I’ve had Portugal on the brain all week. I keep waking up hoping I’ll roll over and see the marina in Ponta Delgada from my ocean side porch. I miss the food, the hiking, the views, the architecture – basically everything. But no really, if someone could send me a steak dinner from Alcides and a bottle of Rosé I’d be very appreciative. 😉
Anyways, in my last post about the Azores I talked all about the various hikes we encountered on the island of São Miguel. I’ve told so many folks about this wonderful island, but many of them respond with “Well, hiking really isn’t my thing.” Fortunately, for every hike there’s at least a dozen absolutely incredible other things you should go see.
So, this time I want to talk about the sightseeing. My list is tiny compared to all the possibilities!
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I wish we had these in the United States. A “piscina naturals” is quite literally a “natural pool”. In the Azores, this generally means some combination of natural coastal rock and concrete to form a unique salt water pool. I don’t think we encountered a coastal town that didn’t have one and they were all so different. By far, our favorite was Piscina da Lagoa. The best part? They all seem to be free.
Farol do Arnol
Given that the Azores are islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, they really know how to do lighthouses (farol). Of all the lighthouses we knew of and came across, Farol do Arnol was by far our favorite. You can see it from several different viewpoints in Nordeste or walk right down to it. Just please, whatever you do – don’t drive the access road! It’s the steepest road I’ve ever seen with short walls protecting you from big cliff drops. Eek!
I’m realizing now I could really write an entire post on just Furnas. There was so much to see!
I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was to see this part of the Azores. Something about boiling hot water coming up from from deep below the surface of the Earth was just fascinating. Fortunately, you’ll see a lot of caldeiras in Furnas. On the not so fortunate side, expect a really strong sulfur smell whenever you’re near these thermal vents. Neither Rob or I do well with the smell of sulfur, so we couldn’t check them out for very long.
Chapel of Nossa Senhora das Vitórias (Igreja da Nossa Senhora das Vitórias)
There’s no getting past the fact that Europe generally has much more interesting architecture than the United States, but Chapel of Nossa Senhora das Vitórias was exceptionally unique with a heartfelt origin. From what I understand, a gentleman farmer promised his terminally ill wife in 1852 that he would build her a chapel as her final resting place. Construction was started in 1870 and finished in 1882. Both the gentleman and his wife are buried there. It’s absolutely beautiful. For a little more information and back story, check out here.
Terra Nostra Garden (Parque Terra Nostra)
So Rob and I aren’t really garden people but we had to check out Terra Nostra Garden. It’s over 200 years old and has thousands of plant species from all over the world. To make it even more fascinating, the gardens are laid out in a sprawling web of hedges, grottoes, ponds, and more to explore.
However, many visitors come to the Terra Nostra Gardens to visit the pools and it was easy to see why. It’s a gigantic thermal pool full of iron water – and it so warm. We’d highly recommend saving it for a rainy day. You won’t even notice the bad weather!
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit we didn’t get a single really good picture of Caldeira Velha. It was pouring that day and we were going in and out of the water, so I barely had a chance to get a camera out! So instead, I’ll leave you with a video of just how much fun a hot waterfall can be in the pouring rain. Trust us – it’s awesome.
Of all the things I knew we would be doing on our trip, I didn’t think to include exploring an old abandoned five star hotel. I didn’t even know it was possible. But sure enough, while we driving the windy roads near Sete Cidades we came across Monte Palace. Once we saw there was absolutely no signs saying not to and other tourists checking it out, we had to go in!
For those wondering, here’s the short history: The hotel was built in the late 70’s. It opened for just a year before it closed down due to poor location and consistently bad weather. Up until the mid-2000’s it was patrolled by guards and dogs but not anymore. Nowadays, it’s truly an urban exploration. With that being said, please be careful if you visit. There’s open elevator shafts, lots of glass and sharp metal, and just general hazards that could lead to bad injury or even death. You’ve been warned.
But here’s the real reason they built it here. This is the view from one of the rooms on the lake side.
Rob and I spent dozens of hours just driving around the island exploring. We found cool buildings, good food, and met interesting people. If you’re planning on visiting the Azores, our best advice is to not plan at all – just explore!