São Miguel – A day in the thermal waters of the Azores – By Kelly

Today was sadly our last day touring the beautiful Azore islands.  I think we are all a little sad to leave. Although, I will be honest and say traveling with kids is never easy.  They have had a great time, but are of course ready to get home to their own house, sleep in and hang out.  But we got them up and out today and they were once again glad they made it!  Our tour guide was Deni from Geo Fun Tours, she is actually from Croatia, but she too had found her way to this archipelago and is now calling it home.

Our destination today was Furnas, on the eastern side of the island.  Furnas is another town at the bottom of a volcano – in the caldera – a large hollow that forms after the emptying of a magma chamber/reservoir in a volcanic eruption.  This volcano last erupted in 1630, but you can still see signs of it in the thermal pools, steam holes and hot springs.  Really crazy to think about – living at the bottom of a volcano!

If you haven’t read about the Azores, what you will come to find is that what the locals say is true – there are 4 seasons in 1 day.  We were also told today that summer is maybe 5 days of sun with 2 days of clouds/rain, and winter is the opposite with maybe 5 days of clouds/rain and 2 days of sun.  Well, today we got the clouds/rain and so we live like the locals.  The fog and mist actually made the drive down into the caldera very mystical and made us feel like we weren’t too far from summer in San Francisco!

Our first stop was to see where they make the traditional dish from São Miguel called the Cozido das Furnas.  This particular dish is made only in this town because of the geothermic conditions.  All of the ingredients – chicken, pork, morcela, beef, carrots, cabbage and kale – are put into a pot and cooked under ground with the heat from the hot springs for roughly 5-6 hours.  You can see geothermal pools bubbling from the heat with vapor rising – a sign of how hot it is. There is a slight sulfer smell in the air, but not too bad.  It was really cool to see how the meal was prepared.




Hole in the ground where pot is placed.


Mounds of dirt are then placed over the pot.


Because of the weather we drove straight into town to the Terra Nostra Botanical garden to take a dip in the geo thermal pools.  This was an experience!!  When you walk past the beautiful garden entrance, up the steps to the pool, it was quite surprising to find it orange in color.



While a little off putting at first, once you walk into the pools, you don’t care what color the water is.  It is so relaxing!  With a little misty rain, and steam coming off the water, the warmth of the pools was perfect to relax.  The orange color comes from the iron dissolved in the water that gushes from a volcanic spring at 95-105F.  There was one large pool and then two smaller ones they called jacuzzis that were even warmer, but had clear water.  They even had fountains that poured water out almost like jets.


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An hour or so in these pools and we were all pretty relaxed.  Once we got out, the skies opened and it really started to rain, so we weren’t able to walk the Botanical Gardens, but went to dry off and eat our Cozido.

We arrived at Tony’s Restaurant and were not disappointed.  The food that was cooked in the cozido we saw earlier was served on a platter from which you could choose what you wanted.  We all loved it!!  The smoky flavor was perfect.  We all had favorites, mine was the morcela, which was different here than other places we had eaten it in the Azores so far, not as sweet and so delicious!  The cabbage and carrots were delicious as well!


Our last stop was the Cha’ Gorreana tea plantation which has been producing green and black tea on the island since 1883.  Interestingly, it is actually the only tea plantation in Europe.  Since it is harvesting season, we were able to see the machines at work –  rolling and drying the tea.  We also got to see the harvesters in the fields.  The plantation itself is small and almost like a working museum with all original machines except one and women packaging the tea by hand.  Very impressive to see….and to taste!

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We have loved this island.  There is so much to see and do since it is the biggest island.  While it is a big city, the downtown square gives it a small town feel.  I am sad to leave the Azores, but definitely have a greater appreciation from where I come from.

Extra notes:

Hotel in São Miguel – Grand Hotel Azores – great views of the ocean and two swimming pools across the street – one natural.  Dave and Lauren went for a quick dip before we went to the airport.






Restaurants – Casa da Rosa – Dave, my parents and I split a great octopus salad, mushrooms, Rosa’s beans and a pork rib.  Delicious and a great atmosphere, right off the main square.


Also fun on the harbor is the tiny food trucks that they have.  There was one selling traditional malassadas – a Portuguese sweet, much like a donut.  I personally think the ones in Hawaii are better 🙂  There was also a little wine truck called D’Wine where my mom and I purchased a glass of wine that we could take with us while we walked around.  Genius!



One for the road!


Sete Cidades: A Day in a Volcanic Crater – By Kelly

Today we had an amazing experience on the island of São Miguel – the fourth and final island on this trip.  The girls were not excited to have another tour day as they are very tired, but we made it to the van only 15 minutes late, and they were happy they came.  Lauren said it was here favorite tour yet!  

We were picked up by our darling tour guide, Chiara.  Originally from Rome, she relocated here 2 years ago after falling in love with it when she came to visit.  We found out that she had worked at the same place we had stayed in Rome, Villa Irlanda – what a small world!  We were lucky to have her with us. 


The main part of our day was to head to Sete Cidades, a volcanic crater located on the western side of the island.  Our goal?  To bike the crater floor and kayak the lakes located there as well. To get there, we climbed up the mountain which was pretty foggy, but we were lucky to see a little slice of the island while we drove.  


I’m not sure what I was expecting a crater floor to look like, but what I saw on our decent was definitely not it!  It was a beautiful, lush, green valley like we saw in Switzerland, with a small village at the bottom, also known as Sete Cidades – population 800, located on twin lakes, called Lagos das Sete Cidades.  It was amazing!!!  You can see a little bit of the village at the shore of the lake below the clouds.


View of Sete Cidades and the twin lakes.

Even though it was not sunny, we could still understand the beauty all around and we took advantage of what they had planned for us.  We hopped on our bikes and made our way along the first lake, Lagoa Azul – Blue Lake. 



There were not many people biking and we road along a dirt road lined with cute farm houses and more hydrangeas than I’ve seen before!  Beautiful, all different colors – quite a site!  While not native to Portugal, they have been here so long and cover the countryside so prevalently, that it is now the national flower of the Azores. 



Cows grazed along beside us to the right and the lake to our left – they say cows on the Azores are the happiest cows and I can see why. 


It was breathtaking to look up to the heights of the volcanic walls.  Many times I had to remind myself that I was in a volcanic crater!  The second lake, Lagoa Verde, is separated from the first by a narrow strait that is crossed by a bridge.  Also, beautiful. 

After a picnic lunch, we began the next part of our day – kayaking.  Now, as I said, it wasn’t sunny, but we persevered, paddling against the wind, and experienced this crater from the middle.  Wow!! 






We ended our adventure in Sete CIdades walking to the quaint town with cobblestone streets and a darling church.  We ordered an espresso and a small local cake only made on Sao Miguel – Queijada de Vila Franca do Campo.  It is a traditional pastry refined by nuns in convents during the sixteen hundreds in the town of Vila Franca do Campo, island of S. Miguel. Delicious!


This is a beautiful island.  Different than the rest as it is the largest and most populated, but today we did not see the people, just the lush farmlands on our way to and from Sete Cidades.  One difference you will see here is that the pastures are not separated with rocks as they were in Pico and Terceira, but with hedges of hydrangeas.  I can’t even begin to imagine what they look like when they re in full bloom.  Even the roads were lined with blooming bushes that I wish I could have gotten a picture of, but I will just have to take that memory with me.


On the Road Again By: Kelly

Well, we dusted off the passports after 3 years and The Wandering 5 are back on the road.  We pulled out our carry-ons, and after months of talking about it, we are in Açore Islands off the coast of Portugal.  The Açores are a group of 9 islands about 850 miles off the west coast of Portugal, and although we are only on island #1 of our trip, I can safely say that they are beautiful!  Why did we choose the Açores?  Well, my great grandma is from the island of Faial and my mom has been wanting to see where her family came from for a long time, so we decided to tag a long.  The Wandering 5 have added 4 more – my mom and dad and my brother, Krieg, and his girlfriend, Jen.

After a long journey from SFO to Boston and then onto the island of Teceira, we arrived at our hotel, Pousada de Angra do Heroísmo São Sebastião.  This is not your ordinary hotel, this one is built in a former fortress commonly known as the Castelinho de São Sebastião.  It is amazing.  Built overlooking the water, with one side looking like the original fort and the other side, a hotel perfectly situated right along the wall.  You can still walk the rampart and envision what it might have been like to be a soldier protecting their land.




Day 1 was a tough one with naps taken by all, and Grace almost missing dinner sleeping the day away.  We walked the cute cobbled streets of Angro de Heroísmo, a world heritage site.  To me if felt a little like Lisbon, a little like Switzerland, and a little like Austria.  It was quaint, with black and white cobbled streets and sidewalks, and streets lined with lights above.  Quite picturesque.



After a tour through a local church, we stopped for a light snack at Cafe Pastelaria Athanásic for some delicious Portuguese treats – beef pasties, Pasteis de Nata, and mini quiche.  A great stop to hold us over until our dinner at Tasca das Tias.  This place was delicious!  We feasted on limpets, barnacles, Azorean tuna, the local beef stew called Alcatra and morcela, a Portuguese sausage called Black pudding that is a blood sasuage.  Sounds disgusting, but I’ve grown up eating it and tasting it here was even better.

The next day we took our first full day tour of the island.  Our guides, Tiago and Gabriel, of CommunicAir, were fantastic!!  For those of you who may travel here, please look them up, you won’t be disappointed.  The island, though small, took us all day to visit.  It was green, volcanic, and beautiful, with wild hydrangeas growing all over!  We learned so much from our guides about how the Azore archipelago was formed, the plant life, the local economy of dairy and meat cows; it was a great day!!  The Azoreans are very kind people and very proud of their culture.



Two interesting things we saw that day, were the Piscinas Naturais Dos Biscoitos  – Natual Pool of Biscoitos, and Algar de Cavão – coal pit.

The Piscinas Naturais Dos Biscoitos, were amazing natural pools that were formed by the volcanic eruptions.  Stairs and railings have been built so that you can swim in many of the pools.  It is truly an amazing site to see!  There were cute little vendors selling fresh fruit juices, local nuts, chips, fruit and jewelry.




Algar de Cavão  was amazing!  There are few places in the world where you can go inside a volcano and this is one of them.  You walk down stairs inside a volcanic chimney and secondary magma chambers where the the cave walls are formed from dark black lava . It was a once in a lifetime experience!



The mouth of the volcano

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our lunch.  We went to a cute little restaurant called Ti Chao, in the village at Serreta.  It was delicious!!  Run by two sisters with a wood oven, all vegetables home grown and animals raised by them – Portuguese farm to table.  We had all of the best Azorean cuisine, in an intimate setting: morcela, linguica, masa sovada, alcatra, a marinated pork dish, and of course, some local vino.  We have been drinking a lot of local vino at lunch – it’s great!






To end our fantastic day, we drove up to the side of a crater to get a view from above.  Tiago and Gabriel treated us to a warm cup of tea and a local treat called a D.Amélia cake – mini cakes made of corn flower, raisins, sugar cane molasses, and cinnamon from a delicious bakery called O Forno.

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An amazing end to our day!

PS – I’m behind on the blog due to too much fun!  More to come!