Abandoned hotel Monte Palace View More

São Miguel is an island of pure beauty: lush green vegetation, volcanic craters filled with incredibly blue lakes.

The typical Portuguese houses with their lively colors add some contrast to the dominating green. But the island also has it’s architectural eyesores. The most famous one is the abandoned Hotel Monte Palace high above the scenic landscape of Sete Cidades.

abandoned hotel Monte Palace
The main entrance doesn’t look too inviting.

Built for a distant future.

In the early 1980s a pool of investors decided to push the tourism industry a step forward to trigger some economic growth for the rather poor Azores community. Most of the islanders were working mostly in fishing and agriculture back then. As one measure, this behemoth was planned and built.

The tourists had not yet caught on to the Azores as a vacation spot and the hotel was intended to draw upper class people to the island. Everything should be provided: two restaurants, a bar and a hairdresser and even a nightclub. The view from the rooms is amazing, overlooking the lakes and the picturesque town of Sete Cidades.

abandoned hotel Monte Palace
Original plans of the hotel.

A future that never came.

Dark clouds already moved in during construction. Financial problems and a lack of local acceptance slowed down the construction. After finally opening it’s doors in 1989, the tourists didn’t seem to overcrowd the place and it only operated for a little more than a year before shutting its doors. Financial problems led to the decision to stick with another hotel, the “Bahia Praia” in Agua de Alto. This was the ultimate death blow to the now abandoned hotel Monte Palace. After being patrolled for about a decade, no one seemed to pay the guards any longer and the construction was left for good some time in the mid-2000s. 

abandoned hotel Monte Palace
The airy hotel lobby

When we first visited in 2015, there was already nothing left inside. By 2017, when we shot the intro for Every Monday Morning episode 32, literally everything was torn out of the building. Mirrors, handrails, wallpapers, doors, everything. And I bet you would find it spread all over the island and some traveler’s homes around the world.There is a 30 minute documentary by local Jorge Loures on Youtube if your’e interested in the details of the history. It’s Portuguese, but it features lots of pictures from the “golden age” of the hotel. Another great resource is this page that has all the details. It’s totally worth a visit and a must-see on your São Miguel trip. Make sure you make it all the way to the rooftop. The view is spectacular. 

 

Populo is one of the most famous surf spots on São Miguel. You can park your car at the beach, walk 20 meters and get wet. Santa Iria is a bit different and it’s one of the most beautiful spots on the island.

To get to the goods, you have to walk around 45 minutes and carry everything you might need: board, booties, everything else and most important: water. It’s not easy to find, but the walk down to the cobblestone shoreline where you get the first glimpse of what the swell looks like from close is fairly easy. The cobblestones are a mean thing as some of them tip over, making you do the same. And you have to get the timing right: if it’s high tide you’ll get wet feet, making it a no-go during big swells. That’s why Santa Iria is almost never crowded, it just doesn’t seem that too much surfers are into hiking.

The Azores have lots of nicknames. The “Hawai’i of Europe” is one of them. But the Archipelago is also referred to as the “Europe’s Weather Kitchen”. Sitting in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, they get almost any storm that travels from west to east.

Where weather is made.

The interplay between the high pressure Area more or less around the Azores (The Azores High) and the Icelandic low pressure area plays a large role in defining the direction of the path storms take over the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricanes for example tend to hit the Gulf of Mexico if the Azores High stays further to the south while they travel up the US west coast when it’s further north. The interaction between the two areas also defines where low pressure systems and therefore storms make landfall in Europe. The whole system is pretty complicated in fact, and Wikipedia is a good place to start if you have a deeper interest.

How it affects the islands and the surf.

Long story short, there is almost always something going on in the atmosphere during springtime. It’s what makes the difference: the mix between clouds and sun rays makes for intense colors. This applies especially for green and blue, so from water to vegetation, it’s pure eye candy. The often strong winds make it hard to find good surf sometimes as it’s often blown out. But if you’re not terrified by surfing in 50km/h offshore winds, you will almost always find a spot that’s working.

La Grave gondolas View More

I always wanted to see La Grave but it never happened. Whatever reason crossed my plans and it almost looked like i fucked it up.

The last two years it was not clear if La Grave will continue to be the most sought-after freeride destination in the Alps. The lease for the lift ends in June and it was long unclear if and who will take it over.

The end of La Grave as we know it?

Some voices already claimed the end of La Grave, and the local community was just as afraid of a scenario with a big company taking over. By installing a ski resort (or connecting it to Les Deux Alpes) they would ultimately carry to the grave what La Grave is famous for: open terrain, raw mountains and the atmosphere that comes along.

“Signal de La Grave”, a crowdfunding campaign wanted to claim the future of La Grave, but didn’t make it into the final bidding round. As “Compagnie des Alpes” who runs nearby Les Deux Alpes and some of the major resorts in the French Alps pulled out in mid March, it was up to SATA to take the lease. The company in charge that also runs nearby Alpe d’Huez seems to be the second best option for La Grave.

As alpedhueznet.com stated, the La Grave village council approved the proposal last Friday (28.4.) and the contract will be signed somewhere around the end of next week. It involves the renovation of the existing facilities and the construction of a new gondola to the top of the Dome de la Lauze at 3’586m. SATA will take over operations by June, 15th.

Even though winter just had it’s last uprearing, we can finally start dreaming about the next visit in La Grave. And it will be in powder conditions, that goes without saying.

gravityking explore

Sometimes less is better than nothing.

I wanted to see la Grave for almost 20 years but somehow never made it. This April we were around the corner when we visited Sestriere with Maverick Snowboards. I knew this was the best opportunity I’ll ever get and with a difference of 15 minutes between driving home the way we arrived and driving through La Grave, it was a quick decision to make it happen. A parking full of ski bum vans at the bottom of the cable car indicated that we arrived in the Mecca of freeriding. 

La Grave probably really is the ultimate freeride destination.

We just couldn’t find out because the snow conditions were on the terrible side of the spectrum this spring. Like almost anywhere in the Alps. But why not taking the opportunity and go for exploring while getting into the vibe?

The weather didn’t allow for too much sight seeing, but the views we got were spectacular. And we definitely felt the vibe, be it the French skiers straightlining mogul sections with ease or the significant amount of monoskis, a long forgotten concept that unites the disadvantages of snowboarding and skiing altogether in one equipment.  

Spectacular terrain all the way down.

The world famous “Téléphérique des Glaciers de la Meije” covers 2’150m of vertical drop from the top all the way to the bottom, 50m below La Grave itself. The lower part wasn’t skiable so we had to cut in to the first station P1 at 1’800 meters. 

Needless to say, a vertical drop of this extent covers a wide variety of terrain. From the glaciers and the really challenging alpine stuff at the top it drops into the “Valons de la Meije” all the way down to the river over wide meadows. You will find countless options for your lines and that’s only one of the two possibilities. You could either take the turn-off into the “Valons de Chancel” instead, with terrain at least as spectacular. 

Be aware that most of the top stuff involves alpine techniques. Rapelling into couloirs is a common challenge and lots of the lines are on glaciers. So you need to know a bit about rope handling and crevasse rescue. For most of us, hiring a guide is the best option anyway. I am pretty experienced in freeriding but getting into new terrain is always a bit intimidating. Having someone who knows where to go helps.

If you’re more into tree skiing, check the birch-tree spawned lines between stations P1 and P2 at 2’400m. To some, these tree-runs are the best La Grave has to offer.

How to get there.

The shortest way to get in is from Grenoble. Unfortunatley, the main road has ben closed due to landslide risk since 2015. There is a makeshift relief road but it’s closed quite often during winter so the best bet is to get in from the Italian side trough Briançon and the “Col du Lautaret”.

If you make it at daylight it’s a very scenic drive by the way and you could check out the vast ski area of Serre Chevalier on the way. La Grave is definitely worth a visit and we will do so next winter. Subscribe and/or stay tunded for more.

 

The first week on São Miguel was about getting into surfing mode and further explore the island. We expected pretty bad surf due to strong northeasterly winds, but were positively surprised as we surfed throughout the week. After hitting the beach break called “Populo” in Ponta Delgada we took our time to show our guest places and treat ourselves with good food.