Our Top Five of the Island of São Miguel
At the time that I started writing this article, it hadn´t even been a week since we got back from the picturesque island of São Miguel and all I could think of was how soon we could go back. Back to the green hills and spotted cows, the fresh cheese and flavourful wine and back to São Miguel´s blue water, full of bottlenose dolphins and countless mysteries. After four packed days on the island, there will be many blog posts coming as it´s difficult to pick its top five attractions. However, thinking that some readers might only have one or two days on the island, I´ll also give a "top five" a go. Without further ado, here are what myself and André classified as our favourite five activities on the island:
1. Visiting Europe´s one and only tea plantation
When the Açoreans realised their orange production was in danger, they quickly improvised by creating a new industry: the tea industry. They brought over two Chinese masters who taught them everything there is to know about tea, and now, over 100 years later, São Miguel is still host to Gorreana, Europe´s only tea plantation. Overlooking the steep cliffs and blue water of the Atlantic, the plantations stretches over green hills and gives room for yet another wonderful hike through the rows of tea bushes. The factory is also open to visits and the perhaps coolest thing about it, is the fact that there´s unlimited free tea in it for you.
2. Bathing in the thermal waters of Poça de Dona Beija
When it comes to thermal springs, we´ve actually visited three of them, the Poça Dona Beija being the very last and smallest park we´ve ventured into. While the three parks (Caldeira Velha, Terra Nostra and Poça Dona Beija) are very different from each other and amazingly beautiful in their own way, the last one remained our favourite throughout the trip. The five small pools of 39 degree water are all different and equipped with various waterfalls and the nature inside the park is simply breathtaking.
3. Whale and dolphin watching with Terra Azul
When planning this trip, my partner and I agreed that we absolutely had to do something to witness the marine life of the island. And while there are plenty of whale watching tours to choose from, we needed to make sure we chose a supplier that cared about the animals and the ecosystem they so kindly let us into. With little information available, we were super lucky to have Seabookings find us a tour through Terra Azul and I don´t think we could have chosen any better ourselves. The people at Terra Azul deeply care about our oceans and their animals and the tour guide, Lorenzo, did a fantastic job at giving us the ins and out about all the species we saw and didn´t see. My absolute favourite part was seeing a matriarchal group of spermwhales with their babies. Witnessing these animals in their natural habitat is a deeply humbling experience that I absolutely recommend you give a try!
4. Eating a Cozido de Furnas after seeing it being taken out of the earth
There are plenty of dishes that should be on your to eat list if you visit the island of São Miguel, but perhaps the most notorious one remains the cozido de furnas. The secret to its cooking are the hot springs that enable an underground cooking of the dish. Holes the size of a big pot and as deep as 2 meters are dug in the ground. Next, huge pots are lowered in the steaming holes where for 6 to 11 hours, the dish is being cooked. Some of its ingredients are meat, cabbage, carrots, spinach, potato, blood sausage and much more. Vegetarians beware, this might not be your best option. You can enjoy the dish in one of Furnas´ famous restaurants. We chose Tony´s and utterly loved it.
5. Hiking down to Lagoa do Congro
I´ve lost count of how many lagoons the island has and while each is breath-taking in its own way, Lagoa do Congro remains the one that left its biggest impact on me. Its green waters and mesmerising nature protecting it, makes you feel the zen-est you´ve ever felt. The hike down takes about 20 minutes and most probably wouldn´t even be called a hike by people who actually practice hiking. Once down there, enjoy the silence and take a few moments to be grateful for being able to witness such wonderful nature.