São Miguel Island, nicknamed “The Green Island”, is the largest and most populated island in the Portuguese archipelago of the Açores. São Miguel is unique because it is bisected by many faults and is located in the middle of a triple junction of the Eurasian, African, and North American tectonic plates. As a result, the island is home to an extensive range of geological formations. The municipalities of São Miguel were largely formed around ancient volcanic cones and craters.
Our first full day in São Miguel was an East End tour with Pure Azores. If you’re on the island and want to see the highlights and learn some history – or you just don’t want to drive – I highly recommend taking a tour with Pure Azores. We left the island with so much knowledge.
The tour began with a drive to the town of Vila Franca do Campo, in the southern part of the island. At the top of the town is the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Paz, Our Lady of Peace. The original chapel was built in the 16th century, but the current one dates to the 18th century.
At the top of Senhora da Paz, you are rewarded with a beautiful view of Vila Franca do Campo as well as the islet of Villa Franca, a small volcanic islet with a nature reserve. From Vila Franca do Campo, visitors can take a ferry over to the islet, but the number of visitors are limited to 400 per day.
Our next stop was in the town of Furnas, to visit Caldeira das Furnas. Located next to Furnas Lake, you can see fissures in the earth’s crust vent steam, boiling water, and Sulphur in small pools. This is also the place where local restaurants bury aluminum pots to cook their famous “stew” – Cozido das Furnas.
After taking in the smell of rotten eggs (Anyone who has been to Iceland will get what I mean!), we headed over to Poca da Dona Beija, a hot springs facility featuring 5 thermal pools. This was one of the highlights of our trip. The thermal pools all feature slightly different temperatures and depths and it was a lot of fun going from pool to pool. Furnas’s hot springs are known for being rich in restorative minerals, so we were instantly uplifted!
We had a delicious lunch of the famous “stew”, which isn’t really a stew at all. All the ingredients – pork, beef, chicken, cabbage, kale, potatoes, taro root, carrots, chouriço and blood sausage – are all put into the pot, completely dry, and then steamed for 5-6 hours underground. The result? A delicious, moist, and flavorful “stew”.
After lunch, we headed over to the Ribeira dos Caldeirões National Park to see the beautiful waterfall of Ribeira dos Caldeirões. Along the way to the waterfall, our tour guide told us all about several of the native and non-native flora and trees in the park. Did you know a lot of the current plants in São Miguel are transplants due to the popularity of botanical gardens in the 19th century?
Our last stop for the day was the Miradouro de Santa Iria, which offered a fantastic view of the north-eastern coast of São Miguel.