Category Archives: Azores

Saturday April 30 – Last Day in Azores

Our last morning in Sao Miguel was partly sunny. The other guests at Casa dos Hibiscus, Pilar and Emmanuelle, had left by 6:00 AM to catch an early flight, so we didn’t get to see them again. I had told Susana that I’d be down for breakfast about 8:30 AM, so I finally got up and dressed a little after 8 AM. There was again the wonderful assortment of breads and homemade jams, passion fruit yogurt, hot green tea, juice, and some of the homemade chocolate cake from the night before. I was not able to eat very much… I told Susana I felt full from all the food I’d been eating all week. She laughed and said that was the Portuguese way, to eat and enjoy meals and company.

I made comments in her Dos Hibiscos Guest Book – and remarked over a water color a guest had painted last fall when visiting. I promised to write a good review for her on Trip Advisor; she already has some good reviews on AirBnB, and had just started listing on Trip Advisor as well. She was happy that, the night before, two young “Nederlander” men had booked for the coming week, as it had been empty till the following Saturday. We conversed about our stay, her plans for the day (including a vet visit to give the younger dog Lyka an injection), and the story of how she got her current cat Shawnay, and her daughter’s sadness that the black cat had still not reappeared and it was now a week since it had disappeared.

I went upstairs to the room to finish packing. I tried to carefully pad the Azorean ceramics I’d bought in the middle of my suitcase to be checked at the airport, and also wrapped clothing around the ceramics in my carryon bag. Susana told me the blue flowered ceramics are the most difficult to paint, so I was even more pleased with my choice. Hopefully nothing will break on my trip home!

After packing I got some more photos of the house and garden, and a photo of Susana and myself together in front of the orange hibiscus flowers. I felt a little bad that Susana had gone to all the trouble to clean the swimming pool and make sure the pH balance was just right, but I had been gone during the days on activities, and it was still a little cold to be swimming. We both agreed that it wasn’t wasted effort, as probably the Nederlanders will take advantage of the pool during their stay this coming week.

Since the flight back to Boston wasn’t until 5:00 PM, there was time to try once more the route above Ribiera Grande across the mountains to Lago Fugo and hope it wasn’t foggy and rainy this time.

Sure enough, although there were low clouds, there were great views both to the north of the island at one viewpoint, a view down to Lago Fugo at another viewpoint. Clare and I laughed at how the clouds could cover the peaks, or one part of the island, while another part was enjoying sunshine – talk about localized weather! Lago Fugo looked grayish green due to the cloud cover overhead.


13895013_10103168678200336_774287882524539514_nComing down the mountain, which was a bunch of hairpin turns, at one place the Atlantic Ocean could be seen both to the south (near Lagoa) and to the north (Riberia Grande)! Although there were clouds above the mountain peaks, the ocean in either direction looked bright cerulean blue, reflecting clear skies above the water.

It wouldn’t be a day of me driving without trying a few wrong turns and getting lost. I’d taken back roads out of Fenais da Luz, and ended up doing a kind of zig zag until I caught up to the highway. And again coming down off the mountain, I didn’t want to go straight to the big city of Ponta Delgado, so tried first a small village, then got turned around on one way roads and ended up way out in the country, circling round again to where the Lago Fugo highway came down from the mountain again! Clare was wishing she was the one driving instead of me. Then I gave up and tried the new highway towards Ponta, getting off at the Marginal highway exit and going towards S. Roque at the first roundabout.

Deciding against patronizing Cais 20 again, signs were followed to “Oceanwaves” (Ocas do Mar), which turned out to have parking available, and was situated next to the rocky beach. Cheese fondue, beef kabobs and light salad… enjoyed with white wine sangria… was the13872654_10103168678260216_7609863916163914721_n perfect lunch.

Finally it was time to head west toward the aeroport, return the rental car and check my larger suitcase. Hertz charged me 7E because apparently I returned the gas tank at 4/8 instead of 5/8 (it had looked just over ½ tank to me, but oh, well). Aeroport security is very tight. I had to produce my passport and boarding pass several times, had my bags looked through at security (the x-rays of my ceramics did look a little strange, I admit). I like to visit the restroom one last time right before boarding, but the boarding area for Gate 5 to Boston was past another checkpoint, so I had to go back to the snack counter area, use the facilities there, and then go to Gate 5 to wait another ½ hour.

13901499_10103168678270196_2237531371828405184_nAs the Azores Airline A330 Airbus soared out over the ocean, beginning its steep climb in altitude, I felt a mixture of completeness at having made the most of my week-long vacation to Sao Miguel, and sadness it was over too quickly. However, I really missed my Sheltie, and was happy that tomorrow I’ll be home and see my puppy dog again!


Friday April 29 – Nordeste Tour

The last full day in the Azores had already come. The sky was a mixture of clouds and sun, but since weather is both so changeable and so localized, there was no way of telling what the day would bring. At breakfast I tried some of Susana’s pumpkin and coconut jam on my bread, and enjoyed a passionfruit local yogurt. Then it was back over the hills, the 15 minute drive to Ponta Delgado. By now I had a routine of heading east to catch the marginal highway close to the ocean and docks, parking underground, then going to wait at the Futurism kiosk for my daily tour.

Claude, who had brought me back from Mosteiros, was the jeep driver and tour guide. He was going to offer the tour in English and Portuguese; we were going to meet up at Villa Franco de Campo with another vehicle and the 2 German speaking ladies in our jeep were going to change to that one, because Sandy was going to give the tour in German. 13906871_10103168677371996_6351612697461400340_n

Villa Franco de Campo was apparently an original settlement in the 1400s, and the original capitol, but, being nestled in extinct volcanoes, there wasn’t as much room for expansion and agriculture, so eventually Ponta Delgado, on the flatter southwest coast, became the largest city. Our first stop was a Roman Catholic chapel built into the hillside. Steps up to each level brought one to a beautiful ceramic blue tile painting of one of the scenes from the life of Christ and Mother Mary.

13782069_10103168677441856_2841864274931637838_nAt the very top, there were 5 more paintings of the Ascension and Mary being crowned Queen of Heaven. Looking at them against the vibrant green of the hillside where cows were grazing was a wonderful contrast.

13900088_10103168677496746_7208217142941723200_nAt Povacao we got out to see the remains of a freighter accident from 1977 – anchor, chain. This was originally the busy port for the island, Ponta Delgada didn’t get established until much later.


13876687_10103168677591556_1711896459264823534_nThe sidewalk designs indicated it’s importance as a port city. While there, we walked to a plaza and had a wonderful treat of café and fofa (éclair) at a sidewalk coffee shop.

We really needed the jeep for the next portion of our tour, which began on the west-east dirt road up on the rim of the crater, lined with the majestic plain trees, then we were off on a dirt road, crossing through the Nature Preserve, carefully crossing culverts and places where there was road damage from water runoff.

13906726_10103168677631476_5705964701107331730_nClaude talked about some of the history of the Azores as we drove. The laurel trees were native to the Azores, but fast growing cedars have been planted in the last century. Early settlers in Sao Miguel tried first wheat production, then sugar production. With competition from the Canary Islands and other places, they changed to growing oranges for export in the 1700s-1800s. But some kind of blight took out the orange crops.

13907155_10103168677317106_6455166855215820947_nMuch of the island is currently engaged in dairy farming, and both fish and beefsteak are features of island menus. There is a soft Azorean cheese which is served with a spicy tomato sauce. Hard cheeses are mostly imported from the mainland.

Much of the island is still unspoiled by tourists and modern buildings. There are impressive churches around the main square in each town. We felt like we kept going back in time. Our tour guide took us to a traditional lunch at a restaurant in the small town of Lomba da Fazena above Norwest, which was delicious.

13903424_10103168732371776_8804256746012014442_nAfterwards we went southeast to a garden and picnic viewpoint, then back up to a viewpoint of an old lighthouse. Nordeste means “northeast” – apparently sailors followed the northeasterly tradewinds between the Portugal mainland and the Azores. A lot of the island has very steep drops from the mountains down to the sea, so there are just a few natural ports where ships could come in.

13907186_10103168677726286_7608923100571503890_nFor a change the clouds were gone and there were brilliant blue skies as we looked north to the old lighthouse. I finally got the picture in my mind that the Portuguese who immigrated to the coasts in Massachusetts and Connecticut as ship builders and whalers were actually from the Azores! That was why there were decent priced direct flights from Boston to Ponta, then on to the Madeiras Islands or onto Lisbon on the mainland.

While visiting the viewpoint, we ran into our newly made friends from New York State, who’d driven their rental car to see Nordeste and the various sight-seeing locations. They strongly recommended we have dinner at the Cais, in a village just east of Ponta.

13669680_10103168677920896_8658272421135961943_n13661978_10103168678175386_462904648402373678_oThe remaining stops on our Futurismo tour were going to a old lookout point for whales, then an old water millhouse and waterfalls. Everything was so scenic we again felt like there was no way to take a bad photograph.

We had to go on the old road to reach the millhouse – the tour guide is very proud of the new highway that helps connect Nordeste to Riviera, which was the way he took us back to Ponta Delgada.

After the tour ended, for the evening meal, we tried out Cais 20 in S. Roque, both because it was recommended and because it was not far from Ponta Delgada, and we were tired from the long day. We didn’t have as grand a time as our friends had described, but the food was good, and we liked having a view of the ocean as we ate. By 8:30 PM we drove back over to the north side of the island to Dos Hisbiscos, saying again how glad we were to stay in our lovely B&B and not in one of the modern hotels in Ponta that other tour clients were staying in.

Susana greeted us and invited us to share some chocolate cake she had for her birthday. Clare just had a small slice and soon retreated to our bedroom, but I wanted to relish my last night in the Azores by visiting with Susana for the final time. Since I also was a single parent raising daughters, we share some similarities to our lives beyond country and culture differences.


Thursday April 28, Sete Cidades Tour

Two different Futurismo tours went to Sete Cidades, in a high volcanic crater in the western part of the island. One was more adventurous – biking, kayaking the lake, and some hiking to King’s Viewpoint, led by Claude, which is the one Clare chose.

I took the “easy” hike, which was about 11 kilometers around the rim of the big crater overlooking Blue Lake and Sete Cidades. This was led by Trine, the young mother originally from Estonia. But due to my injured arm and fear of falling again on uneven or slippery terrain, I ended up alternating walking with the group (most of the uphill climb) and riding in the accompanying jeep with Pablo (downhill during steep portions and when it was raining).


We drove to Sete Cidades via Arrife, where the large milk production plant was shown to us, then off on “farm roads” (similar to county dirt roads in the US).

We had to stop for about 15 minutes when a large herd of about 200 cows came down the one lane road toward us, being moved to new pastures. I laughed that the bull was being driven on a flatbed truck at the very end; I guess it would have been too tempting to turn him loose with all the bovine ladies.

13920746_10103168675635476_6360016487763148021_nPart of our morning hike took us through private land, where the Japanese cedars had just been clear cut. I explained that in the Western US, clearcutting damages soil, so that even though it is more expensive, not all the trees in one area are harvested at the same time. I was told that since the land is private, and the trees mature in about 30 years, each generation depends upon the income from one tree cutting.

When we met up with the jeep again, the group was going to go down a steeper, more slippery part of the hike, so I joined Pablo in the jeep, until we could meet up again. It started raining about then, so I avoided both the steepest part of the walk and getting wet in the rain.

We parked at the Queen’s viewpoint overlook of two lakes, where we would meet up with the rest of the group again. I had a private explanation of the color of the blue and green lakes at Sete Cidades from Pablo. The scientific explanation has to do with the depths of the water and whether they reflect the sky or vegetation. But the local myth is that a royal princess fell in love with a farmer, the king found out and of course, forbade their love, and they met one last time at the bridge, the young man crying tears from his green eyes, the young princess crying tears from her blue eyes. (Since women weep more than men, Blue Lake is larger.)

After documenting the view with our cameras, I joined the group continuing to hike downhill, until the last mile, which was steeper and rugged, so I waited for someone to come from the village and fetch me.

13882165_10103168677132476_2614808377527652793_n13895583_10103168676518706_3658950179309975100_nMy pick up guide said he’d been with Clare at the mountain rim earlier, and seen her kayaking on the lake before I got there.

She got a gorgeous photo of the Lagos de Sete Cidades with a blooming azalea bush in the foreground.

Cete Sidades has picturesque houses, a large church, a couple of restaurants/cafes, some tour offices. I enjoyed a café at the lakeside snack bar. I imagine in summer it is full of visitors and tourists.  But fall through spring the population is very low.

Apparently a large hotel was built to accommodate anticipated visitors, but it went out of business after a couple of seasons.

There was a church to St. Nicolau in the town center, set again in a beautiful plaza area. The Azorean blue tiles decorated the sides of the sanctuary.

For the mid-afternoon we headed north up to Mosteiros. This is where the most recent volcanic eruption in 1811 added some “land” to the western tip of the island. There is both a “piscine natural” there – a rocked in place to bathe fed both by hot thermal water and incoming tidal water from the ocean, and also a spa with a swimming pool also using the thermal waters.

Unlike the Furnas thermal pool in the Botanical Garden, the minerals in the water were not yellowish but clear and did not stain clothes. Clare tried both the natural piscine and the spa one you had to pay for. The volcanic rocks made it hard to get to the piscine natural, and since the tide was high, the water wasn’t very warm. But the spa thermal pool was warm and delightful – Clare hated to leave so soon.

I was able to switch tour vans and travel back to Ponta with Clare.The return trip went around the southwest part of Sao Miguel, retracing my route on Monday, but Clare hadn’t yet seen this part.

Instead of heading back across the island to Dos Hisbiscos, we wanted to stay in town to eat dinner. We’d had such a great meal at A Tasca in downtown Ponta the first night, we tried that again. Instead of entrees, we tried 5 tapas dishes. Although one of the same dishes was ordered as Sunday evening, it wasn’t quite as tasty. The sautéed mushrooms were also pretty salty as well as garlicky – if I have one complaint about Azorean cuisine, it is that even the most delicious sauces and meats were a little too salty. But then again, the saltiness did encourage the consumption of not just water but wine.

For dessert, the appeal of the passionfruit meringue at the Palmeras de Quinta back in Lagoa was too strong to resist, so instead of staying in Ponta, we drove the several kilometers back to Lagoa. The waiters were puzzled when we said we only wanted dessert, but understood when we explained we’d been there a couple nights earlier. We promised a good review in Trip Advisor.

When we returned to Dos Hibiscos, Clare went on up to our room, but I stayed up and talked a while with Susana. I was very impressed with her efforts as a single mother of a teenage daughter to provide. She’d been widowed when her daughter was very young, and moved from the Madeiras, where her family still lives, to the Azores, where she works as a special education teacher. Only the 2009 economic recession had been so back that Portugal and the Azores still hadn’t recovered. She hadn’t had a raise since 2008. She originally got the house in Fenais da Luz with a former boyfriend, but he wasn’t good for her and was soon out of the picture – leaving her with a house she couldn’t really afford alone. But she got a loan, did renovations to make two bedrooms into rentals, and was using the income from the B&B to help sustain her. 2015 had been her first year to open, and it wasn’t all year. Her last winter booking had been in November, and April was just the beginning of new seasonal bookings. While we were there, she got another booking for the few days between our leaving and new guests coming, so she was quite content.



Wednesday April 27, Trip to Furnas

Wednesday was an all-day Futurismo tour to Furnas. This proved to be a van tour, with 8 passengers and Trine as tour guide. We took the east-north highway over towards Ribiera Grande. Then further east to visit one of the two tea plantations on the island.

13903339_10103168677930876_6623881498237559308_nThe stop at the Che Guerrera tea plantation was neat – we saw rows of tea planted on the hillside, and displays inside a building showing the different steps in separating tea leaves from twigs, and the process distinguishing green tea from black tea (same leaves, just more oxidation makes it black!). There were people working, sorting and boxng teas for sale. We stopped in the gift shop and purchased a couple of varieties to take home.

13882414_10103168675675396_5558257436466246575_n Clare has an amazing knack for photography, and got some great shots with her I-phone of the tea plantation and the hillside around it.

13912508_10103168675944856_3859169919787279618_nThen we reloaded and drove down across the island towards Furnas. Furnas (pronounced “furnish”) is related to the English word “furnace” – there are active volcanic features in this part of the island.

We had the chance to walk around the edge of the Furnas lake, ending at the mudpots. 13654127_10103168675515716_8404717670343564809_nThe heat of the mudpots is used to make a traditional stew with beef, potatoes and other vegetables. After cooking in buried pots in the morning, it is hauled to local Furnas restaurants for lunch, and our tour had reservations at a restaurant featuring this specialty.   I was in the slowest walking group, and we narrowly missed seeing our lunch being pulled out the steaming mudpots. While others lingered over the wooden paths weaving around the active mudpots, as someone who has lived in Wyoming and frequented the mudpots in that national park, I wasn’t as impressed.

13698061_10103168675585576_297996122728372037_oWe had to reboard the van, because lunch itself was actually back in town, at a restaurant with a large dining room. Two huge platters of meat, potatoes, carrots and cabbage were brought for the main course, this traditional cooking style. We also feasted on, of course, fresh bread and cheeses, wine or fruit juice or water to drink. Clare and I stuffed ourselves – as did everyone.

13872791_10103168676284176_7171459776939127120_nAfter lunch the tour visited the viewpoint in town where the calderas are located. From one spot we could view steaming mud pots in town. At another there was a place where villagers were filling their water bottles with spring water.

13912885_10103168676543656_8412766774446313637_nFinally we headed to the Botanical Garden, where we had choices of what parts of the garden to walk in, or to spend part or all of the time in the shallow thermal pool.  The gardens had been established in the 1800s by a wealthy man who wanted to establish a world famous, English style garden.  I was more interested in the native plants, but he had brought in all kinds of exotics.  Clare took some photos of the flowering bushes and then captured a photo of some of the koi in the pond. 13882162_10103168676164416_4597898243764878250_n

13892270_10103168676383976_8140181874648750570_nAfter touring a small part of the garden, we went back to the thermal pool. Since my grandparents used to run “Utah Hot Springs” when I was a child, and we later enjoyed the thermal pools at Thermopolis in Wyoming, getting my now senior citizen body into a swimsuit and into a thermal pool that smelled of sulfur and would discolor my suit was not appealing. However, Clare got into the shallow, large pool, and two other couples from our tour also tried it out. I sat on the ledge, just soaking my feet, which felt good. Clare was glad her suit was dark navy, as the water discolors white and light colored swim suits!

It seemed like too short a time at the Botanical Garden before it was time to reload into the van and return to Ponta Delgada. We returned along the southern coast, so it was a slightly different route. We’d made friends on the tour with an older couple also from New York State, originally from Long Island but now living about 2 hours away. We liked everything about them except their political views (very conservative, right wing), so took their suggestion and tried out an Italian restaurant in downtown Ponta for dinner that night. The other New Yorkers had thought the much younger waitress was probably an Eastern European immigrant wife of the older restaurant owner and chef, which we also thought was the case. She didn’t speak Italian or English, and as we didn’t speak Portuguese, our efforts to ask about menu items didn’t work out really well! Our food was good – but as New Yorkers, we’ve had great Italian food, so having it just be “all right” was a let down. But it was a nice change from the steak and potatoes we’d had.

When we got back to our B&B, the other 2 women guests had arrived. Pilar was originally from Spain and was a teacher, and Emmanuelle was a librarian at the Sorbonne in Paris. We all stayed up late talking and drinking wine with our hostess Susana and her daughter – with most of the conversation in English and French, with a little Spanish and Portuguese thrown in. This ended up being the only evening we were all around and in a mood for conversation – our first 2 nights in Sao Miguel we were jet-lagged and had gone to bed early; the French women were off each day and evening seeing the sights and didn’t socialize after that first night.