You will learn an important word if you visit the Azores islands of Portugal in the Atlantic, and that is miradouro. It means viewpoint, but my mind now translates it as “beautiful view”, because that is what we saw whenever we stopped at a miradouro, labelled with a binoculars sign. Doesn’t the word miradouro also sound a bit like admire?
We spent our Easter holiday this year on São Miguel, the biggest and most easily accessible of the nine islands forming the Azores archipelago, and were amazed by its scenic beauty. The islands are volcanic and have fertile soil and a high rainfall, so everything is green and full of flowers; being in São Miguel was like visiting one big garden. Along all the roads were pink, flowering rhododendron bushes, all pruned, and hydrangeas, which were however not in their flowering season.
We rented a car since that is the best way to get around the island and drove around, stopping whenever something took our fancy – which was often. Apart from the numerous gardens on the island, there are hiking routes from where you can view the volcanic craters and lakes, and you can bathe in iron-rich hot springs or watch the boiling water and steam bubbling from the ground at caldeiras. There are many villages and towns with baroque architecture, fishing ports, boat trips to watch whales and dolphins, tea plantations, pineapple greenhouses and hillsides full of cows, grazing on the deep green grass.
We took hundreds of photos, so I thought I’d break our trip up into sections! On the first day we arrived we took some time to get our rental car and get out of the airport, then did a bit of shopping for necessities in Ponta Delgada (the biggest town) and stopped for lunch in Vila Franca do Campo, the village in which we stayed, before checking into our B&B. By that time it was afternoon and we didn’t have much time, so we just checked out the port and then drove to Furnas, where we visited some steamy fumaroles near Lagoa des Furnas, one of the crater lakes (more on that later!) and came across a botanical garden called Jardim José do Canto. It was too late to visit the garden, but when we awoke the next morning it was a misty, rainy day, with the peaks of the mountains covered by mist and not good for extended hikes or seeing good views, so we decided to visit the garden.
Jardim José do Canto, after whom the garden is named, was a renowned gardener and botanist, and imported many exotic plants, including Camellias and tree ferns, which can be found in abundance in his garden. Within the botanical garden you can also see a neo-gothic style chapel made of volcanic rock, the Chapel of our Lady of Victories, which he built after his wife was cured from a disease. There are also many beautiful trees and flowers, and the on-and-off rain made us feel that we were in a real rainforest when wandering through the tree fern section. Here are some photos of the garden. After visiting it and having some lunch in Furnas, we drove past Furnas to visit some more fumaroles – truly fascinating! In my next Azores post I’ll share some photos and information about the fumaroles.