The Azores | Hot Springs & Pineapples
Continuing with my Sao Miguel adventures, I'm going to delve into the day that we spent exploring the centre of the island. This is where I felt most like I'd stumbled upon some lost, undiscovered world; smoke rising from the ground and mist drifting across vegetation-covered mountains. Palm trees stood shoulder-to-shoulder with evergreens and luscious ferns, creating a vibrant green landscape of which I'd never seen before.
We began the day by paying a visit to the island's pineapple farm. Located just a short distance outside of Ponta Delgada, it was impossible to locate without switching on my mobile data and keeping a beady eye on Google maps as the car weaved around twists and turns that led through tiny villages and out into the countryside. I had no idea how pineapples actually grew and thoroughly enjoyed strolling through the greenhouses to view the spiky sweet fruit at various stages during its development. Azorean pineapples seem to be smaller and sweeter than I was used to - and the locals love to use them in everything from chutney to gin. Make sure you try the pineapple cakes in the shop at the farm and keep your eye out for the chutney featuring on menus across the island.
The next stop on our itinerary for the day was probably the highlight of the entire trip. Brace yourselves,this spot is up there as one of my favourite places in the entire world. Caldeira Velha is located on the way up a mountain, just below the viewpoint that looks out over Lagoa do Fogo. As the road begins to hairpin up the steep hill, you'll spot several cars parked on the side of the road close to the entrance gate. The small entrance fee covers the maintenance of the area, and my only gripe is that it subsequently feels slightly manicured and not as wild as it could be. A short stroll down the pink path (why do we insist on grey pavements in the UK??) leads you through a sub-tropical forest with the anticipation of what lies at the end keeping you from spending too much time admiring your surroundings.
There are two hot springs here, both begging to be lingered in until your fingers and toes prune up. We sampled the spring furthest from the path first, changing in little wooden huts as the rain pounded down from above. Once we had submerged ourselves in the water, we no longer cared about the rain, edging closer to the magnificent waterfall that cascaded off the rocks in front of us. This spring with the waterfall is by far the most visually impressive, but the temperature is somewhat lukewarm and despite its beauty we were the only two people soaking in the spring besides one other man. I could have sat submerged in the water for hours, but the second spring beckoned.
The lower spring is fed by a trickle of water from a scalding hot bubbling pool above, allowing for a much warmer temperature. This felt like sitting in a really hot bath, perched on a stone and covered in thick sediment. Possibly one of the most relaxing experiences I have ever had, it was extremely difficult to tear myself away from this blissful pool.
Next stop: Furnas. You could easily spend an entire day here, exploring the town and the lake before soaking in the hot springs for hours upon end. There are two different areas of the town with hot springs, both commanding separate entrance fees, so we decided to opt for Parque Terra Nostra on account of its geothermal lake. The yellow-hued lake is situated in the midst of a tropical garden filled with beautiful and unusual flora and fauna, and its worth wandering round and admiring the landscape before your soak. The experience of stripping off to your swimsuit and submerging yourself into the deep water in the middle of a garden in the grounds of a hotel is bizarre, to say the least, but it's an experience that I thoroughly recommend. I've visited a variety of hot springs before, but this was the first time that I'd found myself in geothermal waters deep and wide enough to actually swim in. Before you dry off, don't forget to seek out the handful of smaller springs that sit on the other side of the changing huts for a more peaceful soak.
Aside from hot springs, Furnas has much more to offer. There are the caldeiras, to the east of the town; bubbling boiling pools of water and vents emitting clouds of steam around the scorched earth that surrounds them. There's the spa hotel if you prefer soaking in cleaner waters or fancy a relaxing massage. And the town itself is pleasant to stroll around and admire the colourful buildings and native plants.
Drive down to the lake to view more caldeiras and to see how the locals made their famous stew by burying it in the ground for several hours. This is where I truly fell in love with the scenery, watching the steam from the ground rise and mingle with the ever-present fog that shrouded the top of the hills overhead, green landscapes all around. If you're an animal lover, you'll love the area around the lake as this is where all of the local cats seem to flock to curl up on the hot earth.
The last stop of the day was the tiny village of Caloura on the south coast, on the way back to Ponta Delgada. We'd originally stopped off to eat at the seafood restaurant that is located right by the water, but unfortunately it was full so we spent some time wandering along the stone pier instead. I loved the contrasts here. The milky blue waves, black stone beach and red & white striped lighthouse. The rugged cliffs and huge waves just metres away from a stunning modernist house with views to die for. The magic of having this place all to ourselves for the entire time we spent there made me glad that the Azores are not yet overflowing with tourists.
Wearing: H&M white t-shirt and old blue culottes
All photos my own