Azores: São Miguel, Pico, Terceira

Old May 23rd, 2024, 05:14 PM
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Azores: São Miguel, Pico, Terceira

I haven't seen very many trip reports from travellers to the Azores so I am posting mine. We are a couple of Vancouverites in our late 60s and reasonably fit. We loved the Azores. We travelled in April and May, definitely shoulder season, knowing that we could expect all sorts of weather, and we got it!

Sata Airlines, the airline of the Azores, offered an attractive airfare to Europe which allowed stopovers in both directions in the Azores. Our itinerary was Vancouver - Toronto - Ponta Delgada (5 nights) - Madrid. Return was Lisbon - Pico Island (3 nights)- Terceira (5 nights)- Toronto - Vancouver. In between the Azores visits we were Andalucia for 2 weeks but I will not include that portion of the trip in this report.

We were pleasantly surprised by Sata Airlines. They did do a schedule change some months before we left so we had to shuffle some dates which resulted in us leaving a day earlier and returning a day later than originally booked in order to retain non-stop flights from/to Canada. They offered an option to bid on an upgrade and we "won" that for the overnight flight from Toronto, paying 150 euros each to sit up front. The aircraft was pretty new, the crew professional, the meal was fine, nice little amenity kit, left on time and got us there. Return flight to Toronto in economy, a good test, also fine, on time, easy online check-in, baggage quickly received, good meal, what more can you ask for these days. The inter-island flights were also great, we've never got our bags so quickly, and there was usually a snack and cookies.

On our very early arrival in Ponta Delgada we taxied to our accommodation (€10) and we met there by the wonderful Eduarda who took care of us. This is the accommodation which we booked direct: Solar do Santo André, a historical guest house. We loved it and we loved Eduarda who provided the most delicious breakfasts and helped us figure out how we would spend each day. Our room was very comfortable and large. It was on the back of the house so was quiet for sleeping. It was on the upper floor with so it was necessary to lug our suitcases up a couple of flights of stairs, so might not be for everyone. There was a laundry service for which we were happy to pay.

Our restaurant recommendation for Ponta Delgada is the very small Tasquinha Vieira, we liked it so much we went there twice for dinner. Outside of Ponta Delgada we loved Sensi and Bar Coloura, and Tony's in Furnas. Prior to travel we asked Eduarda to book a car for us which she did, it was delivered to the guest house and picked up there the night before our departure. So I don't know the name of the company but we had a great little VW Golf which we drove all over the island.

Our first day, fortified by a substantial breakfast, we combated the 7 hour time difference by walking around the town of Ponta Delgada visiting the Military Museum, enjoying the harbour walkway, and taking refuge from a downpour in the Santuario do Sehor Santo Cristo Dos Milagres. The Santo Cristo procession was coming up in a few weeks, it's a very big event, but it was very quiet when we were there. The afternoon became sunny and we took a stroll through the Botanical Garden José do Canto. For dinner we visited Tasquinha Vieira, excellent grilled tuna, locally sourced side dishes and white wine from Pico.


Entrance to Solar do Santo André

Beautiful but narrow sidewalks

A busy harbour


to be continued...





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Old May 23rd, 2024, 08:10 PM
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Very interesting. You are right. I have not seen any TR's for the Azores. Your guesthouse looks beautiful!
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Old May 24th, 2024, 06:22 AM
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Yes Karen, I find trip reports so helpful and indeed I referred to your Spain report for help in planning! My photos are rather large but I can't easily find out how to fix that or if it's even an issue.

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Old May 24th, 2024, 06:35 AM
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For me the size of the photos is not an issue! What a lovely start to your trip report, and I´m eager to read more. We had to cancel (once again) our planned May trip to San Miguel and Pico, so your TR will be really helpful to plan this once again. Your Ponte Delgada inn looks so inviting. I've put it on my list at the very top!
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Old May 24th, 2024, 09:30 AM
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When I look back on my photos (I did not take notes) I can't believe how much ground we traveled in São Miguel in the time we were there. In planning our day every morning it was important to check the weather forecast and webcams. I used the weather website Windy and the Spot Azores webcams. We had to be flexible, for example on a cloudy/rainy day we went to Furnas where visibility is unimportant, but if it looked clear we went to Sete Cidades or Lago do Fogo. That's not to say that weather doesn't change from hour to hour.

As far as maps of the islands, the TI offices and at the airport have some great print ones that don't fall apart the first time you use them. For driving Google Maps and Apple Maps were ok, not great and there are many narrow and one-way streets in Ponta Delgada. People drive fast! The information in Carl LaPietra's "Azores, Up Close and Personal" (kindle) has some great tips, it helped us with basics like street signs and gas stations, lots of detail. Thanks Carl if you see this!

We tried to plan days that included stopping at miradouros (viewpoints, of which there are many) walking/hiking and sightseeing in one general area of the island. Nothing is too far away and being an island you can't really get too lost. We packed a picnic lunch but our evening's entertainment was dinner and a walk before an early night to bed (jet lag).

Our first full day we drove to the Furnas Valley which sits on caldeiras, an underworld of steam and boiling water. There is a nice walk around Furnas lake. If you go at the right time you can see men pulling sealed pots of meat and veg that cook in steamy holes in the ground. The resulting "Cozido das Furnas" (a vegetarian's nightmare) is served up in restaurants in the town of Furnas. We tried it at Tony's. Definitely make a reservation if you want it, at Tony's we were lucky as all but 1 order was gone which my husband enjoyed with a bit of help from me.

We were too late to go into Terra Nostra park at Furnas for a thermal bath so tried at Poça Dona Beija but had no luck there, cash not accepted. We left disappointed as our Canadian credit card required authentication to phone numbers we did not have access to.

Continuing that day we drove into the fishing village of Caloura where we ate at the Caloura Bar. Reservations are not accepted, you put your name on a board and wait your turn if it's busy, which it wasn't when we went (one of the benefits of traveling a bit off season)




Lovely exterior of the16th century convent in Coloura

Bar Coloura

In Furnas: fumaroles are vents or openings at the surface that emit vapours from underground volcanic activity.
Pots containing meat and vegetables are lowered into these holes, steam cooked for hours and served at lunch in Furnas' restaurants

Typical sign for a Miradouro

Miradouro de Santa Iria

Last edited by francebound; May 24th, 2024 at 09:54 AM. Reason: grammar
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Old May 24th, 2024, 09:33 AM
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Maribel your advice on Andalucia was invaluable for us so I am glad to pay in forward in a small way with an Azores trip report.
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Old May 24th, 2024, 10:09 AM
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Fascinating!
That photo of the Mirador is glorious!
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Old May 24th, 2024, 06:56 PM
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Agree with ekscrunchy! Love that photo of the Miradouro de Santa Iria!!!

Now I have to add one more destination to our bucket list!
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Old May 25th, 2024, 08:40 AM
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In the Solar de Santo André we had the "Blue Room". Quiet except for the cagarros or Cory's shearwater, migratory nocturnal birds who spend most of their time out at sea but come to shore to nest. They make an strange sound which is unexpected in the middle of the night. I found it thrilling rather than irritating.

You can read about the restoration of the house after it suffered a fire in 1990 here https://solardesantoandre.pt/ and they also have a detailed facebook page. Eduarda showed us around the public rooms where guests would be invited to watch the procession of the Santo Cristo, and there are many interesting vignettes and frescoes to admire.








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Old May 25th, 2024, 09:13 AM
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Each morning we looked forward to a delicious breakfast: fresh fruit smoothie/juice, whole fruits (including the locally grown pineapple), local cheeses, breads, and freshly baked cake and a consultation with Eduarda who cheerfully planned our day for us.




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Old May 25th, 2024, 09:19 AM
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Today’s drive included a walk on the beach at Praia de Santa Bárbara, a lucky break in the weather to drive up to one of the viewpoints of Sete Cidades, the Mirodouro das Cumeerias, and on to the west side of the island to the black sand beach at Mosteiros and its rocky islets.

Following this we decided to visit Ponte da Ferraria for a swim, swirling around in water heated by underground hot springs mixed with the cold atlantic waves. It was an experience I am not sure I would recommend to everyone but we have photos to prove we did it

To see the sunset we continued our drive to the most beautiful spa/resort - Sensi Azores Nature and Spa. Despite our scruffy appearance after the Ferraria experience we were welcomed in. Deciding it was too early for dinner and because the view from the bar area is gorgeous we opted to order from the bar menu for soup, burgers/fries, salad, dessert and more Pico wine. Honestly one of our favourite meals on São Miguel. Wrapped in fleece blankets we then watched the sun set from their patio area. For design lovers this resort’s decor alone is worth a visit.

What can I say about this photo except we were not actually the oldest people there

Non-alcoholic passion fruit mojito at Sensi

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Old May 25th, 2024, 09:22 AM
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This is a lovely report! Love the detail and the photos!
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Old May 25th, 2024, 10:07 AM
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Thanks Mirabel. It's a labour of love to do these trip reports so it's nice to know someone is reading and enjoying them!
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Old May 25th, 2024, 10:16 AM
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The place I most "needed" to see was Sete Cidades and a clear day was (more or less) was promised. Growing roadside on the way you see beautiful pink azaleas in bloom in late April, canna lilies and agapanthus along with budding hydrangea which put on their show in the summer.

It was a sunny Saturday and local people and tourists both were out for the day along with tour buses and groups from the cruise ship that was in Ponta Delgada, so it was not uncrowded but only a few detestable instagram posers (sorry).

After enjoying several miradouros offering different vistas we circled down to the town of Sete Cidades to picnic and see the lovely little Church of São Nicolau.

On our way back home, we took advantage of the weather and went up to see Lago do Fogo (Lake of Fire), another crater lake. We found it hard to leave that beautiful spot. It’s easy to see why the Azores are compared to the Hawaiian islands.

I would recommend, given the uncertainty of weather, staying on “the green island” of São Miguel for at least 4 or 5 days and being flexible with plans if your goal, like ours, is to see the beautiful sights and enjoy the outdoors. There’s no point in driving to Sete Cidades or Lago do Fogo in poor weather to see nothing but a fog bank.


Sete Cidades

Church of São Nicolau

Lago do Fogo

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Old May 25th, 2024, 10:48 AM
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Our final day on São Miguel we explored one part of the island we had not seen yet, the Nordeste. We joked that an EU VIP must live there and have connections as the highway is exceptionally good considering the area population is mostly made up of cows from what we could see. Enroute we stopped at the Gorreana Tea Factory, the oldest and now the only tea plantation in Europe.

Having missed out on the thermal baths in Furnes we booked a visit to the Caldeira Velha for a soak. Going later in the day it was not busy, mostly families and small groups of teens and couples. There is something about sitting nearby in a pool eavesdropping on conversations of which you can’t understand a word to be delightful.

The facility itself is nice but not a must do and the change rooms are extremely basic. Not sure I would recommend to anyone fussy about that sort of thing.




At the end of the highway a more typical winding road took us to this spot on the rugged coast to an ocean fed pool, deserted at this time of year.


Caldeira Velha
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Old May 25th, 2024, 11:05 AM
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Leaving Ponta Delgada by taxi early to the airport was an easy €10 trip and we heard all about the political situation in Portugal from our driver. We found almost everyone to speak excellent English which was good for us. About all we learned and used was Bom Dia and Obrigado/Obrigada which was poor on our part but Portuguese is hard!

We broke up our trip to the Azores into 2 parts. Flying from Ponta Delgada to Lisbon (on time, ham/cheese sandwich & cookies) on Sata and connecting to Madrid was without issue. After a wonderful first time 2+week trip in Andalucia we returned via Lisbon to the islands of Pico and Terceira. To be continued.
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Old May 25th, 2024, 11:11 AM
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Hi francebound,
Did you wish that you had devoted more time to São Miguel or did you feel that your allotted time was just right? We're debating how many nights with a base in Ponte Delgada.

Carl's book is a godsend.

I'm eager to hear all about Pico. We have a very good friend who was born and raised on Terceira, so that beckons as well.
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Old May 25th, 2024, 12:06 PM
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Mirabel, our days were full but 5 nights was just right for us, and we were able to leave looking forward for our adventures in Spain knowing we were coming back to the Azores for another week in May.
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Old May 25th, 2024, 12:32 PM
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It is good to find another Azores fan, I've been there 14x mostly on Terciera and Faial but have been to orher central group islands as well. The Azores are
a delightful destination. As far as I know there have
been
two TRs on Fodor's with some follow-ups. I did a detailed one as did Dave Ohio. The people there are helpful and friendly and the scenery is wonderful.

Last edited by basingstoke2; May 25th, 2024 at 12:37 PM.
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Old May 25th, 2024, 12:42 PM
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Still enjoying your report! You have a wonderful way with words. And your photos are gorgeous! I'm surprised to see so many people in the water. Did you wrap yourself in fleece blankets because you were cold from that dip in the hot/cold water? So, I gather April/May is not generally beach weather.

Just curious, why did you break up your Azores visit into 2 separate visits on the same trip?
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