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  • Cecilia Clark

São Miguel Island, October 21 - 25, 2023

Updated: Dec 17, 2023

After checking into our hotel in Ponta Delgada on the southern coast of the island and meeting up with the third participant in the photo workshop, Bruno of BrunoAzera photography workshops took us on a pre-lunch photo outing . São Miguel Island is the largest island in the Azores group. The perimeter of the island is 213 km (132 mi), the width ranges from 8 to 15 km, and the length is 62 km (38 mi). It doesn't take long to get from one side to the other side. Our first stop was Ribeira Grande on the north coast of São Miguel Island.

We lunched at a restaurant specializing in delicious Azorean seafood and then headed west until the beautiful green hills and the deep blue of the ocean at Pico do Carvão caught our attention.

Farther west we stopped at the viewpoint of Lagoa Das Sete Cidades (Lagoon of the Seven Cities). This caldera has twin lakes separated by a narrow spit of land and a bridge. When the lighting is right, one lake reflects blue and the other reflects green. Bruno has some beautiful photos of this exact spot when the lighting and wind conditions were perfect. My photo is mediocre in comparison. The ferns are endemic but the vegetation directly behind the ferns are not. Wild ginger has invaded the Azores and seems to be taking over.

Our last stop of the day was for a sunset that never really materialized.

Day 2 began with a drive to a volcanic caldera called Lagoa do Fogo in a National Park of the same name. We turned back before we got to the top because the fog was so thick that we didn't have a chance at a beautiful sunrise. We returned to the hotel for breakfast and to let the weather clear some. Ponta Delgada had rain.

View of Ponta Delgada from our room at Grand Hotel Açores Atlantico

Weather moves very quickly across the island. An App, SpotAzores, has weather cameras all over the island to sample the conditions before you get there.

Many of the roads on São Miguel are lined with mature Plane trees (AKA Sycamore)

Distant view of Porto Formoso from the Viewpoint of Santa Iria. Both are on the northern coast

A morning tea tasting break at Cha Gorreana tea plantation and a wander through the rows of tea

We finished day 2 on the black-sand beach at Mosteiros looking for a sunset. Mosteiros is almost the farthest most western point of São Miguel.

On Day 3 we made it to Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire) to photograph the sunrise. The sky was quite cloudy, but there were about 10 seconds of brilliant color before the clouds closed in. Because the area is quite fragile, we were not allowed to leave the viewpoint area on the caldera rim. The lake occupies the central caldera of the Água de Pau Massif. At just 15,000 years old, the volcano is the youngest on São Miguel. It is also the highest elevation lake on the island. Looking down, the lake is a beautiful sight with the ocean visible just beyond the southeastern wall of the caldera.

A much warmer stop was at Furnas in a volcanic valley. The smell of sulfur is the first clue followed quickly by steam rising from the earth even in the parking lot. We walked through a densely wooded area to get to open boiling hot springs.

Despite the boiling ground, much of the landscape is green even as steam rises from the open vents. This is where the famous Azorean dish Cozido das Furnas originates. Cozido das Furnas is a hearty stew of various meats and root vegetables. Everything is put into a pot and the pot is then lowered into one of the lined hot pots in the earth to slow cook for about 6 hours. A nearby restaurant capitalizes on this process. Everyday full pots are brought to Fumaroles das Furnas to be lowered into the earth. Six hours later the hot pots are picked up for the restaurant's lunch of Cozido das Furnas. Individuals can also take advantage of fumarole cooking.

Continuing with hot springs but this time at a more moderate temperature, we visited the beautiful Parque Terra Nostra for a soak in their thermal water pool and a bit of a walk about the park. The color of the water is caused by the high mineral content. The pool was built in 1780 and enlarged and renovated in 1935. The temperature is moderately hot, however, there are inflow areas for those who like it really hot. The gardens and landscaping were gorgeous. The admission of 8€ was worth it.

Relaxed and warm, we went in search of a glorious sunset. We stopped at São Roque to check out an area high on a cliff. Leaving cameras behind, we trudged up steps to the windy top and found that we should have brought the cameras with us. I took the B&W photo with my cell phone. The clouds and the spit of land make kind of a pinwheel shape with dark/light/dark/light repeats. I took the photo and hurried back to the car, but of course, the shape of the clouds had changed.

Day 4 was our last full day on São Miguel Island. Rain again! We began the day with a stop at a pineapple "plantation." Azorean pineapple are unique as they are grown in greenhouses.

It takes about two years to grow from flower to pineapple and during the growing stage, the pineapple plant is moved from one greenhouse to another as they mature. Since the sun shines unevenly (rain days) smoke is used to stimulate and synchronize the bloom. Azorean pineapples are much smaller than those that come from the tropics and the ones we tasted were also much sweeter.

Waterfall at Salto do Cabrito (goat jump)

Ribeira dos Caldeirões Park

Ribeira dos Caldeirões park also has waterfalls throughout the park. I was thrilled to see that the hydrangeas at Ribeira dos Caldeirões Park were still in bloom. Hydrangeas line streets and ring houses, but until this day all blossoms we saw were already spent.

The oldest light station in the Azores Farol Ponta do Arnel light station built in 1876

and Our last stop for the day was at another Plane-tree lined street

Day 5, our last morning on São Miguel before flying to Terceira Island, we walked to Ponta Delgada city center for a little sightseeing. The city center is charming. The city gates, the church, and city hall in the historic center are painted Azorean white and trimmed with black basalt.

The paving in the historic areas of the Azores and in mainland Portugal looks painstakingly tedious to install. The black cobbles are basalt and the white is a limestone. Each hand shaped piece is about a 3"x3" cube. The cobble is pounded into a sand base. Sand is used instead of concrete because it is easier to relay after earthquakes.

Next stop Terceira Island to continue the photo workshop.


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