Tired of tanning in Spain or queuing up for hours at attractions in Italy’s iconic cities? Consider a getaway to lesser-known Sao Miguel instead. If you’re wondering where on earth it is, let us give you the lowdown on this lush green island and why it’s such an epic location for an unforgettable friends’ trip!
So, where exactly is Sao Miguel?
This still relatively unknown spot is tucked away in The Azores, a group of Portuguese islands scattered about 1000 miles off the country’s Atlantic coast. Keen to get outdoors and away from the crowds? This region is a real gem as it only recently started to open up to tourism.
So, what’s with the name? Sao Miguel is the largest isle in The Azores and it’s often nicknamed the “Green Island” due to its miles of untouched rainforests and calderas (special types of volcanic craters) filled with jewel-coloured lakes. The entire island is also lapped by the Atlantic Ocean that’s incredibly rich in marine life, from humpback whales to Portuguese men o’war jellyfish.
What to check out on your Azorean road trip
Only got a few days to explore the island? The charming capital of Ponta Delgada is the ideal spot to base yourselves. Why not soak up its attractive streets in the mornings and enjoy some slap-up lunches before doing some exploring in the afternoons?
Longer holidays call for full-fledged road trips around the entre island. Not sure what to put on your Sao Miguel itinerary? Here’s our top suggestions…
Your mate’s obsessed with trying out the local cuisine
Of course, it’s a given that you’ll want to tuck into some delicious grub on holiday – but have you ever eaten food that’s been prepped in an active volcano?! Now that’s one to boast about when you get home.
Just forty minutes from the capital is where you’ll find Furnas. The town lies inland and is surrounded by volcanic vents. The piping hot earth is innovatively used as a makeshift oven by local restaurant owners; they simply bury their food and let it slow cook in the geothermal ground!
You only swim in the sea if it’s above 25˚C
If you’ve holidayed on mainland Portugal you’ll know just how cold the sea can get. The Atlantic is not the Mediterranean, after all!
But, one beach on Sao Miguel defies all the odds with its balmy water temperature. Ferreira on the west coast boasts a natural cove where the water has been remarkably heated up by nearby thermal springs. No need for a wetsuit – just jump straight in!
You’re a secret tree-hugger
If you’ve not had enough of soaking in warm waters, definitely put Caldeira Velha on your Azores bucket list. The collection of hot springs sits within a wild area of rainforest at the very heart of the island and offers visitors the chance to bathe completely surrounded by nature. The largest pool even has a waterfall cascading into it, although be warned – it’s much cooler than the smaller springs!
Your girlfriend needs her tea fix
Craving a strong cuppa? The hotel tea isn’t living up to your standards? Well then, go straight to the source at the island’s tea plantation. Opened in 1883, the Gorreana Tea Plantation is currently the only tea plantation in Europe! It produces a range of black teas, from your typical English breakfast through to fragrant options infused with exotic bergamot.
Simply embark on a self-guided tour through its crops and then settle down in the café for a brew. There’s also a shop selling loads of local produce – including the plantation’s full range of teas which are perfect as souvenirs or gifts.
You’re a sucker for a sappy love story
Aren’t we all? No, you’re crying… Anyway back to the Green Island.
Perhaps Sao Miguel’s most iconic attraction, the Sete Cidades is a caldera that sits on the west side of the island. Calderas are huge crater-type formations inside extinct volcanos which would once have been filled with hot magma!
Sao Miguel is littered with calderas, but Sete Cidades is the most dramatic thanks to its two stunning lakes, Azul and Verde, which are both completely different colours. According to local legend, they were formed by the tears of two doomed lovers – a princess with green eyes and a lowly shepherd with blue eyes. Feeling up to a 12km hike? Hit the trail around the outside of the caldera for jaw-dropping views.
You’ve not been on holiday unless you’ve visited at least one museum
It can be easy to skip spending time in the island’s capital when you’re surrounded by so much natural beauty. But Ponta Delgada is packed with attractive architecture and is well worth a few hours of your time. Its Baroque mansions and imposing churches with their Gothic exteriors make it postcard-perfect, plus it’s got a handful of interesting museums too.
Love pirates? Who doesn’t? Well the locals really didn’t at one time. And Forte de São Brás was all about keeping them out. Now you can head inside to learn about the island’s military history. The Museu Carlos Machado also has plenty of archaeological artefacts and pieces of Azorean art.
Keen for some volcanic wine? For culture that’s a little more 21st century, venture down to the waterfront for a glass of the local tipple or to take a dip in the swimming area right in the harbour.
Getting around Sao Miguel
The island’s size and lack of decent public transport makes renting a car a must. You’ll be able to pick one up at Ponta Delgada Airport or in the city itself. Driving around the island is extremely rewarding thanks to both its incredibly well-maintained roads and its stunning landscapes.
After more European road trip ideas? Get inspired by our other epic driving tours, whether that’s cruising down the Baltic Coast or zooming around France’s famous Champagne region.