The Azores | Exploring the West of Sao Miguel
Sao Miguel is one of the most diverse places I have ever visited; its flora, fauna, landscapes and even climate changing dramatically during just a short drive. Within the space of just twenty minutes, you can go from soaking in a hot spring in the sun to having your head in the clouds on top of a mountain looking down on a volcanic crater. It's this diversity and dramatic scenery that helped me to fall in love so easily.
Exploring the island in a car is easy. You can zip from one end of the island to the other in less than an hour, although you'll probably get distracted along the way. Despite its small size, the easiest way to explore Sao Miguel for the first time is to split the island into sections, devouring everything in one area in a day. For our first full day on the island, we drove west to explore the area surrounding Sete Cidades, the twin lakes.
If you luck out and fly into Ponta Delgada on a clear day, I imagine the distant view of the twin lakes would be jaw-dropping. The glimpses that we were treated to from various view points through breaks in the intense mist gave us an idea of the scale of this place. Basically, the west of the island is an enormous volcanic crater with a large lake nestled inside, the road that crosses it creating the impression of twin lakes. There's also a scattering of smaller lakes that creep into the view as you drive along the hairpin roads, stopping to admire the vistas from different vantage points. Legend says that one lake appears blue and the other green because a king forbid his daughter from marrying her true love and their tears formed the lakes; his eyes were green and hers blue. Personally, I couldn't really tell the difference in hue, but the fog largely obscured our view.
Other than the views, the most interesting part of driving around the roads above the lakes is an incredible abandoned hotel. Located at one of the viewpoints, Vista do Rei, the hotel may have an obvious Brutalist aesthetic, but was actually built in the 1980's. I have a real thing with exploring abandoned buildings, and it was pretty incredible to see just how quickly this one has succumbed to nature. The hotel was only open for a couple of years before it sadly closed its doors - it was too isolated and the weather too unpredictable up in the clouds. When it was new (a few photos if you scroll down here), it had a vague Grand Budapest vibe about it; beautifully ornate features among all the concrete. Now, it's left to nature and there's nothing to stop you venturing inside to explore. We even climbed up onto the roof to squint at the view peeking out from through the mist.
Close to Sete Cidades lies one of the island's alluring hot springs. The beauty of a volcanic island (as I discovered on Iceland last year) is that you're bound to discover a bevy of geothermal hot pots to soak in. There's three areas in Sao Miguel where you can enjoy naturally warm waters, and the first is rather unusual. Ponta da Ferraria is accessed by driving down an insanely steep hairpin road then strolling along a pink path down to a rocky beach. Once you reach your destination (via a stunning Modernist changing hut), you'll discover that the hot spring is actually in the Atlantic Ocean!
There's a small ladder to climb down into the water, and ropes to hold onto to assure that you don't get swept out to sea when the giant waves roll in. Bobbing around in the rock pool, the water is of the temperature of a warm bath with the waves bringing a burst of cold water in each time they crash past you. Despite the rough waters and occasional bursts of icy temperatures, I could have lulled in this hot spring for hours. If the sun is shining, find yourself a spot on the black rocks to indulge in a little sunbathing before facing that death-defying drive back up the mountain.
The rest of the coastline isn't much to write home about, other than offering nice views, but the small town of Mosteiros is definitely worth a short visit. Here, you can admire the pinnacles in the ocean just a short distance away, stroll around the pretty views and grab a bite to eat in one of the very basic restaurants that may not be easy on the eye but serve delicious seafood. If you're staying in Ponta Delgada, it's also worth sticking around to admire the sunset while you're on the north-west of the island. I've also stuck a couple of photos from Ponta Delgada below; it's a pretty little town with beautiful buildings, surprisingly creative street art and a few incredible restaurants (I highly recommend booking a table at Tasca if you're planning a trip).
Vintage jumper and & Other Stories jeans
Vintage vest and old Urban Outfitters shorts
Old Zara dress
All photos my own