The West Side of Sao Miguel
Happy to say I had a desperately needed solid night’s sleep. I still got up at a ridiculous hour to have some coffee, blog, write in my gratitude journal. I also planned today’s Sao Miguel agenda, and showered, all by the time my dad woke up. All was going according to plan except the coffee maker sounded like a rocket ship launching and my dad, half-asleep, jumped up and asked me if I would also make him coffee. I just told him it was 5:00 in the morning and to go back to bed. Which he did.
Ponta Delgada’s Mercado da Graca
When he did finally wake up, we got some free breakfast at the hotel. European brekkies are always my fav. Got to partake in some marinated mushrooms and croissants with butter, cheese, and salami. So yummy.
We drove past a market yesterday that we wanted to stop by this morning before we got on the road to tour the rest of Sao Miguel, the Mercado da Graca. The produce looked ridiculously fresh and there seemed to be a decent fish selection available. The meats were not really up to our expectations. They only had standard cuts, nothing interesting or strange by American standards. Overall, the market was just okay. It wasn’t the market we walked through in Greece with pig heads hanging from hooks everywhere. Allowed time for some nice photos on our walk there and back, though, so it wasn’t a completely wasted effort. Some fun street art.
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Photo Credits: Mercado da Graca gate by Carlos luis da Cruz, Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike 4.0 International. Produce by Hansueli Krapf, Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike 3.0 Unported.
Driving the Island
Unfortunately, we’ll only be visiting the island of Sao Miguel this trip, but I would love love love to tackle a full Azores itinerary one day. Hopped in our itty bitty rental car and headed off to our first real destination—Sete Cidades, a little town sitting on the edge of two lagoons. We drove west on the southern edge of the island for a bit, which is made up of sparser, tropical vegetation—palm trees and the like.
Sometime around this point in the drive, we took a wrong turn and circled a roundabout to get back on track. Some random guy was standing on the corner wearing a sweatshirt that read, very simply… “F*ck bitches.” For whatever reason, my dad felt the need to yell, “nice shirt!” out of his open car window as we sped past. I don’t know whether this was supposed to be funny or antagonistic, but he did just turn sixty, so I suppose he gets to do whatever he wants now. The guy laughed, so… there was that.
We slowly began to crawl up the dormant volcano that makes up the western center of the island. The flora very quickly turned from scrubby, beachy tropical plants to dense tropical forest. It was really quite lovely. Lush green, lots of moss, lots of colorful blooms. The roads were small, two-lane roads that curved back and forth up the mountainside. My dad said he felt like he was racing in Monte Carlo and was excited he’d picked up stick-shift driving so quickly again. I just told him to, “Relax already, Mario Andretti.”
Hotel Monte Palace
We were speeding around a curve and up the hillside when we almost missed the entrance to the abandoned Monte Palace. Monte Palace was an Atlas Obscura site I’d read about. A luxury hotel and spa, opened only for a few years before it closed its business. The premises was guarded with dogs and security for a couple years before it was left altogether. It was totally dilapidated, completely in ruins, and made for a great photo opp. Too bad there was an entire bus tour group there because some silence and loneliness would have added to the overall creepiness of the location.
Note: The Hotel Monte Palace is now set to open again in 2021. Big news for Sao Miguel!
Sete Cidades & The Two Lagoas
Off the backside off the hotel was a magnificent view of Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde, which I assume was intended to be a major selling point of the hotel upon opening. Across the street was a trail you could walk or drive to an even better lookout point. The town of Sete Cidades is nestled between the two lakes in a volcanic crater with all the greenery you could imagine. It’s probably the most famous Sao Miguel sight of all, very picturesque.
There’s the sweetest little tale about Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde. They’re actually a single lake divided by a bridge, but look like two. One side has a distinct blue color, the other a distinct green color. A shepherd and a princess fell in love, but were forbidden to be together because of family status. The blue-eyed shepherd cried the blue lake, and the green-eyed princess cried the green.
We drove down into the crater into the town to look around. Found a quaint little neo-Gothic church (Nicholas, I think?). Trees lined its entrance and a little gazebo sat off to one side, a well-tended garden was on the other. We thought we’d be hungry enough for lunch at this point and we’d stop for a quick bite, but we really weren’t and decided to wait for the next town.
No Maps Needed
The funny thing about these tiny Sao Miguel towns is they’re incredibly easy to drive into, but ridiculously hard to find your way out of. It’s like Groundhog Day. The only map we have is the hotel-supplied one, which thus far, has been pretty effective because there aren’t that many roads on the island to begin with. You kind of just… wing it and figure it out. The map gives you a general idea of where you are and where you want to go.
I should add that they don’t really label the roads here. They have street signs that say “Ponta Delgada this way,” but they don’t say “this road is 1A West,” for example. Anyhow, we went round and round for a bit before getting out and ultimately ending up on a different road out than we wanted to. Which was okay, because the next town was pretty cool.
Mosteiros & Capelas
Mosteiros is a coastal town on the northwest edge of Sao Miguel with volcanic rock tide pools and gigantic rocks jutting up out of the water. The towns themselves all start to look alike. The houses are very similar, some pastel, some bright yellows with dark green trim. The churches are very similar, white with black trim, same facades with a bell tower to one side. Three or so restaurants. We stopped here for coffee and pie. I opted for the pineapple pie. Apparently, pineapple is a big deal in the Azores, introduced to the islands from South America, now found everywhere. They’re very proud of it. Pineapple and cows. They love their cows. There are a lot of them.
We drove east along the coastline through a town called Capelas and stopped off at another overlook offering sweeping views of jagged, green cliffs and then went south through the center of the island to return “home” for the day.
An Embarrassingly Early Dinner
We got home a little early, but I was okay with that. I’m an early riser and like finishing my days early as well. We relaxed for an hour and, around five, I started getting a little hangry. It was either fall asleep, not want to get back up, and end up ordering room service or delivery. Because I’ll be sleepy and in my PJs, committed to bed. Or, leave now and get food. We decided on the latter.
We walked across the street to a restaurant where a couple of patrons were having drinks. The owner approached us and asked how he could help. We inquired about dinner and he looked at us incredulously and replied, “Oh… my God.” …It was five thirty. Yes, I know Europeans tend to eat later than Americans, but I’ve actually rarely found places that didn’t serve food at five thirty. And some European countries are later than others.
Like Iceland, where coffee shops don’t open until nine or ten, which is… awful. No, I don’t wake bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked like a Scandinavian goddess. I wake swarthy and angry and need coffee to begin functioning for the day. And my days start at five in the morning… when your clubs are still open from the night before.
At any rate, the man told us his cook could make us “steak between two pieces of bread,” which sounded super amazing, but we’ll pass. We decided to walk further down the waterfront where there were a bunch of cafes. All the while, my dad was telling me how embarrassed he was. I reassured him by letting him know we never have to see that man again (ever. in life.) if we don’t want to.
Winding Down For The Night
Doesn’t it feel like food is miles and miles away when you’re starving to death? Yep. That’s how it felt marching to those cafes. But we found one. Just got some generic food, nothing special, nothing particularly Portuguese. But it was sustenance and that pleased me greatly. We stopped at a supermercado again on our way back to the hotel. The prices are so ridiculous here I can’t get over it.
Tomorrow… more lakes. I think we’re going to take a drive up to a wilder part of the island. See what that’s all about. There’s also this charming little church I found on Atlas Obscura I’d like to see. Looks like a great photo opp. My last few trips, I’ve been slacking on my photography a bit, relying on my phone a touch too much. We’d like to go whale and dolphin watching at some point, but I think it’s out of season. We’ll ask anyway. Can’t hurt. Until next post, friends…
The East Side of Sao Miguel
Wow. Where to even begin today. We covered a lot of ground. And most of it was amazing. Had another early morning. The rocket launcher woke my dad up again, only this time he stayed up and worked on his Alaska road trip itinerary while I finished my journal entry and other random mandatory morning habits. Another satisfying European breakfast. Same as every vacation, same degree of happiness in my tummy. My husband always remarks that I never need breakfast except when I’m on vacation; then it suddenly becomes a necessity. Maybe it’s really a luxury? (That sounds so sad, but it might be true.)
I had the beachy southeast coast and the remote and rugged northeast coast of Sao Miguel scheduled for today and it did not disappoint. First town—Lagoa. Winding roads over coastal cliffs. I told my dad when I became a famous travel blogger, this was where I was going to come to write my first novel. Have coffee every morning waking up to this sunrise view, sit on my deck with a laptop writing every day. Very Sylvia Plath, minus the emotional instability and suicide please. Yes, minus all of that. Just the genius… and the posthumous fame, humously. That’s all I’m asking for.
Villa Franco do Campo
Next up—Villa Franco do Campo. Pretty certain this was the super posh town. All the towns on this part of the island are beach towns in the traditional sense. Little sandy areas with waves lapping up the shore. Villa Franco has this cool little feature—a collapsed volcano island just off the coast called Ilheu da Vila. It’s basically a rock semicircle. You can take a boat out to the center of it in the summers and go swimming. Supposed to be great snorkeling. Obviously, we couldn’t get out to it in January, but it was cool to see it from a distance.
From there, we skipped up a touch north to the town of Furnas. Much like yesterday, the more inland you get, the more green and lush the landscape gets. It’s so incredible. It’s almost an evergreen rainforest, but with rose bushes everywhere. And some tropical plants. If anyone is really interested in plant life, I would urge them to research the Azores because it’s really unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Furnas is known for its hot springs and for being a tourist spa destination. I just came for the chapel. The chapel sits on Lagoa das Furnas, the town lake in the middle of a protected forest. It’s called the Chapel of Nissan Senhora das Vitorias, “Chapel of Our Lady of Victories.” A local landowner’s wife fell tragically ill and he had the chapel built in her honor in 1882. They’re both buried there now. It looks like a fairytale. Somewhere behind it in the forest is a waterfall, but we had much on our itinerary for the day. We drove through the town of Furnas itself. Super charming. Very touristy. It has little gardens, a legit water wheel, and geese freely swimming in the downtown stream. It’s kind of ridiculous.
The next town wasn’t exactly an intended destination; it sort of became one. I can’t even pronounce the name of it, but here’s how it’s spelled: Povoacao. Take your best shot. All of these towns are super tiny. Most of the roads are super narrow and many of them don’t even have sidewalks, so peoples’ front doors literally open right onto the street. To boot, ppl park their cars on these tiny streets, so you end up playing a game of chicken with oncoming traffic.
Communication is key and European drivers don’t drive slow. This whole town was one big game of chicken. If one of these parked cars had left its side view mirror out, we’d’ve hit it. You basically had to pull over entirely if anyone dared drive a full-sized vehicle. It was really entertaining for my dad, AKA Super Mario, and mostly entertaining for me… except for the parts where I covered my face with the map because I couldn’t bear to watch. Nevertheless, we—and the itty bitty VW—survived. I tried to Hyperlapse other parts of our drive because the roads were little and ridiculously curvy, but they just didn’t turn out that entertaining.
Sao Miguel Continued…
We’re heading to the far northeast of the island, coming back right down the center of it. There are some cool sights on the docket, so I’m excited. Don’t forget to check back in for the last part of my three-part Azores series!
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