Ilhas que nalo parecem reais. ‘Islands that surpass reality’, reads a billboard in John Paul II airport in Ponta Delgada.
It’s the most populated city of Sao Miguel Island, which also serves as the seat of the executive government of the Azores region of Portugal.
Most people are actually unaware the Azores even exist. In fact, until several years ago, I could hardly have pointed out the nine islands on a Cartesian map of the globe.
The reason, most likely, being that all nine islands have an approximate population of 243,018 inhabitants and just over 130,000 of which live on the island of Sao Miguel.
Nicknamed the “Green Island”, and it didn’t take long for me to realize where the name came from.
Sao Miguel is not only the most densely populated island, but also the largest island in the Azorean Archipelago.
It has a total surface area of 759 square kilometres, approximately one and a half times the area of the island of Montreal.
Located 1,500 kilometres from the Portuguese continent and 1,900 kilometers from Newfoundland, the Azorean islands may seem isolated from the world, yet they are so close to both North America and Europe.
The Caldeira Velha is a regional natural monument of the Azores. The name basically means “old boiler”, which is what it is, an all-natural spa.
This is a must-visit location for tourists.
Located at an altitude of 350 metres, visitors must trek down a birch trail succumbed in exotic plant and forests, and many endemic species of plants and trees.
The Caldeira’s warm waterfall can put any luxury spa to shame and the best part is that it’s absolutely free, at least for the time being.
Furnas is located in the district of Povoasalo, and has a meager population of only 1,500 people.
Despite the size of the population, the tiny village is not only a famous destination in the Azores, but is world-famous for its natural springs and geysers.
Approximately thirty springs and numerous geysers are situated in, and around, Furnas.
Visitors can enjoy corn which has been cooked in the boiling waters of the volcanic springs.
Cozida na Caldeira, is a typical corn-type dish with Portuguese sausage and meat which is cooked in the geysers for nearly five hours.
Restaurante Tony’s located at 5, Largo da Igreja street in Furnas, is the go-to place for the famous geyser-cooked Cozida.
The Sete Cidades, or “Seven Cities”, is without a doubt one of the most breath taking natural settings on the Island.
The twin lakes, in the middle of the huge volcanic crater, are five kilometers in length.
When looking down on the two lakes from an observatory station 500 meters above, the two lakes seem very different.
One lake reflects the sky and appears blue, while the other, which reflects the ground, appears green.
As legend has it, the lakes were formed from the tears of a young princess and her lover, a Sheppard boy, when they parted from each other. The color of their tears remained in the lakes.
No trip to Sao Miguel is complete without tasting its Maracuja liquor, which is passion fruit liquor.
Morcela might seem unappetizing at first, but it is quite delightful when paired with a glass of vinho verde, green wine.
Morcela is a blood sausage made from pork blood and pork fat, rice, onions, and salt.
By the way, green wine is actually a very light white wine, usually along the nine per cent mark in alcohol volume, with slightly effervescent qualities. For dessert, I suggest Pastacis de nata, a cream tart usually sprinkled with icing sugar or cinnamon. Boa viagem!
For more information about Portugal and its tourist attractions, visit: http://www.visitazores.org