Just when I thought the scenery couldn’t get any better, we ventured off to the eastern expanses of Sao Miguel Island where we were totally wowed! Now let me say we had already experienced 7 days of incredibly beautiful landscapes and were in a bit of panorama overload, but the eastern regions of the island woke up our senses once again and had our jaws dropping at the wild and dramatic coastal views. Everywhere were glimpses of riotous pink azaleas in full bloom cascading down steep headlands. Cows munched precariously on upland pastures – I thought they should have a sign, “Beware of Falling Cows – instead of falling boulders!” What touched me the most was seeing charming little picnic parks tucked all along the winding roadways. Families in the Azores take to the parks every weekend all year long to enjoy family gatherings. Each park has a dramatic scenic view, picnic benches, masonry barbecues, sinks for food prep, toilets, and often playground equipment for the kids – and always a profusion of flowers in bloom – Martha you should see this!!
Incredible sites along the way included a lava formed swimming pool in the middle of the ocean (talk about your infinity pool!), Europe’s only tea plantation where bright green tea plants blanket the hillsides (and you can tour the tea processing plant), cascading waterfalls, farmers collecting milk from the fields with horse and wagon, and chanting groups of religious Pilgrims who encircle the island for 7 days during Lent, visiting every church, cemetery and memorial. It’s time to head off to Furnas to soak our well traveled feet in the hot springs!
OK, so I didn’t quite envision immersing my body in a huge fountain of rust colored water… but what the heck – it was so warm and soothing and maybe I’d come out as a strawberry blond….
Our last stop on the trip is in the hot springs town of Furnas (pronounced just like the heater in your basement). This quaint valley town is literally steaming with volcanic activity. And as I take a look around, it’s no wonder, we’re sitting within the crater of a spent volcano. I’m hoping all the steam escaping keeps the pressure from building up for another eruption!!!!
The Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, makes a wonderful and relaxing spot to end our trip. The hotel is famous for it’s huge thermal swimming pool (yes the bright orange colored one) and the magnificent Botanical Gardens. The gardens go on for miles and have been ingeniously designed to encourage exploration. I go wandering off by myself, and am soon wondering if I’ll ever find my way back to the hotel, but not to worry, there are bubbling streams to follow back to the thermal source. I’m enchanted all along the way as each path reveals a surprise element at it’s end and then invites you to choose one of three additional paths to follow – each with just a tiny glimpse of the floral treat ahead. I found myself smiling with delight, feeling a little like Alice in Wonderland. Put these gardens at the top of your list of must do experiences in the Azores.
As I wrap up these chronicles of our fabulous trip, I feel like I’ve been remiss to be talking incessantly about the sites of the Azores and have not adequately introduced you to the people of the Azores. I have rarely encountered such welcoming, unpretentious, hard working, honest folk. To a person they have been delighted to engage in conversation, hear news of the USA, and share their enthusiasm about their spectacular islands. They live today much like they have for centuries, caring for their land and helping each other thrive. They enjoy incredible bounties of fresh fish, organic crops, fine wine, and creamy cheeses. In a time when we think “open range” meats are special… they wouldn’t know any other way. While the rest of the world has over-used their resources and polluted their infrastructure, the Azoreans have respected their islands and kept them incredibly pristine. I know that advanced tourism and new age technology will bring change to the Azores, but I’m hoping against hope that they can welcome the rest of the world in small doses and keep this natural wonderland as incredibly beautiful as it is today.
Clint, Linda, Jack and I are extremely grateful to the Azores Tourism Board for helping us plan a spectacular trip. I encourage you to put a journey to the Azores on your calendar as soon as possible. The best months to visit are between May and October. The folks at SATA – Azores Express (with offices in Fall River, MA) will have you set up with a great tour in no time. Give Maria a call at 800-762-9995 ( or one of the other helpful agents), and they’ll help you take advantage of the summer promotion – 6nights/7days from Boston to Sao Miguel with air, hotel and breakfast, for as little as $1,179 per person!! The Azores will never be more beautiful than they are today – immerse yourself in authentic natural beauty.