São Miguel, the green island

Portas do Mar em Ponta Delgada
Place: Ilha de São Miguel nos Açores
Photo: Publiçor
Photo: Publiçor

The island of São Miguel is the largest in the Azores, forming the Eastern Group of the Archipelago together with the island of Santa Maria, 81km away.

Its settlement began in 1444 in Povoação and then Vila Franca do Campo, the island’s first capital, which was later moved to Ponta Delgada, currently also the seat of the Regional Government of the Azores.

Overlooking a natural bay, the city of Ponta Delgada has a rich history and architectural heritage. The Portas da Cidade (City Gates) are the perfect starting point for exploring the city. They are quickly identified by their three arches that link the sea front area and the Praça da República. Note the typical architecture that emphasises the contrast between the white walls and the details in basalt, embellished with lacy iron balconies. Its most iconic monuments include the 15th century Church of São Sebastião, the Church of São José and the Church of São Pedro, and the Convent and Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Esperança (it is here that the image of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (the Lord Christ of Miracles) is worshipped), the former Jesuit College, the Palace of Sant’Ana (housing the Presidency of the Regional Government), the Carlos Machado Museum, the Fort of São Brás, the Town Hall, and also the renovated Micaelense Coliseum and well preserved Micaelense Theatre.

A walk by the sea to the Marina will take you to the "Portas do Mar" where in addition to the cruise ship pier, you can enjoy an ocean swimming pool and an area with several bars, all providing some very pleasant moments of leisure.

But to discover what is nicknamed "the green island", you have to leave the capital and discover the true nature. This is a mountainous island, comprising two volcanic massifs separated by a central low-lying ridge. The highest point is Pico da Vara at 1,105m, located in the eastern massif.

Head westwards, along the coast, passing through Relva and Feteiras, and you will also be surrounded by green and with the sea in the background. Start climbing to the iconic Sete Cidades (Seven Cities) Lagoon, reaching the "Vista do Rei” (King’s View) belvedere. From here, you can admire the beauty of the giant crater at the bottom of which the Verde (Green) and Azul (Blue) lagoons coexist, twinned by an arched bridge, which according to legend were formed from the tears of a princess and a shepherd joined by an impossible love. In São Miguel, you will find the great Lagoons of the Azores, and so the magic continues from there alongside the Santiago, Rasa, Canário, Éguas, Empadadas, Caldeirão Grande and Carvão Lagoons.

Next, head towards Ponta da Ferraria, where Mother Nature has taken it upon herself to warm the seawater with volcanic hot springs, offering an Atlantic thalassotherapy in a unique natural setting or, if you prefer, in the modern Ferraria Spa. A little further on, you come to Mosteiros, where it’s worth gazing out at the bay and the four islands that give the area its name. Ponta da Bretanha marks the point where the route turns to follow the north coast, where you will find the town of Ribeira Grande, the second largest on the island of S. Miguel, built on a small hill around the Church of Nossa Senhora da Estrela and the Town Hall, along with manor houses, mills, churches and gardens, and also the Municipal Swimming Pool complex, right next to the sea.

Make your next stop at Lagoa do Fogo, in the interior of the island, climbing the Água do Pau hills and pausing at Caldeira Velha. Its small pool of warm water, surrounded by a lush forest of ferns, calls out for a restorative dip! When you get to Lagoa do Fogo, one of the symbols of the island, just let yourself be dazzled by its different shades of blue and the breathtaking view that stretches to the ocean.

On the descent towards Lagoa, you can visit the Ceramics Factory with its typical earthenware, and a little further on Caloura, with its picturesque fishing port "protected" by the Fort of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, with its convent and cove which offers a restful stopover. In Vila Franca do Campo, you must visit the Ilhéu da Vila, a Nature Reserve with a beautiful bathing lake about 1km off the coast, accessible from June to September by boats that leave from Tagarete quay, and try the famous Queijadas da Vila. The nearby Congro Lagoon is also worth a visit.

There are several attractions to visit in Furnas. The Vale das Furnas, with its fumaroles (calderas) of hot water, mud, medicinal waters and more than twenty thermal springs, which together make it one of the largest hydro sources in the world. The Poça da Beija is known for its pools of crystal clear water and reinvigorating mud. Near the Lagoa das Furnas, the shrine of Nossa Senhora das Vitórias is where “cozido nas caldeiras” (mixed-meat stew) is made, making full use of the heat from the earth. The 18th century Terra Nostra Park is one of the most beautiful gardens in S. Miguel, with a lake-pool with its mineral-rich thermal water, "dominated" by the imposing Casa do Parque. And go to Pico do Ferro and Salto do Cavalo viewpoints to admire the panoramic views.

Back on the coast, you can enjoy the warm waters at Praia do Fogo in Ribeira Quente, or head straight to the town of Povoação, the first settlement on the island, surrounded by its seven hills. From here you will enter the Nordeste heast district, where the terrain is rougher and steeper, but covered in lush vegetation that is an open invitation to you to take a walk along its various footpaths. Its well-tended viewpoints, full of flowers, provide a number of stops, such as at the Ponta da Madrugada, Ponta do Sossego, Salto da Farinha and Ponta do Estorninho viewpoints, to name just a few. Lovers of birdwatching must visit the Priolo Environmental Centre.

Continuing your tour beyond the Northeast, now on the island’s northern coast, you can stop at Gorreana and Porto Formoso to see the tea plantations and visit their factories. Just before Ribeira Grande, once again, make a last stop to admire the view from the Santa Iria viewpoint and then take the highway to return to Ponta Delgada.

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