With nine islands to choose from an eco -adventure in the Azores will mean island hopping between volcanic paradises. Just some of the amazing activities include hiking Portugal’s tallest peak, walking the rim of a giant ancient caldera, or discovering hidden hot springs and ancient volcanic lakes. You might exhaust yourself walking and chasing the endless herds of cattle but don’t fret you might just stumble upon a place where a waterfall of hot water meets the roaring waters of the Atlantic.
Then you can indulge in an amazing locally sourced dinner of sausages, octopus or fish. A glass of locally made wine and a star filled sky to soothe away your sore feet will be next.
It won’t be hard to slow down when visiting the islands of the Azores. Where a typical traffic jam is caused by the neighborhood cows and your only hurry will be in getting changed to jump into a hot spring.
There are rainbows a plenty and a plethora of tours focused on hiking, and eco-tourism.
On my visit to the Azores I tried to do a little of all of this. After departing from Madeira Island, my 2.5-hour flight took me to the biggest Island in the Azores and the most touristic Sao Miguel. I arrived on a drizzly afternoon in Ponta Delgado, the capital of this autonomous region and largest town in the island chain. It has been inhabited since 1444, founded by the Portuguese just two decades after Madeira Island. After my arrival, I hopped in my rental car and headed to my hotel for the night. Google Maps worked here as well, so finding my way towards my destination was easy as pie. It took around 45 minutes to reach the town area called Furnas. The drive takes you through green rolling hills, cows and lush vegetation. I continued on passed a volcanic lake with steam rising in the distance. The fog and drizzle made everything look mysterious, with the lack of cars or other people I felt like I might have been in some post human time.
I arrived at my hotel slightly after hours, and after a quick phone call was escorted into my home for the next few days at Quinta da Mo’.
Quinta Da Mo´
This amazing property was once a derelict farm. After the farm closed the property was purchased by Luisa and her husband who converted Quinta Da Mo' into an amazing eco complex. It is a fantastic place that melds with nature while still having every amenity you might find in a big hotel. The property has a handful of private bungalow style homes situated on several acres. They are each unique with different numbers of bedrooms and styles. Most of them were old grain mills and they make the perfect home away from home for any holiday. With full kitchens and private terraces, you will be in a lush, private sanctuary. With resident chickens, cute ducks that will follow you around and a giant carp you will be sure to feel like you are on a farm.
Its lush relaxation area is perfect for reading a book and listening to the sound of the nearby waterfall. The jungle-like outdoor cooking area is a great place to sit and have an espresso, or rowboat around the pond with the resident ducks, relax in a hot tub while listening to the rain or enjoy a home cooked meal on your own private patio. Just don’t forget to try Luisa’s home cooked banana cake that she leaves in all the rooms for an impromptu breakfast or midnight snack.
The owners of this great hidden retreat also took the time to give me lots of advice on where to go and what to see while I was in the Azores. I settled in for my first night and hoped that when I woke up the rain would be gone.
I woke to the sounds of roosters crowing, and headed to the riverside outdoor kitchen for a morning espresso.
Over the next day and half I drove all over the island and explored as much as I could despite the overcast skies and drizzle. I visited the Caldeira Velha which is a great place to go for some relaxation. This is a natural hot pool in the forest where boiling water from the ground mixes with cool river water. The result is a perfect 105-degree hot pool. When you get to toasty you can walk up the hill where there is a second pool with a waterfall of regular river temperature water. This park is just a five-minute walk from the road and even has bathrooms and changing stalls. Parking there can be difficult even on a rainy day as there are only about 12 spots for cars.
One of my main goals was to hike the 13 mile trail to the Sete Cidades, a huge caldera that rises above a gigantic volcanic lake. Alas, when I arrived at this lake it was still hemmed in by clouds. Since I couldn’t do much hiking I did a driving tour through Lagoa, Ribiera Grande, Furnas and points between. I saw many beautiful places, the coastline was beautiful, the volcanic hills rolled right into the ocean and the waves crashed down all around. If seas hadn’t been so rough I had hoped to swim at Pont da Ferraira, a place where a hot spring is joined by the ocean.
As the evening loomed closer the sun began to break through some of the clouds revealing the calderas that I had read so much about. They are so uniquely beautiful it’s hard to describe. A circular mountain of dense vegetation that melts into aqua blue water. Unlike anything I had seen before. On my way back to my hotel, I saw several rainbows, horses, cows and beautiful flowers all enjoying the windy evening air. I tried the traditional dish called Cozido for dinner. It wasn’t something I would eat again, but I always try to enjoy local dishes when I visit new places. This particular one is a stew slowly cooked for 6-8 hours in the thermal pockets of the hot springs.
The Azores are separated into 3 groupings of islands. Sao Miguel is in the east, and my next stop would be an island in the central region called Pico Island, before returning to Sao Miguel for one last night at the fantastic ecohotel Quinta de Santa Bårbara Turistica.
Located just 7km from the airport, this fantastic residence was just what I needed after a long day.
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