São Miguel, Azores: A Winter Escapade

Tea. Fog. Lakes. Green. Volcanos. Cows. Tea. Those are the ingredients for today’s travel piece.

I have travelled this winter holidays to the Azores, Portugal. From Brussels, you only have two options: to go through Lisbon (with TAP Air Portugal) or Porto (with Ryanair). Since I was travelling with my family, I decided to go with TAP Air Portugal. In fact, one of my new year’s resolution is to avoid low cost airlines while travelling with a baby. Done that, and never again!

One of the good things of travelling through Portuguese airports is that you have always priority with a baby. When you board, check in, buy water or a newspaper. Every queue you’ll encounter will magically disapear thanks to a friendly voice who will speak the following words: “Sir, you have priority”.

Chaos Lisbon Airport
Chaos at Lisbon Airport © Ana Baião

One of the bad things of travelling through Portuguese airports is the chaos and constant works. To be honest I’m talking exclusvely about Lisbon airport. Portugal’s tourism boom during the past 5 years has made the industry one of the biggest contributors to the national economy and its largest employer. Undoubtedly fantastic news for the country. However, travellers at  Lisbon airport suffer the consequences. Desperate queues and shambolic scenes have prompted El País to suggest to rename the airport to “chaos”.

Azores, who are you?

The Azores has long been missed by most travellers. In fact, it wasn’t until 1432 that Portuguese settlers claimed the islands. This was just 60 years before Columbus stumbled on the New World.

The Azores is an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands spread in the Atlantic ocean: Flores, Corvo, Graciosa, Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Santa Maria, and São Miguel.

Azores-map

The archipelago is blessed with its geography. The Azores is located about 1,643 km from Lisbon and 1,925 km from Newfoundland, in Canada, making it a strategic location midway between North America and Europe. In fact, during World War II, the Lajes Air Base, located in the island of Terceira, played an important role for the allies’ victory. By 1943, the British and American armed forces were allowed basing rights in Portugal. They transferred control of Lajes back to Portugal in 1946. Today, Lajes stills welcomes a United States Air Force detachment unit.

São Miguel: the green island

I decided to spend 8 days, before Christmas, in São Miguel. This is Azores’ biggest island and where the capital, Ponta Delgada, is located. My first impression was: “ah! fresh air!” Even if I was with a major flu. The day we landed, we were lucky to have a blue sky and nearly constant 20 degrees. In the Azores driving isn’t a stressful experience like in Brussels. The landscape is breathtaking. You see green everywhere. It seems you are covered by a green surface. Surprisingly the Azorean green could remind you of both Martinique or the Swiss Alpes. It will really depend on where you are located within this 760 km2 island.

Sete Cidades lagoon
The Sete Cidades lagoon in São Miguel Island © Wikipedia

 

São Miguel: the volcanic island

Pico do Ferro is a must-visit miradouro (miradouro stands for belvedere in Portuguese). What you see, in this picture below, is the view of Lagoa das Furnas.

Here is located the parish of Furnas, known for its volcanic activity. You can find many geysers, hot-springs and fumaroles. Everywhere you will smell the strong odor of sulfur since there are many hot-springs boiling sulfuric water scattered around. They are great to see but you should bring clothes peg for your nose.

Furnas 2
Furnas’ Geyser – © António Buscardini

 

São Miguel: the tea island

São Miguel is the only place in Europe where tea is grown. As we know tea is originally from China. The Portuguese introduced tea to the West in the 16th century and as an agro-industry in the Azores during the 19th century.”The glorious period was in the 20th century when we had 62 producers and 16 factories!” explained the man holding the souvenir store at Gorreana. This tea factory, founded in 1893, is nowadays one of the two survivors.

The tea harvest begins in March and lasts until September – sometimes October. I was then lucky to try last year’s tea.

São Miguel: the all seasons island

What to pack for the Azores? What to pack for the Azores?! My wife raised this question multiple times but I had no clue what to say. She was convinced I had the answer because it was not my first time in São Miguel. However, this islands changes weather all the time! Sun, fog, rain, rain, sun, fog, heavy storm etc. And that’s sometimes one afternoon.

Always check the weather forecast in the Azores. It can happen to have sun in Ponta Delgada and a lot of fog in another part of the island.

Food tips

Cheese: São Miguel island is known for having more cows than humans. This means that if you are a cheese lover this is the place to go. I confirm it’s delicious. I don’t drink milk but people say it’s great.

Cozido das Furnas: cozido is a traditional Portuguese dish cooked with various types of meat (bacon, ribs, chicken, and blood sausage) and vegetables (cabbage, potatoes, and carrots), boiled together. The one in Furnas is particular because it’s cooked thanks to the steam from the hot springs. The meal is slowly cooked for approximately five hours before you get to enjoy it.

Final recommendations

People recommend to visit the Azores from April to October but I really enjoyed this winter escapade:

  • Airtickets can be quite affortable.
  • The weather is quite instable but you can count on some sunny days (almost like summer)
  • You can find amazing airbnbs for half price: I strongly recommend one named Cantinho da Avó.
  • For more information: Visit Azores
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