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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!
Sorry for the delay in posting about the finish to our trip. We had very sporadic access to the web. One day I was muttering to myself about the lack of internet access, and then took a look around and realized we were staying in the middle of a volcano crater – no wonder the signals were a bit challenged! Here’s a recap of the marvelous sites we visited on the Island of Sao Miguel and the capitol city of Ponta Delgada.
Ponta Delgada is a study in black and white. Streets and sidewalks are decoratively adorned with intricate mosaic designs executed in small blocks of black basalt rock and white sandstone. Tightly woven streets are lined with white stucco buildings accented with black basalt trim. Numerous city parks were planted with cheery flowers, but alas with the unusually cool weather while we were there, they were yet to ‘pop’, so the city appeared a bit colorless in spots. I am certain that in a week or two all the trees will have leafed out and flowers will provide bright accents making Ponta Delgada a charming seaside city. The city reminded me of the wonderful mosaic displays in Lisbon, and we learned that while Ponta Delgada’s designs are done in black with white accents, Lisbon’s are done in white with black accents. Sao Miguel has the black basalt stone and Lisbon has the white sandstone – so they trade!
To be honest, we didn’t spend much time in the city center. The countryside is so appealing that we scurried out to explore at every opportunity. We hired a taxi (who’s driver spoke good English) for approx $20 an hour (for the 4 of us) and headed off to explore. Our first visit was to Vila Franca Do Campo, the first capitol city of Sao Miguel. There we sat across from the harbor ramp choked with brightly colored fishing boats and had one of the best meals of our trip at the Atlantico Restaurant. Fresh fish was abundant throughout our stay – with many varieties we had never heard of – we often just ordered the filet of fish of the day and were never disappointed. The Azores has a robust tuna fishing industry – although it was still early in the season to see a catch being brought in.
We took a bouncy half hour ferry ride from Pico to the Island of Faial. Horta, the capitol of Faial, is a cheery harbor town with a yachting flare. For centuries boats have been provisioning here before making the run across the Atlantic. Today you can see paintings all along the break-front where boaters have left their artistic signatures and highlights of their journey – many on around-the-world adventures. Even though Faial is smaller in size than Pico, the town of Horta is much busier and bustling with shops and colorful local pubs. Raising a glass or two at Peters is almost compulsory!
The harbor front boasts several 4 star hotels, including a very dramatic Pousada (historic inn) fashioned out of the city fortress – complete with drawbridge and iron gate. A huge open air swimming pool fronts the harbor offering dramatic views while you swim.
We’ve been on Pico Island for four days now and have been completely captivated. There is nothing to do here, and everything at the same time. If you are ‘into’ nature, enjoy short hikes and mingling with local folk in tiny village cafes, you would adore Pico. Let me set the scene.
Pico Island is famous for the pods of whales that visit just off shore most of the year, hand made lace, locally produced wine, divine Pico cheese and beef so tender you can cut it with a fork. We start every meal saying we won’t eat all of the cheese plate brought to the table, but you guessed it, we always gobble up every crumb. The cheese is light yellow, spreadable, with a mild slightly nutty flavor. Each of the Azores Islands make their own cheese which differ slightly from each other. There are contented cattle roaming on all the hillsides, munching away on vivid green grasses. Here in the Azores it stays warm all year, so there are no barns for the cattle, they roam free all year. On Pico the pastures and vineyards are divided by miles and miles of neatly stacked black volcanic rock walls.
For everyone who loves chocolate as much as I do, it's time to plan a vacation swirling with chocolate tours and adventures. Nothing matches the euphoric lift after munching on a creamy chocolate delight. Here are eight destinations for immersing yourself in...