As we travelled across Central and Eastern São Miguel we learned more about the uniqueness of these islands. Politically the Azores are still part of Europe yes, however they are also known as the Hawaii of the Atlantic. There are a number of explanations for this; mainly the volcanic nature of the island that defines the landscapes but also due to some of the ‘tropical’ characteristics that can only be found here. The influences from around the world, especially from Brazil, can be strongly sensed. The Portuguese where adventurous explorers and their discoveries from the new world, such as plants and food products, were brought back to their homeland. Anyone crossing the Atlantic during this period stopped in the Azores as they are conveniently located in the middle of the Atlantic. This is why nowadays the Azores grow tropical fruits like pineapple and harvest tea plantations, that can be found nowhere else in Europe.
After visiting the lakes on the Western side of the island, we visited the Central and Eastern Part of the island on the next 2 days. São Miguel did not cease to impress us! Here are some unique characteristics of the island:
1. The sweetest pineapple is here!
Pineapple is one of my favourite fruits and the best I ever tasted was here. Its flavour is very strong and sweet. Although the climate is not ideal for this fruit to grow in the wild, Azoreans have found a way to grow it in greenhouses.
2. The last tea plantations in Europe
Imported from Brazil here you can find the last three tea plantations in Europe. I do not like tea so I cannot judge, but even if you don’t like tea the landscape of the tea plantations with the usual hortensia, grazing cows and the blue of the sea as a backdrop is spectacular!
5. Village life
The villages may be small but surely not lifeless! In August Ribeira Grande, one of the main towns in São Miguel, hosts a music concert. In the main squares of the villages there is always something going on and this reminded me of the town where I live.
6. There are also mountains in São Miguel
This island even has mountains, with peaks over 1,000m. Go for a trek in Serra da Tronqueira in the Western Part of the island to see the change in vegetation! The hortensias and grasslands give way to wild berries and trees. You may also try your luck at spotting the endemic bird that lives here – the Priolo!
7. Vibrant night life in Ponta Delgada
If you think that your day is over by sunset you are terribly wrong! The main roads of the town are full of life in the summer evenings, with people dining outdoors or enjoying a drink at one of the numerous wine bars here! There are also festivals held in the main square with music and people wearing costumes representing a different country every day!
9. Nordeste – also known as the 10th island
Nordeste is the least visited part of the island. For the Azoreans getting here takes long! However a ‘long distance’ in the São Miguel does not exceed the hour driving. This area offers the highest peaks of the island and stunning cliffs overlooking the ocean.
10. The Caldeiras of Furnas valley
This is one of the most popular places to visit in the Azores since here you can see the caldeiras bubbling with volcanic activity. A typical snack here is the corn cooked in the boiling water of the caldeiras. However be aware that the smells are not at all pleasant, due to the sulphur that smells like rotten eggs.
11. Authentic local products at the Mercado da Graça
I couldn’t miss visiting the market of Ponta Delgada. You know I love markets and although this market is very small I still wanted to get a taste of local life. I got up early and made my way to the market, where a lot of people grab the best deals on local products, mainly being meat, fish and vegetables