São Miguel – the sheer beauty of simplicity

Travel

São Miguel is not an island for lazy bones. The island has its unique microclimate, varying from tropical, to moderate and windy at the coastline. While visiting the inland of São Miguel, make sure you go prepared for 7 seasons! But most importantly, prepare for breathtaking views and picturesque landscape, which is still not empoverished by the massive tourism presence and is ideal for a day-long hiking.

Given its volcanic origin, one can find various crater lakes which can be reached by winding roads from lovely and so unpretensciously named towns such as: Ponta Delgada (“Thin Tip”), Rabo de Peixe (“Fish Tail”), Ribeira Grande (“Great River”) or Furnas (“Heater”).
  The truth is, it can get very warm and humid when you enter the green forests on the sleepery hills. When the rain caught me on the trail to Caldeira Velha (definitely my fave name “Old Boiler”), I did not think twice to jump in the hot spring. 

Hot springs, full of iron and other minerals are a free retreat offered by Mother Nature on this heavenly island. Another interesting fact is that in Furnas, the typical dish called cozido (“Cooked Meal” – another brilliant and self-descriptive name!) is prepared… below the ground. It takes about 8 hours to prepare a dish consisting of various types of meat and vegetable stew buried in a huge metal pot.

Yes, exactly like this one. Inside, the geothermal temperature goes up to 90 degrees Celcius, offering fantastic conditions to cook a very delicious stew.

The inland hills and roads are also very mystical. Almost all the roads are naturally decorated by hortensia (eng. hydrangea). The reason for it is also pretty simple: once upon a time, man discovered that cattle somewhat hates the smell of it. By planting it by the road, he made himself sure that the cows won’t be passing it. By now, these beautiful flowers grow almost everywhere the roads of the island, making São Miguel a particularly picturesque place to wander around and never come back.

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The thin tip or the capital of Azores

Travel

Ponta Delgada means literally ‘Thin tip’, and is a capital of the enchanting archipelago of Azores I was lucky enough to visit a few weeks ago. But don’t be mislead by the name: its airport is definitely not such a thin stripe as the one on the Madeira Island and is already pretty busy. Ponta Delgada can be reached with the direct flights from Oporto, Lisbon, London and Amsterdam, and also from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Since it’s the first year of having the low fare airlines operating to Azores, the question is: for how long will the islands stay so peaceful and conserve its remote charm? It is true that there are three times more cows than inhabitants of the São Miguel Island, still being the biggest one of the Azorean archipelago. There are not too many hotels, or pensions (I stayed at the Azorean Urban Lodge, and recommend this experience very much!). However, it already looks pretty welcoming and offering a great deal of the infrastructure, including organized trips, hikes and excellent cuisine to the visitors.

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Some parts of the city look pretty abandoned, given the historical emigration rate, mostly to the East Coast of the US and Canada. Some buildings revive its ‘2nd life’ though, given the art-friendly policy of the city. Don’t be surprised if you notice some popular mural painters’ art on a random backyard street. Or if you see the endemite trees imported from the New Zealand during the colonial times. Expect the unexpected!

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Nature and art, in a peaceful cohabitance, make Ponta Delgada a very special place. Be it Rainha das Bifanas (‘The queen of the beef sandwiches’ – very popular Portuguese dish), the ‘Lion King of Football’ (very popular house decoration) or a fancy mural. This coexistence of different styles, climate (be prepared for weather changing few times per day) and cultures makes this town very special, and hope that this will stay so charming regardless of the massive tourism knocking at its door.

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