Terra Nostra Botanical Gardens, Furnas "The gardens are planted beautifully and you can wander peacefully for hours in the cool shade. I found a quiet spot to sit and read and was completely undisturbed..."
The valley of Furnas, Sao Miguel "The whole valley is beautiful and became one of my favourite places on the island. Mountains encircle the valley..."
Closer view of the twin lakes at Sete Cidades "This is great walking country: ridges lead off around the mountain peaks to the west, before cutting down to the lake edge..."
Swimming pools and fishing port at Lagoa, south coast Sao Miguel "The pools at Lagoa are amazing. There's a mixture of manmade and natural rock pools - the natural ones are big enough for a few people to swim in and when the waves crash in, you get a free water chute ride!.."
Capelas, north west Sao Miguel "spectacular cliff with a little road down to the bottom, where fishing boats are harboured and you can swim. Local lads dive off the jetty and the odd scooter roars up the steep lane..."
Marina at Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel "Marina at Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores Now before we get started, I am going to lay my cards on the table: I don't like marinas. So if you do, you may well adore this one. I don't..."
Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores, Portas da Cidade, City Gates "These impressive arched gateways were built in the 18th century and form the entrance to the city from the port and harbour onto Praca da Republica (Republic Square)..."
Waterfall at Ribeira dos Caldeiros, north coast Sao Miguel, Azores "This is a really pretty little place, where a waterfall tumbles down some rocks, close to the road. You can pull in to park here and have a scramble about amongst the Hydrangeas to get a closer look..."
The Azores - tour and guide to the Islands of the Açores.
The Azores are a group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean: closer to Portugal (about 2 hours flying) than the USA (about 5 hours flying). We chose to go there in the summer of 2008 because of the lure of unspoilt, natural beauty, great walking, flowers, birds, whale and dolphin watching, volcanic craters, lagoons, hot springs, and above all peace and quiet. Furthermore, as there are nine islands in all, we had the idea that, if we liked them, we could keep going back year after year to discover a new one.
The Azores always held a fascination for us before we went. It seemed to be a mystical, far off place of natural beauty, about which we knew very little.
Thinking of a holiday in the Islands of the Azores, thinking about Sao Miguel (the largest of the islands, with regular international flights)? Before you book your hotel, apartment or villa, you need to know where you should stay, what you could do - and of course, where to avoid! We are here to help you make those vital decisions, so that you can have the holiday that's right for you! Join us on our virtual tour and read our personal, unbiased reviews, to check out the resorts, beaches and places of interest.
Our Virtual Reality Azores Tour is here to help you to find out all about the island before you pay a single penny (or cent) to book your accommodation, sailing or flight. Make your holiday choice with all the information at your fingertips on this tour and review of the best places to visit on Sao Miguel - Enjoy! (we did).
Now that we have made our first visit, to the island of Sao Miguel, we are captivated. It is an amazing place. Wild and beautiful in parts, precisely manicured and picturesque in others. An island of lush, verdant green everywhere, which seems to be bursting with life. Flowers in profusion; I mean, where else would you find the countryside criss-crossed with hedges of blue Hydrangeas? Monbretia and Himalayan Ginger growing wild along the roads? And we weren’t there in Azalea season (December to March, apparently), when the whole countryside turns orange, pink and crimson with these exotic flowers, growing wild.
What other images spring to mind?
Clear, blue, turquoise seas, with black volcanic cliffs and rocky beaches.
Field after field of dairy cows, grazing lush grass on the mountainsides, at an unbelievably steep angle.
Farmers boys collecting milk on horseback, sitting side saddle with huge churns, hanging from the saddle.
Huge, forested mountains disappearing into the clouds.
Hundreds of ready made BBQ and picnic sites every couple of hundred yards along the forested roads, complete with running water and toilets, all beautifully mown and strewn with flowers. Fantastic views along the coast.
Man made and natural rock pools, big enough to swim in.
The sounds of bells around cows’ necks and the constant birdsong.
Buzzards circling high above.
Twisting, turning roads, usually in fantastic condition and largely empty (except the south coast road - we were there in peak season).
Women washing down the walls of their houses with long brooms, EVERYWHERE! (Were we there in national house-wash week?)
Waterfalls, volcanic craters, bubbling hot mud pools, geysers.
Deep river gorges, plummeting down valleys, covered in huge tree ferns.
Fantastic meals of freshly caught fish and regional delicacies, sitting outside in the warm evening air.
But above all, the pure unspoilt, undeveloped, uncommercialised aspect. Virtually no concessions to tourists and no attempt to make as much money out of them as possible. It was very difficult to find anywhere which charged for parking, outside the capital, or to buy a tacky T shirt or beach ball. Although the sandy beaches usually had one snack bar, forget your images of a line of burger and pizza cafes, beach shops, parasols and sunloungers for hire. There were no pedalos, catamarans and glass bottomed boat trips. The rock pools and man made pools had nothing at all, except swimming and sunbathing in a beautiful environment. Take a picnic and a sun shade. Lie on the ground.
Oh yes, and if you want a vibrant night life, with all-night bars, clubbing and happy hours, forget it. You’re in the wrong place.
Where to stay? Well, that depends on what you want to do.
If you want to explore the whole island during your trip, then it’s best to stay somewhere in the central lowlands. Either between Ponta Delgada and Furnas on the south coast or between Capelas and Ribeira Grande on the north coast. Or anywhere inland in this central area.
If you are not that interested in seeing the whole island, but want to be based in an area of natural beauty, go for the east or west mountainous areas. They are spectacular and peaceful, but the long, wiggly, coastal roads mean that it takes a long time to get anywhere else.
The nine islands of the Azores are:
THE CENTRAL GROUP
Terceira (Main cities: Angra do Heroismo, Praia da Vitoria)
Faial (City: Horta)
THE WESTERN GROUP
THE EASTERN GROUP
Sao Miguel (Cities: Ponta Delgada, Ribeira Grande)
Sao Miguel Island
This island is known as the Green Island and is the largest and most populated of all the islands in the Azores. It has an area of 759 square metres (293 square miles) and approximately 140,000 inhabitants. 45,000 of these live in Ponta Delgada. Sao Miguel was first settled by the Portugese in 1427.
Sao Miguel is 64km long (from East to West) and 8 to 14km wide (North to South). It's lowlands are mainly fields and meadows (hence the nickname), with hot springs in the centre of the island and volcanic cones in the East, around Furnas. The most recent eruption occurred in 1652. The highest mountain is Pico da Vara, at 1,103m high.
Sete Cidades ("Seven Cities"), on the west side of Sao Miguel, is one of the most beautiful places in the Azores. Twin lakes lie in the centre of a volcanic crater about three miles across. This volcano is one of the most active in the Azores in the last 5,000 years. If you look from the edge of the crater to the lakes 500 m (1,500 ft) below, one lake looks reflects the sky so appears blue (Lagoa Azul) and the other appears green like the ground (Lagoa Verde). Legend has it that the lakes were created when a princess and her lover, a young shepherd, had to part from each other. The farewell tears which they shed became the two lakes, with the water the colour of their eyes.