Wow, this has been the most breath-taking place I have ever visited. It really is the hidden gem of Europe, quiet isolated just 2 hours off the coast of Lisbon deep in the Atlantic. How would I describe Sao Miguel well it’s Azorean Island nick name is the green Island so let’s start with that, it’s a kind of well-rounded mix of Ireland with its rugged coast line, lush green landscape and rolling hills along with quant cottages dotted around and not to mention lots of cows agriculture seems to be their main occupation but it’s warm, even the sea is warm(ish). It’s alive like Iceland with active volcanos and geothermal baths and black sand beaches yet wild like a jungle when you venture off road. If that hasn’t enticed your sense of adventure maybe the next part will, Sao Miguel is the perfect place to relax and enjoy good food without a massive bill at the end of your stay. We choose to visit Sao Miguel as it offered the most to do on our 6 day stay but I will be back to explore the other islands for sure as the Azores have really lived up to their expectations and more. From hiking to swimming, surfing and encountering wildlife to simply enjoying the local food and not to mention unwinding, all of this at an affordable price. Do you need more reasons to why you need to put Sao Miguel on your travel list. So let’s dive right in and start how I start all my travel blogs with the basics!
How to get there;We flew with TAP airlines the main Portuguese airline . We travelled via Lisbon ( we spent 3 nights there) and then onto Ponto Delgada, Sao Miguel. On route back we did the 2 flights back to back with a layover of 3 hours in Lisbon. The flight to Lisbon is 2 hours 45 minutes and from Lisbon to the Azores is 2 hours, both flights went by very fast and there is lots to do in Lisbon Airport on the stop over with pretty decent wifi.
Flights cost us; €250 return for the 4 flights including bags.
There are other ways to get there from Dublin via Manchester with Ryan Air. Or using their regional airline SATA from Lisbon however we liked to ease of using one airline especially for our bags to go directly though on the return, it was also working out a lot cheaper than other airlines for those dates.
Where to stay;
In Ponto Delgada the main city of Sao Miguel we stayed in The AZOR Hotel which I would recommend highly. I think when you first arrive it’s nice to base yourself out of the city centre to get your baring plus it’s only an 8 minute drive from the airport. It is in the centre of the town and has great views over the harbour which has an astounding resemblance to Howth. The rooms were amazing with large window views and the cosiest beds we couldn’t fault it. The attention to detail was phenomenal, they even printed us a copy of the Irish independent each day! The rooftop pool and bar is a great place to relax and grab food for lunch. The dinner at the Hotel was good however a bit expensive in comparison to places in the town, I’ve attached a few recommendations below for the best restaurants we found which I recommend going for.
Some of the main Amenities include pool, spa, gym, Wi-Fi and underground parking ( 10 euro per day). We stayed here for 3 nights before venturing into the countryside.
Cost; €120 per night large suite room ( 2 bathrooms living room and bedroom).
Outside the town I recommend, we stayed in Furnas at
Furnas Boutique Hotel, This was my favourite hotel, located in the crater of an active volcano we couldn’t have asked for a cooler experience. Keep in mind you can’t let the smell of sulphur put you off, believe it or not you do get used to it. It’s known for its incredible spa area but I have to mention it’s breakfast buffet where everything is homemade and sincerely helpful staff made our stay. The rooms were cosy with everything you could need and the adventure desk downstairs had all our hiking routes printed out and ready for us. There is a lot of geothermal activity surrounding the hotel and an interesting point is that the hot springs running past the hotel actually heat all the water they use from the showers in the rooms to the pool. When we arrived in Furnas my first thought was I wish we had more time here, it’s a total escape haven and like being in a rainforest. It’s also walking distance from the Parque Terra Nostra – Thermal Springs and a short drive to the Tea Plantations and nearby beaches.
Also another advantage is the fact this hotel is a boutique hotel it never seems too busy or noisy.
Cost;€105 per night double room.
Other hotels we visited to have dinner and would look into staying next time were;
Santa Barbara Eco Resort – we had a delicious lunch and dinner there it’s also part of a surfing school and has its own entrance onto an incredible beach.
Furnas Lake Villas
7 Cidades Lake Lodge – we had food there one night it was fancy but so lovely for a dressed-up night, the food was all from the garden or local areas and the staff were so welcoming.
Things to know;
Currency is Euro.
Transport; taxis are not really that accessible and I didn’t see much public transport .
I would recommend using a Car rental service, we opted for Europcar but Wayzer seems to be the widely used option in the Azores. The roads are fantastic.
Eating out;Some Bookings needed in Ponto Delgada; Give 1 days before except for some which are specified below.
Note; The Azores are a part of the world which almost seems untouched by humans so if visited make sure you respect their trails and country by leaving no trace especially when out hiking.
Tourists; The tourist population were mostly Portuguese or Americans it’s only a 5 hour flight from Boston, places weren’t over run like most areas but we still did make an effort to go to the must see places early to avoid queues.
For the Best Views for a pit stop and a snap!
Miradouro de Santa Iria
Miradouro do Pico do Ferro
Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego
Miradouro da Vista do Rei
Miradouro da Boca do Inferno (you can also hike to this viewing point too)
Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo
Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa
Where to visit
Abandoned Hotel – Monte Palace (beside miradouro da Vista do Rei)
When I posted about this over on stories when I visited the amount of people who thought this was my actual hotel- come on guys. I couldn’t believe an abandoned hotel was on a hot list to visit but hey It was area a viewing point so we decided to follow other tourists like sheep and go in. Now would I recommend this place? It’s cool, its erry and has great views of the lake but going into an abandoned hotel is never a good idea- something that struck me whilst inside. Montes hotel was built in the 1980s and opened in ’89 the Azores first luxury hotel that included everything from a night club to hairdressers and 88 rooms. It closed business a year and a half after opening even after being voted Portugal’s finest hotel. The Azores were not yet a hot spot for tourists and so the hotel was left to the elements. It was guarded for many years but once left everything inside was taken from TVs to beds and only a shell remains of the former top hotel. The perfect setting for a horror movie.
Islet of Vila Franca do Campo
This is an island off the town of Villa Franca do Campo which is clearly visible from ashore and only a 6 minute boat trip from the harbour only accessed by one boat. The unusably shape of this island is mesmerising when seen from above creating a perfect natural circular pool surrounded by high cliff walls like an auditorium, known as the “princess ring”. The island is a protected area so you will only find a small changing area and toilet on the island, there isn’t any infrastructure in place and the terrain can be slippy so bear that in mind if venturing there with children or elderly.
Boat times to get there here
Chá Gorreana Tea Factory
One of the oldest, and currently only, tea plantation in Europe. They have been open since 1883, and still practice the original traditions of the Orient in the processing. You can sample the tea and walk along the plantations where you will see people cutting the tea and maintaining it. You can also look in to the factory where you’ll see the tea being made and original machines still in use. I liked it as a quick stop off a stroll a cup of tea and wander through the factory should only take about 20 minutes.
If you don’t go here at least eat the local pineapple every day while you’re here! One of the local foods that you’ll se on ever menu in some shape or another it’s a nice stop off to get some pineapple knowledge and a few samples.
Activities to do
Sao Miguel is the perfect place to get some surfing in, we even got to go see a junior championship. I would recommend checking out Santa Barbra surfing school here. Then you can go to the hotel after for some delicious food.
Whale & Dolphin Watching
It was up there as one of my favourite activities that we did, we did not get to see whales but I was happy enough with the two super pods of dolphins we get to ride along side by. We got to see over one thousand dolphins and there was something magical about seeing they are leaping in and out of the water. The surrounding sea holds so much wildlife and the success rate of seeing whales are high. We choose the 3-hour tour which really did fly by, I RECOMMEND sitting up front t get the best views just make sure you don’t have any back problems it’s a bit bumpy up front but it’s the most fun bouncing over big waves! Hold on. Check out more here.
Where to swim
Parque Terra Nostra
We visited a few thermal springs like xx but this one was the best. I’m not sure was it because we went early in the day so it’s was a little bit calmer but the pools were a bit more private with a gorgeous park along the edges to stroll around after.
The other thermal pool is gorgeous but if you are visited make sure you get there early as when we arrived all the pool areas were full to the brim.
Entry fee; €8
Caldeira Velhawas amazing but we went at peak tourist time so I would recommend heading early as it was very over crowded.
Entry fee; €8
Other thermal springs Poca da Dona Beij nesrwhich has 5 different pools in a jungle type setting.
Entry fee; €6
Ponta da Ferraria
Fancy a swim in the Atlantic but not as cold as Ireland! My favourite was this place, why? Well it’s a natural pool in the sea that heats up with a hot spring from below surrounded by lava rock – spa nearby there is geothermal spots here so the water is much warmer. The swimming gap has a set of ropes stretched across as markers where to swim or if you want to hold on to. It was great fun swimming there and bopping over the big waves that came in and out. There is also railing to help you step in ( jumping required) I would recommend some sort of slip on shoes as walking over to get in can be hard on your feet as its volcanic rock and a bit uneven.
The second spot is like the forty foot of Sao Miguel a lot of locals will be swimming here it’s a deep green blue and as lots of access points into the sea. It’s a little bit fresher here but the perfect post hike dip followed by a feed at the nearby restaurant (which will more than likely have a small queue outside) its in of the best places to try the local Limpet dish.
Beach Praia do Fogo
This is a Black sand beach 15 min from Furnas boutique hotel tucked away in an enclosed bay. There is parking nearby with some refreshment stalls down by the beach.
It’s above a bay of underwater hot springs which means now it’s not warm but naturally a little luke warm than other swimming spots. On route make sure you stop and have a glance at the waterfall (below)
Salto do Prego (listed in the hike section) great to visit and swim in.
Cascata do Salto do Cabrito is another one where you can drive up to with a short walk, it’s nice to see I’ve seen people swim in it but if you like waterfalls you’ll appreciate it.
Hot waterfall of Ribeira– you can’t swim in it but you can get a great view of it on route to Beach Praia do Fogo just after the 2 tunnels.
Where to hike
Check all that out here on my recent post My Top 5 hikes in Sao Miguel.
Where to Eat
- Otaka in Ponta Delgada
- Big 21 in Ponto Delgada
- Tasquinha Vieira in Ponto Delgada – no bookings taken arrive early.
- Santa Barbara Eco Resort
- Furnas Lake Villas
- The Furnas Boutique hotel where we stayed had amazing food too.
Local foods to try;
All the food on the island seemed to be mostly sourced local with a huge emphasis on everything being made from scratch so regardless what you order you can’t go wrong. Some of the things on this list I wouldn’t be a huge fan of but my boyfriend gave them the thumbs up!
- Limpets bets place to try these would be at a seaside restaurant like the one near Caloura – Sea Swim
- Their also known for their local Atlantic fish like Tuna
- Cozidostew- a meat stew
- The Island wine
- Homemade jams
- There is a lot of corn crops on the Island to so don’t miss out in the corn bread.