Being a volcanic island, São Miguel has a couple of volcanic hot springs you should dive in on your visit on the island. Here’s your guide on where to go and when.
Like any other, the São Miguel hot springs come along with volcanos and to understand why and where they surface you need to understand a thing about volcanos. On São Miguel, there are three main and active volcanic complexes with each one’s central stratovolcano with summit caldera: the central Fogo volcano with the last big eruption in 1563 seems to be the most active one. The caldera in Furnas is another one and the third one is the Sete Cidades complex. With three major volcanos on such a small island it’s no wonder that the heat is still quite close to the surface.
Volcanic complex of Fogo.
Termas das Caldeiras
Situated in the old town of Caldeiras (which literally means “boiler”), the Termas das Caldeiras is the smallest of the São Miguel hot springs. It has one outside pool and two small pools inside. Book a volcanic clay massage to unlock the inside pools, as they are only to relax after your massage. It’s recommended to come early: we arrived at 1pm and had the whole outside pool for us. After being massaged, it got pretty busy there.
All in all, it was the most relaxing hot spring experience we had during our stays and it seems to be less touristy as the well known options.
The Caldeira Velha is on the same flank of the volcano, just a bit closer to the top. In fact it’s a big park that gets visited by busloads of tourists, but most of them don’t actually dive into the pools. It’s nice to sit in 42° C water and watch them take a walk around the park. There are two pools, the bigger one is a bit colder and hosts a nice waterfall while the small one is pretty shallow but very warm. With the whole park situated in the middle of the jungle, it’s a very special experience and a must-see if you’re on the island. Same here with crowds: arrive early to avoid the busiest hours.
The turbine pool
This one is not an official hot spring, it’s where the “Salto do Cabrito” hydroelectric power plant collects the water. And guess what: it’s hot and there is a small basin you could swim in. So for the adventurous amongst us, this could be the most epic hot pool ever. But be aware, it’s on your own risk, we didn’t tell you. If you want to have a nice stroll on the save side, “Salto do Cabrito” – which translates to “jump of the little goat” – is also the name of a nice little waterfall just around the corner.
The Furnas hot springs.
The Furnas Valley became popular towards the end of the 18th century for it’s mineral water to treat health problems. Furnas has hundreds of small springs and streams, all with different properties.
Terra Nostra Gardens
Strolling trough a park that is so big, you don’t even recognize you’re in a park. It feels like jungle and there is even a small lake with a cave where you can sit and wonder about nature’s beauty. The Terra Nostra Gardens have a long history: Around 1775, a wealthy merchant from the US named Thomas Hickling, Honorary American Consul in São Miguel built a simple wooden house and the pool with the island in the middle. Around it, he planted trees he imported from the US mainland. In the 19th century the park was bought and enlarged dramatically. In 1901, King Carlos I of Portugal visited the gardens which made them very popular.
The whole park is very beautiful and the main pool invites for a swim. The two smaller pools are more on the relaxing side, and the temperature is perfect. If you’re too relaxed to go home after, there is a hotel with the same name just outside the park.
Poça da Dona Beija
The Poça da Dona Beija consists of five pools with different features like waterfalls, a wall of water and benches to sit. Like most of the hot springs, it sits in the middle of a jungle-like flora. That helps you switch off even more and enjoy your time in the warm water. During the tourist season it tends to get pretty busy, so morning hours are best here.
Furnas Boutique Hotel
We haven’t been there, but we only heard good things about it. So if you have the time and money, spend a night or two in the Furnas Boutique Hotel. They have a very good restaurant and some nice spa treatments on offer.
The Ferraria hot spring.
The volcanic complex of Sete Cidades has only one hot spring below the tiny town of Ferraria. Even though it’s the only one, it’s very special at the same time. The main attraction is a natural pool in the ocean that heats up on the lava rocks. Best time is during low tide, when little water moves. The eruption that formed the landscape was not too long ago and thus you can still enjoy the volcanic landscape.
There is a spa nearby where you can get a massage or take a bath in the hot pool. If you’re hungry, they also have a good restaurant.
With so much volcanic activity around, the chances are, that you stumble into more São Miguel hot springs along your journey. There’s still a lot of undeveloped places in the forests on the flanks of the Fogo volcano. I bet you can find some nice hot springs and enjoy them all for yourself.
Sometimes it’s hard to keep the stoke during summer in a landlocked country. With no snow in the mountains and no waves on the lakes, skateboarding is the next best thing.
Even though I’ve been skateboarding for 30 years, I never really got past the “means of urban transportation” mode. But I still managed to build quite a quiver during the last few years.
Can’t do proper slides and my bowl-skills are still pretty moderate. I hope I find some time to improve my skills this summer.
São Miguel is a really nice place to go on a vacation, even if you don’t surf. And if you surf, it’s even better.
If the surf is down or a passing storm spoils your session with 60km/h winds, you don’t have to sit it out and sleep all da. Here’s 10 things to do on São Miguel
1. Visit Sete Cidades and the abandoned Hotel.
Most tourists visit Sete Cidades (which translates to “seven cities” although there is only one, depending on your definition of city) for the lakes and the cute lakeside town. It is really beautiful, but the real sight you should go seeing is the abandoned hotel “Monte Palace”. Built in the 80ties it opened 1998 for about one year before closing forever. In fact it’s so cool and has such a weird story that we wrote a special post for it.
2. Take a trip to Furnas and go swimming in natural hot pools.
Living in Furnas literally is living in the caldera of a vulcano. You will find smoking fumaroles and the smell of sulfur almost everywhere you go. The volcano is dormant and there has been no eruptions witnessed by humans (which means since the early 15th century) . The heat is still there wich is why locals cook the famous “Cozido das Furnas”. It’s a big stew to cook at the boiling bottom of a hole in the earth.
When you can cook with volcanic heat, the next hot spring to take a bath must be close: out of all the places where you can enjoy natural hot springs, the Parque Terra Nostra is the most beautiful. Not only because of it’s hot springs (one huge basin and two smaller pools hidden in the forest), the park itself is well worth to visit. It’s like a paradise within paradise.
Poça da Dona Beija is another beautiful place to enjoy the hot springs, and a good reason to visit Furnas more than once.
3. Swim in the natural pools of Ferraria
Talking “natural” hot springs, the pools of Ferraria are the most natural ones. As the eruption wasn’t too long ago, the heat is close to the surface and actually heats up ocean water. Go there at low tide and you will have an experience that is hard to get anywhere else in Europe.
4. Go to the fishmarket in Rabo de Peixe, buy some and make a BBQ at the miradouro
The Azores are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and they have very productive fishing grounds around. No wonder you can eat some of the world’s best and freshest fish there. If you are early enough, you can get it even fresher at Rabo de Peixes fish market. It is where the fisherman sell their catch to restaurants and grocery stores.
Next stop is the grocery store, get yourself some coal, spices and side dishes and heat to one of the numerous “miradouros”. Most of the have BBQ’s where the locals enjoy a meal with a view on weekends. During weekdays, there’s plenty of place for your feast. We recommend the “Miradouro da Ponta de Madrugada” in the east. It’s a beautiful facility amidst flowers and the views are killer.
5. Eat local Ananas
After the Azores islands were struck by a disease that destroyed almost all orange plantations, they had to find another export good to sustain the economy. Besides tea plantation, the Ananas was decided to be the one of the backbones of the agricultural industry. You wouldn’t expect it, but as long as you have a greenhouse (and that’s why there are around 6’000 on the island), the Azores have the perfect climate to grow Ananas (or Abacaxi, the sour version). You can get it in the grocery store or in almost every restaurant. But if you have an hour and a half, drive to São Roque/Lagoa and visit the “Quinta das tres Cruzes” or the “Arruda Pineapple Plantation” with the latter being more touristy.
6. See Lagoa do Congro
You won’t find that one in too many tourist guides. We didn’t either (because we don’t even have one). Due to my interest in volcanoes I spotted it on google maps while searching for craters with lakes in them. With literally hundreds of volcanic features, that’s not as easy a job as you would think. When you first arrive, it doesn’t seem special and looks like an ordinary wood. You slowly start to recognize it’s dimensions when you walk down. It’s a 30 minute walk all the way to the bottom. Once arrived, you will feel like in “Jurassic Parc”, most probably on your own and completely stunned by this hidden beauty.
7. Visit the Ilheu de Villafranco do Campo
As we always travel to the Azores off-season and focus on surfing, we didn’t have the chance to visit the “Ilheu”. But it’s one of the top sights you must see when you are on the island. Between June and September, you will find an hourly ferry service from the Villafranco do Campo marina.
8. See the sunset in Mosteiros
Mosteiros is a small village at the far northwestern end of the island. Beside of the three waves it hosts, it is one of the best place to watch a sunset. Grab yourself something to drink, go to the beach and push that “enjoy-button”.
9. Have a beer at a (really) local bar
A vacation (and especially a surf trip) is not complete, if you don’t dive into the culture. One good way to do it is to visit a bar or cafe where the locals hang out. You should at least be able to order a beer or coffee in Portuguese. Most times, that’s the only language you will hear. We do it every once in a while and it’s always fun because you will find yourself in a tourist-free environment, using your hands and everything else that helps to chat with the locals. Check out the “Cervejaria Leão” in Ribeirinha to start.
10. Visit the Farol Ponta do Arnel and the beautiful fishing village below.
You may have seen it in some of our videos, we just got hooked by this part of the island. If you consider yourself a good driver, drive down to the farol if you want to put your rental car and your driving abilities to a test. Otherwise walking is the wiser choice as the road is really narrow and steep. You will get rewarded by a spectacular view on the ocean and a small but very nice fishing village tucked into the lava stone formations.
If you’re all the way through our suggestions, there’s off course more things to do on São Miguel. You can visit volcanic caves, hike around in beautiful landscapes, watch whales, fish for tuna… We just don’t suggest these things because we haven’t done it yet.
We are back home in Zurich. Snow is gone, no surf on the lake, but we keep up the stoke. You can always ride a skateboard and the Swiss – even though the next ocean is hundreds of miles away – are pretty innovative in creating ways to surf. During the next weeks, we’ll show you how.
The Azores are virtually in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. If you don’t eat fish and seafood here, where else?
On the Azores islands, fish is on almost any menu. But São Miguel has more to offer than fish and seafood. With more cattle than people on the island, the chance to have an epic piece of beef for an affordable price is pretty good as well.
Another guide to São Miguel restaurants?
Yup, we know. You already checked Trip Advisor, Google and whichever site that tells you about all the São Miguel restaurants and their ratings. It’s pretty helpful, sometimes, we agree. But other times, you have to just walk in before you think and consider. We share our experience because we think a personal opinion within a context tells you more than ratings between one and five stars. And still, you can have the best time at a place rated one star while the five star fancy restaurant is disappointing. We try to be open to surprises, so some of the places we found through the common rating-sites as well, others were pure accident because we were hungry or curious.
What you need to know about eating in a Portuguese restaurant.
Usually before you order, you get the “cobierto” which consists of fresh cheese (quejo fresco), butter (manteiga) and either a sweet past (dulce) or chilli sauche (piri piri) served with bread (pão). Usually it’s not for free, but you can get it for a reasonable price. Often times, we either have some starters or a meal without starters. Both together is too much unless you are really hungry. And if you order fish or meat, it’s a pity if you have to leave it for the dogs. Portions are pretty big in Portugal in general, and it’s the same in the Azores. The islands have a very rural history and working hard makes you eating much.
Anything else to say? Be nice, learn a few words in Portuguese and tip well. Because a smile goes a long way…
Ponta do Garajau
The Punta do Garajau in Ribeira Quente is our all-time favorite. We stumble upon it on our first visit and we were amazed by the quality of the food and the service. It’s perfect to have a good time, wether you’re into fish and seafood or a nice piece of local beef. The ambiance is very nice, it feels like the owner pays a lot of attention to the details. The message in a bottle-style menu is rich and they have a variety of deserts. We suggest to go for the Mango-sorbet.
In terms of culinary combined with visual delights, nothing beats to eat on TukáTulá’s deck. It’s just a stone’s throw from Santa Barbara beach in the north. Go there for a stunning sunset along the catch of the day. If you’re there to grab a bite, they also serve wraps, pretty solid burgers and a variety of snacks. You’re not hungry at all? It’s also a cool place to have a beer. Check the views in the video of our first visit in 2015.
In the center of Ponta Delgada, the Taberna Açor is for every stage of hungry. It’s what would be called a tapas bar in Spain, but with a very local touch. It’s the best place to provide yourself an overview over the Azorean kitchen. They seem to have everything from the archipelago: cheese, dry meat, sausage, fruit and sweet, you name it. Enjoy it either with a local wine or the typical Portuguese Vinho Verde and you have a wonderful dinner, bite by bite. Even though it’s bigger than it seems, it fills up quickly. Coming early or having a reservation helps a lot.
At the end of Villa Franco de Campo, the Praia Café is our choice for a lunch. If you go there, we strongly recommend the burger, but their fish is tasty as well. That’s very good, because if you stay for a while, you’re very likely to go there more than once. The sunny patio overlooking the bay is just a too nice place to enjoy some quality time and the service is neat.
The Restaurante da Associacao Agricola de São Miguel in Rabo de Peixe is one of the most famous São Miguel restaurants and the place to go for beef. They serve it in a wide variety a beef-lover just can’t walk by. No wonder they got top-ratings at Tripadvisor and Google. We find it’s just a bit too fancy and touristy, but it’s a must-do when you’re on the island. The regular cut is huge, so make sure you bring some serious hunger or you won’t make it all the way to the postres, how the Portuguese call the dessert.
Botequim originally derives from the Greek term “Apotheka” which means “storage” or “grocery store”. Located in Rabo de Peixe as well, Botequim Açoriano is another solid choice to eat out. Everything seafood and some meat as well, the menu is not too surprising but locals eating their lunch at the neighbouring table usually is a very good sign.
The Forneria São Dinnis is located in Ponta Delgada, pretty close to the end of the airport’s runway so it’s easy to find. The large menu is a fusion between mediterranean and Portuguese cuisine with local ingredients. That means you’ll find pizza (they have a kick-ass pizza oven), pasta, seafood and everything else that makes a connoisseur’s heart beating. The service is very charming. Because it’s a fairly new and big restaurant, it still may take some time to process your orders. Meanwhile you can enjoy the ocean view from the second story, it’s just great. We think its the most sought-after amongst São Miguel restaurants, make sure you have a reservation, otherwise it’s going to be hard to find a place.
The Louvre Michaelense is located in Ponta Delgada center, close to the Igreja Matriz de São Sebastião. What you see from the street is a nice café with tons of sweets. No matter what your choice is, you will find at least two sweet things you like. The real deal, though, is the restaurant on the first floor. Just pass the Café, take the first entrance on your right and proceed to the first floor. What you’ll find is a very lovely living room style restaurant. The menu is small but nice and it’s the only place on the island where we found dedicated vegetarian food. You’ll eat one of the best burgers ever, even though there’s no meat in it at all.
The Bar Caloura in the village Caloura is another great fish restaurant. It’s a tourist magnet, but for a reason: the setting in a small cove is very nice and while eating, you can listen to the pumping waves crashing onto the gravel beach. You can choose the fish on your own and it is delicious and you won’t leave the table hungry, that’s a promise. We were lucky to find a table for 6 so if you’re a bigger group, make sure you have a reservation.
The Alabote in Ribeira Grande features a nice sunset deck like the TukáTulá Bar but is a bit more on the pricey side. Expect some fancy crowds but it’s not a problem, we’ve been there with flip flops and tanks. The food is really tasty and the location is classy with great ocean views. Everything from local seafood to European standards so it’s a good choice for everyone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was the last week at the gravityking surfhouse in Capelas. The month passed in no time and we would like to thank our guests who spent an awesome time with us. Hope to see you soon to share a couple of waves. Because sharing is caring.