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Trip Report Azores Adventure

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A big thank you to all who have contributed to the Azores forum. My teenage daughter and I had a fantastic Spring Break trip last week and it would not have been the same without the great information that I received in preparation.

We arrived more or less on time at the Ponta Delgada airport (direct from Boston) and were met at the airport by Lisa Ringelberg. I decided to try to make the best of our 4 hour layover between Sao Miguel arrival and Faial departure and see Sete Cidades with a guide – and Lisa did not disappoint. The weather cooperated and we had a lovely trip to the lakes and the village. I appreciated the history and perspective from Lisa and the coffee conversation we shared was helpful for the Sao Miguel portion of our travel (second half of week).

Off to Horta …. And we landed with SUNSHINE! What a treat to walk in to the gardens at our lovely B&B and smell the jasmine blooming outside the entry. We loved every little minute of our stay at the Estrela do Atlantico, in fact, my only regret is that we did not spend more of our minutes on Faial at the Estrela. http://www.edatlantico.com/english.htm. Our room was charming and perfectly appointed, with a modern bathroom and balcony overlooking the beautiful gardens. The breakfast was delicious and complete (island fruits, home made jams, fresh OJ, meats, cheeses and baked goods). The owner was gracious, responsive, and all of her suggestions were spot on. She really has thought of every little comfort for her guests … a charming honor bar, a library filled with books and board games, fresh flowers in the colorful foyer. A perfect fit with the relaxed beauty of Faial.

After settling in a bit we headed to the landmark Peter Café Sport for lunch. We had a charming and friendly waiter and it felt great to sit, eat and enjoy. We wandered around town a bit before heading back to the Estrela for a quick nap (the flight from Boston did not allow for much sleep). Well, my teenager extended her nap through dinner and into the morning…. So I was on my own for dinner. Pizza and salad were perfect at the bustling “California Pizza” and I brought home the leftovers just in case she awoke …. But alas she was out for the night.

We awoke early the next morning for our wonderful breakfast before heading to the harbor for the 4 hour sailing trip we had scheduled with Carlos from Azores4Fun. I did not know exactly what to expect but what a treat. First of all … sunshine! The boat was beautiful, Carlos was an accomplished captain and a gracious host (having stocked the boat with drinks and food for us, completely a surprise) and also enlisted a crew member with excellent English.

The smooth sail was a treat and definitely a highlight for both of us. Beautiful views of Pico, lots of dolphins, and plenty of sunshine.

We returned in the afternoon and picked up a rental car in town. The drive to Capelinhos volcano was about 25 minutes and absolutely beautiful. It was interesting to see the landscape of this small island change in such a short time. The contemporary, underground interpretive center was very impressive and the land mass much more beautiful and interesting than I expected. After plenty of photos we headed up to the northern part of the island before making our way to Belle Vista for dinner.

We were visiting in the off season and were the only people in the restaurant for dinner – which felt a bit strange but the waiter was kind and the food was good (though the room was cold!) When we returned home I was soundly beaten in Scrabble by my daughter.

The next morning we headed to town after breakfast for our bike ride down from the Caldeira. This was arranged by Peter Café Sport and basically consisted of a taxi ride up to the top of the mountain with 2 bikes and helmets in the trunk of the car (I did have the taxi wait while we tested the brakes on the bicycles!). We had the Caldeira all to ourselves and the sunny roads most of the way down to town were ours as well…. What a treat! We took our time getting down, enjoying the views, the flowers and the forests.

After we returned the bicycles we headed over to the ferry for an afternoon on Pico. I felt fortunate to have discovered Casa D’Avilas jeep tours on line and we were swept up by Verve (our guide) and off for our adventure on the beautiful island of Pico.

I was curious to see the vines so we spent some time along the coast and among the vineyards and learned of the history and a bit about the winemaking. The wine museum was closed so we were unable to visit but Verve was a great source of information. The jeep allowed us to get off of the main road a bit to explore. It was interesting to get a sense of the different personalities of the islands and I was glad that we took the time to visit Pico and to see both the interior and coast of this beautiful island.

Dinner this night was at our favorite Faial restaurant – Medalhas. The food was absolutely delicious (grilled octopus for me and steak for my daughter) with wine from Pico and a charming atmosphere.

We opted to take it easy on Tuesday morning and enjoy the last few hours at the Estrela. At breakfast our host, Ruth, mentioned that there was a yoga class that morning at the home of her friend and yoga instructor so I hopped in the car to head over and check it out. I took a wrong turn and was a few minutes late and they had waited for me! So nice. It was easy to follow along in Portuguese (“inspirata/expirata”) and a bit of English, and I was glad that I went.

After packing up and saying our farewells to Ruth, we headed to the airport for our return to Sao Miguel.

Picking up the car at the Ponta Delgada airport was easy and we piled in to head to Furnas. We stopped first at Calhoura and the Villa Franco de Campo along the way. Calhoura was magnificent – we had warm sunshine and took some great pictures at the hotel. Villa Franco de Campo was a lovely village though less enchanting to us. We arrived at the Terra Nostra Gardens Hotel in Furnas where we met the owner of the cottage that would be our home for the next 3 nights. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/562321 We followed him to the gate that led us through the 2 acres of private gardens to the fantastic little cottage nestled on a hill among the pine trees. The fireplace was lit, the fruit basket filled and the fridge stocked with local wine and cheese. It was too cozy to eat anywhere else so we picked up some eggs from the market and cooked up an omelet for dinner.

I spent the early morning hours trying to relight the fire, unsuccessfully, and instead concentrated on breakfast. The local unleavened (and slightly sweet) bread – bolos levedos – toasted with blackberry jam, loads of fresh fruit and creamy yogurt. After breakfast we walked in to town and visited the tourism office. The agent endorsed our plan to hike Faial de Terra and so we loaded up our backpacks and headed for the coast.

The hike to the waterfall was lush and delightful. It was drizzling on the way back so the path was a bit slippery, but we returned to cars safe and sound.

We drove to Ribeira Quente hoping to eat at the well known Restaurant Garajau, but it was closed for the season. Back in Furnas, we were happy to find Tony’s Snack Bar which hit the spot with cheeseburgers and fries. The charming host/waiter/cook (all in one) made us feel right at home.

We drove to Poca de Dona Beija thermal baths which was delightful way to end the day. The water truly felt restorative and being there at night was fun. The staff was friendly and we were able to rent towels (which we forgot). At 2 Euros entry it was an absolute bargain.

Thursday we woke up to rain (as expected) and decided to drive to the northern part of the island to escape it …. And it worked! The viewpoint near Salga was breathtaking and while we were there the sun came out. We debated whether to drive to Nordeste but decided to head west instead, and stopped at the tea plantation for a brief self-guided tour, tasting and (to my daughter’s delight) house made gelato. Feeling fortified we press on to Caldeira Velhe – an amazing surprise in the forest. The natural thermal baths and interpretive center in the woods were very cool and a good way to spend a drizzly afternoon. We pressed on to Fire Lake (Lago da Fogo) through the fog – knowing that we could not expect a view without a hike down to the lake – and by the time we reached it the rain and wind had reached their peak so we took a photo of the fog and headed to the coast. The driving was slow and treacherous with limited visibility – but amazingly when we returned to Furnas the rain stopped and the skies cleared! Just in time for us to tour the Terra Nostra Gardens and enjoy the thermal baths there.

The gardens were much grander than we expected and we certainly didn’t see everything in the 1.5 hours that we wandered them, but we wanted to have plenty of time to enjoy the thermal pool so we changed and soaked for a good hour.

Home for a shower and then back to Terra Nostra for our final dinner. What an elegant and delicious surprise! We had excellent service and food and would recommend this experience to anyone.

Friday morning we were greeted by sunshine and headed to Furnas Lake for a quick hour of peaceful kayaking …. Then back to the cottage to pack up and head to the airport.

Our Azores Adventure was all that we hoped it would be and in many ways more. It is difficult to describe or imagine the depth of the beauty and all of the individuals that we met along the way were kind and hospitable and helped to shape the experiences for us. I would love to return in the summer when the weather is warmer and visit some of the other islands.

Here’s to next time!

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