Sunday, April 27, 2014

Vacation to the Island of Sao Miguel


There are nine islands in the Azores. The Air Force Base is on Terceira, the third largest island. Sao Miguel is the biggest island of the archipelago. More than half of the Azorean population (133,000 people) occupies this island. 

My husband and I just got back from a four day and three night vacation to Sao Miguel. We had an amazing time. This post is simply an "advertisement" for this vacation. I really believe that military members living on Terceira as well as Americans, especially those living on the East Coast, need to take a trip to Sao Miguel.

If I am being honest, there is nothing on our island (Terceira) that you cannot see on Sao Miguel. Therefore if you are coming in from the USA, if you visit Sao Miguel, you basically have no need to pop over to Terceira. 

Sao Miguel was absolutely breathtaking. There are two golf courses. You can ride horses or bicycle or paraglide. You can cliff dive, explore caves, go whale watching, swim in hot springs, surf, body board, or fish. 

Firstly, if you are a military member booking this trip, do it through Top Atlantico on Base. They can book your hotel, rental car, and airline tickets completely for you. They did this for us. Not only was it very inexpensive, but it was super easy. The flight was only 30-40 minutes and so we were at our intended destination in no time at all!

If you live in the USA, you can, of course, use a travel agent. However, if you want to do it yourself, book your ticket using SATA AIRLINES. You will want to book a flight from Boston to Ponta Delgado (the big city on Sao Miguel.) If you do not live near Boston, you'll want to book a separate US carrier to get you to Boston. (Just be careful because if you book two separate tickets, you have to make sure to get there in plenty of time so as to not miss your Boston flight.) If you book these ahead of time, you can get a roundtrip ticket in the $600 range if you are lucky and definitely under $1000 for a ticket.

Secondly, book a rental car. This is truly the easiest way to get around the island. There are a few different rental car services you can book. Here is the one we used. The only thing to note is that nearly all of the cars are going to be standards (stick shifts) and very small. We did the trip without our children. If you are traveling with two people, any car will do. But if you have any children along, make sure to ask for a bigger vehicle.

JB with our very comfortable but very tiny vehicle -- perfect for two people but no room for kids in the backseat if you are 6'3" like us

The tiny roads will need a good navigator but roads are only like this IN the towns; when outside of the cities, the roads are spacious and beautiful.

Driving around the island's tiny city roads can be a little tricky, but because the island is, well, an island surrounded by water, getting lost is nearly impossible. All you have to do is find the water, and you are back on track. 

The top is a typical map of the island. The purple are the roads JB and I took during our trip. We did all of this easily in two half day driving adventures. (The island is not very big!)

I strongly advise the hotel we stayed at in Ponta Delgada: Hotel Do Colegio. It was in a great location with easy access to walking around the biggest city on the island. There is a free parking garage for the hotel but it has limited spots and is hard to get into, but we had no trouble securing other parking spots surrounding the hotel for a very small fee. (You pay at a machine located somewhere on the street you are on and put the ticket in your car.)

Outside pool in courtyard

A view of our room

Complimentary Breakfast is served in this area

The outside of the hotel

For dinner, we decided to pick places based on good recommendations from Tripadvisor. One of the top ranked places was a Wine & Tapas Bar: Reserva Bar. 

This photo of Reserva Bar is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Folks this was one of the best restaurants we have ever eaten at. It was outstanding! Order the meat, cheese, and bread samplers. Absolutely amazing and not nearly as expensive as we thought it might be. (Our entire meal which included those three samplers, two other tapas items, two waters, two glasses of wine, and a dessert was 44 euros (roughly $61 dollars which is a good price for Europe.) Even better is that you can walk to it from our hotel. It can be a little tricky since it is down an alley but you can use maps online or you can ask the attendant at the hotel to help you.

The second night we ate at Colegio 27 Restaurant & Jazz Club. This food was equally outstanding. A little bit more expensive, but we were not on a budget and were ordering whatever we wanted! This restaurant was right next to our hotel making it a fantastic choice as well.

This photo of Colegio 27 Restaurant & Jazz Club is courtesy of TripAdvisor

On the third night we ate at the restaurant in our hotel. Also very good but our least favorite of the three.

We got a couple's massage at the hotel (it is advertised at the front desk) as the cost was pretty reasonable. However, it is important to note that it isn't a true couple's massage. It is one masseuse giving one person a massage and then another. In addition, these are typical European massages -- which I was prepared for having come from Turkey. (This means that a woman's chest is not seen as an off-limits massage part as it is in the USA.) Make sure you speak up if this is not something you feel comfortable with.

While out on our adventures, here were a few highlights. (Just ask your hotel attendant for any help with directions. There are also a ton of brochures and advertisements at the hotel to help you find things.):

(1) A visit the local Tea factory: Plantacoes de Cha Gorrena.  You can literally just walk in, tour on your own, look at anything you want, drink some tea, tour the gardens -- all for free! The people who run this simply allow tourists to view any of their production! What's even cooler is that this island (with its two remaining tea factories) is the only place in Europe that makes tea!

We were driving down the road and saw these bushes. JB literally came to a screeching halt. "That's tea!" he nearly shouted and immediately backed up to get a closer look. I guess getting to sea tea bushes is a big deal!

JB -- so excited to see the tea. He was a bit frustrated with me in this picture because I wasn't grasping the enormity of what we were seeing. So he decided to take his own picture because I had grown a bit bored with tea.

Another glimpse of the tea fields.

All the machinery is from the "olden days" of tea productiom

You can watch everything

You almost feel like you are prying -- we just walked in here to find this woman, who had been working here for 14 years, pulling stems out of the tea near the end of production.

(2) Jardim Antonio Borges is a breathtaking garden-filled park that you can walk to from the hotel. You MUST take the opportunity to do that. Simply beautiful. You definitely don't want to drive here -- much easier to walk to.







(3) Furnas. Furnas is the place to visit if you want to see hot springs. They are a sulfer type hot spring so they don't smell great. (I didn't think the smell was that bad -- well worth it to see it!) This is located on the east inland of Sao Miguel in the middle of mountains and a forest. This is the most famous site of the island and a must see.

First we stopped and walked around the hot springs. These are so hot, people leave meat on a pot and it will cook the meat for you!

You can see all the steam in the background.

4. Terra Nostra Gardens is located right around the corner from the hot springs. It can be a little tricky to find because of one-way streets. But don't give up. The town isn't that big and people will help you make the right turns. This is a must-do! 

We swam in this amazing thermal bath. This was more iron-based, not sulfer so it did not stink. It felt so great! This is not something for the heat of the summer but in cooler temperatures, it was delightful. Advice: bring an old bathing suit and old towels as you will come out orange. There are, however, really nice changing rooms and bathrooms.

After swimming, you can tour the amazing gardens. It is beautiful!

Gingko Biloba trees. So beautiful!

There were black swans here that refused to cooperate for a photo.

Awesome trees!

5. Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azul were another must see on the island.




There are other things to do on the island too. These were just our favorites (and the more popular touristy things to do.) In closing, let me share with you a few other fun photographs of our time on the island. 










This will truly rate as one of the most amazing trips I have ever taken. I can't believe I have lived so close to this island for two years and never experienced it. I also can't believe we almost left the Azores without doing this trip! It is a must-do for people living on Terceira. And, I really think more Americans need to take advantage of how easy it is to travel from the East Coast of the USA to the island. 

If you have ANY questions, feel free to email me at wendi@wendikitsteiner.com or leave a comment, and I will help you with details of our trip in any way I can.



13 comments:

Brittani Wallace said...

Thanks for sharing! We are going to Sao Miguel tomorrow and it was nice to get some more tips before we go!

Anneli Tre said...

Thank you so much for writing this post on Sao Miguel. Il looks like a lovely place to visit. My Dh & I are celebrating our 10th anniversary in October and we may go there!

Anonymous said...

Looks beautiful! Is there a particular time of year that you would recommend to go (or not to go)?

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

You can really go anytime of the year! However it is more rainy from November thru March and it is a little warmer in the summer and you wouldn't want to swim in the heated pools -- but it never gets very hot on these islands so you truly could enjoy it anytime. If I had to pick my perfect month, I'd probably pick May because the hydrangeas would be in bloom. We just missed them.

TAV said...

Gorgeous!! Glad you guys got to go away!!

Cheryl P. from Boston said...

I thought your blog was AMAZING. We are seriously thinking of going in March and wondered if it were warm enough to eat al fresco. We really love eating outdoors. I know it's a little rainy then, but i think it was only 4" a month, which is less than in Boston.

We are going to copy your link to friends since I think more people should know about Sao Miguel. It seems like an incredible destination and it's very reasonable from Boston in the winter.

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

It can totally be warm enough ... Rain is always your bigger battle on the island. It is never that cold ... But the rain can stop you!

Wendi Kitsteiner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Interesting being an adoption family you missed the adoption history of Terceira. Hundreds of native children have been adopted by the military families of Lages field. (formerly AFB) My husband is still looking for his baby sister who was given up for adoption on Terceira in 1965. Six of his siblings all to different military families. Hundreds of others from the 1960's to the 80's. We plan to travel to Terceira in 2016. To visit the house he was born in. And the village... more of a finding of himself. Discounting Terceira I suppose has to do with "vacationing" as opposed to searching for ones roots. But take a look into the adoption ring of the military on Terceira. Many lost and displaced adopted souls. Blessings!

Wendi Kitsteiner said...

To anonymous ... we are an adoption family but this post was not about adoption nor was it about the island of Terceira. We lived on Terceira but this was simply a post detailing this trip. Your comment would be for an entirely different post.

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