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Written by
Sinead Cunningham
Sinead Cunningham

Sao Miguel: The Green Island of Azores - Europe's Best Kept Secret?

Sao Miguel, the largest of the Azores archipelago, is a mere blip in the Atlantic Ocean, and quite possibly Europe’s best-kept secret. This majestic landscape hosts a color palette of rich greens, lush forests with tropical fauna, hot springs and turquoise lakes atop volcanoes. One week is the perfect time frame to explore the island, hike the best trails and indulge in the locally grown pineapple and tea. 

The winding coastal roads on Sao Miguel lead through undulating pastures separated by volcanic dry-stone walls and dotted with happily grazing dairy cows. The ocean can be seen around every corner. People say the Azores have their own time zone, and it’s not hard to believe when gazing out at the endless expanse of ocean and sky. 

Sparkling waterfalls, hot springs, and crater lakes..

Each morning on Sao Miguel, the dramatic green landscape is shrouded in mist, making it feel like you have stepped into Jurassic Park. Calderas (volcanic craters) are characteristic of Sao Miguel, which exists as a result of several volcanic eruptions. Lago do Fogo, set within an imposing mountain range in the center of the island, fills an extinct crater with its mystical blue water. The first glimpse of the sparkling lagoon is completely awe-inspiring. You can park above the crater and follow steep muddy stairs down through endemic vegetation to the lake.  The path then follows the perimeter of the lake along pristine beaches, easing into a more leisurely hike, before returning up the steep crater rim. The land rising abruptly from the water's edge is thick and rippled like the volcanic terrain seen in Hawaii. The Azores, like Hawaii, are some of the tallest mountains in the world when measured from their base at the bottom of the ocean.

 Furnas, a perfect base to explore the island

Furnas, a small town nestled in a cratered valley on the south-east is the perfect base to explore this section of the island. Characterized by its white houses, eggy-thermal pools, and cozy streets, Furnas maintains the authenticity of a Portuguese town but without the crowds of tourists in mainland Portugal.  Date palms, pines and eucalyptus trees decorate the valley. Three nights is the perfect length of time to relax, soak in the therapeutic waters of the Terra Nostra Garden and appreciate the sunsets from the balcony of Vista do Vale.

From Furnas, a drive along the coast to the little town of Faial da Terra is the starting point of the Ribeira do Faial da Terra walk. Some wild goats and a few stray cats are there to greet you as you follow the river upstream through more dense forest, populated with tropical tree ferns. The air is thick with humidity as the path climbs steeply, but the end is rewarding - a waterfall cascading through an opening in the trees into a pool of blue water.  The beauty of this walk is the circuit that then takes you through the abandoned village of Sanguinho.  A cobbled path winds down through overgrown stone houses reclaimed by nature since the village was deserted in the 60s.  Slightly surreal, only a few chickens can be seen ambling about, while a couple of street lanterns glow, giving hope of restoration. Only time can create a place like this.

Incredible walking trails

On the west sits the famous Sete Cidades, a large dormant volcanic crater. There is a wide range of incredible walking trails here, including the 8-mile circuit that takes you along the edge of the crater rim, giving the best views of two stunning adjacent green and blue lakes below. According to Azorean legend, the lakes were formed from the tears of a green-eyed shepherd and blue-eyed princess who were forbidden in love. Within the crater lies the picturesque little town of Sete Cidades with its curious houses amidst cedars and banana plants. Another place that feels little-known to outsiders. The roads here, like many on the Azores, are fringed with a dense array of hydrangeas.

 Sao Miguel is a paradise for hot springs, especially after a long day of hiking. Termas Da Ferraria – a west coast highlight - is a hot spring in the ocean, tucked below a towering cliff of black basalt. At low-tide you can bathe in a natural inlet, combining volcanic water with cool salty waves. Floating with the ocean swell in bath-tub water is a really strange experience that can’t be missed. 

 Macs Adventure can help you plan your perfect island adventure on the Azores. Choose from a relaxed drive & hike tour on Sao Miguel or the ultimate Azores island hopping adventure. For more information don't hesitate to get in touch with our destination specialists who can help with any queries you may have.