What can we not miss in the Azores?
January 25, 2017 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Mrs J0 and I will be on Sao Miguel in the Azores for 6 days in late March. We are staying at Hotel Azor. What *must* we do?

We like to do and plan on doing: eating (1 pescetarian, 1 omnivore), drinking (coffee and beer), walking (hiking and flaneuring), cycling (trails and roads), swimming (lagoon and ocean)... but we don't really have anything specific yet. We like to drive as well, if that is a super fun and good thing to do (rent a car?).
We are fine staying on Sao Miguel. We enjoy both being active and just relaxing, but aren't usually museum goers or concert/theater attenders (not anti, though). We consider ourselves physically fit, openminded, and liberal. We don't have an itinerary at all right now. Any suggestions?
posted by J0 to Travel & Transportation around Portugal (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Go swimming in the furnas hot springs. This is located a bit outside of the city and would be a day trip. Renting a car is easy, but it took a bit of advanced planning to arrange car insurance.

The city and surrounding area is beautiful, but I didn't feel comfortable walking around by myself. I'm a woman in my twenties and the first time I went out alone in the city I was aggressively approached by a man within a minute. Even when I was accompanied by men, I was leered at a couple of times. In general, I only saw women walking outside alone if they were over fifty or so. It depends on what age Mrs J0 is and her tolerance for this sort of thing, but I would recommend staying together if you want to walk around in the urban(ish) areas.
posted by likethenight at 2:39 PM on January 25, 2017

Rent a car to get around, it is inexpensive and pretty necessary for getting to places outside of Ponta Delgada.

Good hiking! Trails here. My favourite hikes on Sao Miguel (of the 4 or 5 that we did): Sete Cidades, the Lagoa do fogo trail, Salto do Prego (note: some of these are full day hikes)

Visit the calderias in Furnas (yes, go bathing in the hot springs, it is fun and in the middle of a rainforest). I also liked the Terra Nostra gardens.

Oh, and eat some pineapple. Lots of pineapple. Om nom nom nom.
posted by quaking fajita at 2:52 PM on January 25, 2017

Delicious Azorean foods include
-grilled sardines
-anything with red pepper paste on it
-massa sovada (mildly sweet bread)
-natas (custard tarts)
-caldo verde (kale soup- often contains sausage tho)

Just a data point- I have friends who are vegetarian in North America but eat meat in the Azores because the animals are raised much more humanely, in case that factors into your choices.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:58 PM on January 25, 2017

My wife and I went, and had a nice time - very relaxing. Everything above is good recs. For a restaurant, we absolutely loved: Quinta dos Sabores. It's almost due north of Sao Miguel, and it was a set menu, but so good - great environment, fun people.
posted by slide at 5:30 PM on January 25, 2017

I loved the Azores when I was there 2 summers ago, I've been itching to go back. I would recommend (in no particular order):

1.Lagoa das Sete Cidades - beautiful, especially if it's not foggy/rainy.
2. Arruda Pineapple farm/greenhouse - you get to see the tiny pineapples grow and taste the MOST DELICIOUS alcoholic beverage I have ever tasted, their Pineapple liqueur.
3. Swimming - we swam in the springs at Caldeira Velha, it was great - there's even a waterfall you can stand under and bask in your own awesomeness.
4.Tea plantation - we went to Cha Gorreana (not sure of spelling there)
5. Furnas - super interesting, and not quite as terrible smelling as you expect.

I am Portuguese and was advised by multiple people from the Azores not to rent a car - roads can be very narrow and at times can be washed out due to the weather. We also encountered random giant cow crossings that took 10-15 minutes to clear, and I was glad I didn't have to know the cowpocalypse protocol. You can hire a car for the day if need be, there are plenty of tour services that will do that and you can negotiate with them on price. I didn't have any of the problems likethenight described, I spent a lot of time walking around alone, even at night. I found the people to be incredibly warm and friendly.

As a lover of coffee I found the Azores disappointing. The coffee was dismal compared to the mainland, not sure why that is. There wasn't much of a beer culture there when we went, but the local beer, Especial, is worth trying. We also found a bar called Santo Graal with beers from all over the world on our last night there. Great way to bid farewell.
Have a great time!
posted by amelliferae at 5:34 PM on January 25, 2017

My sister and I (both late 20s) spent a week on Sao Miguel in January 3 years ago and had an AMAZING time. We would both go back in a heartbeat. We stayed for about 2 days in Ponta Delgada (plenty of time), and split the rest between a mini road trip around the island and short stays in other places. We used Air BnB which was fine, allegedly a few wealthy families control basically all the touristic infrastructure, big hotels, etc.

Definitely rent a car. It is almost impossible to get around without one, and you will miss out on SO many amazing views. Be aware the roads can be VERY twisty and steep, and there are LOTS of dirt roads. Take your time and be careful. Cars will be manual transmissions unless otherwise specified, but are otherwise cheap. There are also a LOT of cows, which sometimes like to stand in the road. Apparently the cows have tags in their ears which identifies their owners, and apparently the cowherd would be responsible for any collision due to failure to properly control the cows, but I would be very careful driving.


Hiking is a must. We hiked around the perimeter ring of the Siete Cidades caldera. A long 14 miles, but pretty flat. Lago de Fogo is also great, but tends to get very fogged in - check the webcams! We also did a hike from the bottom of the Furnas caldera to the top through the rainforest to the windy top of the ridge, very trippy. There are also some cliffside rambles. If you like hiking, definitely pack your hiking boots!

We also did a whalewatching excursion from Ponta Delgade, but only saw dolphins due to it being low season for whales. Still very worthwhile. Definitely look into it.

Hot springs! Because the Azores are a chain of volcanic islands, they are simply lousy with hotsprings. We went to the municipal hot springs in Furnas, which is very nice. However, the most incredible place is Ponta de Ferraria - an ocean hot spring an hour or so drive along the west coast from Ponta Delgada. You have to go at low tide, so the hot spring can warm the ocean water in the inlet. It is absolutely incredible, just a little inlet in these big rocks with sketchy ladders and ropes to get in and stop yourself from being swept into the too-hot part of the water, and full of local Azorean retirees. We spent about 4 hours here, and spent the rest of the day just tooling around the coast in the car.

The nightlife in Ponta Delgada was pretty active for such a small city, with lots of young people congregating in bars and cafes. Kind of a university town feel. My sister and I felt totally comfortable walking around after dark, no issues at all. It would be great to have a local introduction or three, as it is a very small community and not a ton of English-speakers.

The food was incredibly good and fresh. Surprisingly, the local seafood was pretty expensive - I think the bigger fishermen sell to export, so it's just the little boats selling to local restaurants. Terrifically fresh, though. I was totally surprised at how much beef and cheese there was - just cows everywhere. Steak is cheap and delicious, and we ate a lot of yummy varieties of cheeses. There is also juicy, fragrant fresh pineapple, as mentioned above. In Ponta Delgada we ate at A Tasca twice and had a great time - once with the hosts from our Air BnB and their friends, and once with a pair of ladies we met from whalewatching. The food is generally cheap and delicious, and very local.

There is also a decent amount of local handicrafts, especially pottery. I picked up a few tiles and kinda wish I had brought more.

The other things we did a whole bunch of is just drive around and stop the car at every amazing scenic lookout - sometimes it seemed like we were stopping every 5 minutes! There were beautiful vistas of the mountains, the cliffs, and the ocean everywhere. We also stopped a lot for espressos and cappuccinos at charming little cafes overlooking the ocean and just soaked in the ambiance.

Have a blast!
posted by foodmapper at 5:42 PM on January 25, 2017

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