Tag Archives: Sao Miguel

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.