Continuing our travels towards Europe, the next island we visit is São Miguel. This vibrant island is not only the largest, but it’s also the most metropolitan of the nine Açores islands. It’s located 3,753 miles from the east coast of the U.S., and 114 miles from our last stop, Terceira.
Without a doubt, this amazing island that’s home over 150,000 people is an abundance of beauty and a variety of activities for all ages and tastes. Of all the islands, this is the one people visit when they desire to mix modern conveniences with old fashioned quaintness. It is the perfect marriage of metropolitan and antiquity.
São Miguel by Boat and by Airplane
Joao Paulo II Airport is an international airport located in São Miguel. It’s the primary and busiest of all the Açorean airports. Inaugurated in 1969 and updated in 1995, this airport was named after Pope Joao Paulo 11 in honor of his visit to the Açores in 1991. São Miguel is part of the ferry system that also reaches all the islands directly except Corvo
Twins of Different Colors
São Miguel’s natural beauty is everywhere. This large island holds nothing back when it comes to its magnificent historical sites and offers unique natural wonders. For example, a person can’t visit São Miguel without laying eyes on the famous twin blue and green lakes that fill the base of the Sete Cidades caldera. Officially called Lagoa das Sete Cidades, these two lakes are ecologically different lakes connected by a narrow straight, which is crossed by a bridge. Not only are these two lakes one of the most photographed sites of the Açores, but they’re also so mystical that they inspire legends. These two lakes are said to be the tears of star-crossed lovers: a green-eyed princess and a blue-eyed shepherd.
The true explanation for their startling color difference is more prosaic: the depth of the larger lake (Azul) means it reflects the sky, while smaller, shallower lake (Verde) mirrors the greenery of its surroundings. It’s possible to hike around the lakes themselves or make the 12km loop around the caldera rim, which offers breathtaking views. The most exquisite lookout is the Vista do Rei (King’s View). From that point, you can hike or drive down to the village of Sete Cidades next to the lakes. Visiting this area of São Miguel is well worth the drive and one that you can’t miss.
Eat, Drink and Be Happy
As with the Lagoa das Sete Cidades, there’s something else that must be done to fully appreciate this wonder-filled island: eat Cozido das Furnas (food cooked in the volcanic cooking holes). Not far from the village of Furnas, which is perched upon a volcanic warren, are steaming rocks and pools. Every day before the sun comes up, restaurant owners drive up Furnas’ winding roads to a lakeside area that contains holes in the ground. Believe it or not, these holes have been handed down from one generation to another and are owned by the family who also owns the restaurants in Furnas.
The geothermal activity in the ground serves as the cooking source for enormous pots of food. Each pot contains the ingredients for São Miguel’s famous Cozido das Furnas which includes almost everything you can think of related to pork, beef, and chicken. Along with carrots, sweet potatoes, taro root, and cabbage, this culinary concoction 0 This pot contains the ingredients of the famous Cozido das Furnas, including carrots, sweet potatoes, cabbage, and taro root. This dish is a meat-lover’s dream with the added chourico, chicken, beef, ham, pork belly, blood sausage, and even pig ears. The pot is then covered with earth and left to cook very slowly for up to seven hours. Once the cooking is done, the pots are taken back to the restaurant to be served family-style to diners. Of course, everything comes with freshly baked bread and fresh milk cheese as an appetizer.
For those who want to accompany this hearty meal with wine or beer, all restaurants offer a variety of both to choose from. From the time you visit the holes where the food is prepared to the time you finish the last delicious bite of food, you’ve experienced dining experience as unique as it is delicious.
An Experience Not to Be Missed
With an island as impressively beautiful and with so much to do, many things should not be missed. One of those things is walking through Terra Nostra Park and then soaking in its extraordinary mineral baths. This park is famous throughout Europe for being one of the most beautiful parks to see and ranks in the top 12 botanical parks in the world. This 18th-century park consists of small lakes and streams, colorful and exotic flowers, vegetation and trees, and century-old trees of great botanical value. It’s a place where you want to allow a minimum of three hours to enjoy all that it has to offer.
The history of this park is fascinating. While the year isn’t exact, around 1775, a wealthy merchant from Boston built a modest summer house that later became known as Yankee Hall. The property was purchased by the Visconde da Praia in 1848, and a new home was built where Yankee Hall stood. His wife, the Viscountess, had a love of gardening, and she expanded what was already started by the previous owner by adding groves of trees and numerous kinds of flowers. The love for this botanical garden continued with the family’s next generation.
Additionally, the second half of the 19th century saw an increase in Açorean gardening. In fact, gardeners rose to a level of fame for their achievements of who created the most beautiful collections. Among them was a man named Jose do Canto, who was not only interested in winning the garden competition, his goal was to develop the Açores as a plant acclimatization center. He accumulated a collection of several thousand species of trees and plants. Today, what you’ll see at Terra Nostra is a stunning collection of Terra Nostra’s gardeners’ shared accumulations. You’ll see trees over 100 years old and a diversity of plants and shrubs that continue to be the envy of the world. Along with the garden’s extraordinary plant and trees, you’ll also have the unique experience of bathing in the thermal water pool of Terra Nostra Park.
São Miguel is a place that’s earned its reputation as an island with something for everyone. There are so many enchanting things to see and do on the beautiful island that it’s no wonder people from all over the world visit it many times.