's vitality. Don your bathing suit and take a soak in the warm, murky waters—a comfortable 86-102 degrees Fahrenheit.

The hotel also has an on-site spa that offers a Milk Bath; you bathe in frothy, warm waters and are massaged by a series of underwater jet streams that target your arms, legs, back, and shoulders. The natural lactic found in this milk treatment is a form of alpha-hydroxy-acid that is supposed to dissolve proteins and exfoliate dead skin cells away.
Photo by Tiffany Leigh

5. Lagoa das Sete Cidades

Located at the westernmost part of São Miguel island is Sete Cidades.

Sete Cidades, which is around seven square miles, is a village parish surrounded by lush and fertile greenery where you can walk in and around the crater valley.

The showstopper of the forest jaunt is the Lagoa das Sete Cidades, which is around two and a half square miles and was once a large crater made from the now dormant Sete Cidades volcano.

Although it is one lake, a bridge bisects it, so most refer to it as two bodies of water. There is a legend surrounding the lakes—a Romeo and Juliet-esque romance-tragedy about a princess and a shepherd boy. Invest in a local guide if you want to learn more about the ill-fated lovers and their connection to Twin lakes: Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azul.

In addition to local folklore, guides can show you the endemic species that call this part of the island home as well as introduce you to the flora and fauna, including Azorean wild lettuce, Azorean angelica, Azorean dock, Azorean daisy, greater hawkbit, and St. John's wort. Migratory creatures that roam the region include the Azorean blackbird and São Miguel goldcrest.
Photo by Tiffany Leigh

6. Lagoa do Fogo

Located in the center of São Miguel island is Lagoa do Fogo, Portuguese for Fire Lake. It was named after a blazing volcanic eruption that occurred in 1563. But today, it is a serene and calm place. At 336 acres, it is one of the largest crater lakes in the Azores. As a protected nature reserve, Lagoa do Fogo hosts some of the most breathtaking sights in the world. Take advantage of this and explore the mountains and vegetation on the five-mile trail. From up high, you can spot Vila Franca do Campo (a town in the southern region of São Miguel) and Ribeira da Praia (the local beach).
Photo courtesy of Azores Photos

7. Caldeira Velha

Just north of Lagoa is the city of Ribeira Grande where the main attraction are the hot springs at Caldeira Velha.

Take a stroll through the natural conservation area on a winding forested pathway riddled with tree ferns and laurisilva. Cascading down from the waterfall are the thermal springs that bubble and percolate like a cauldron.

There are several nooks where you can bathe in these steamy waters because it is believed they offer holistic properties.
Photo courtesy of Azores Photos