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.
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.
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!
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.
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!