Off the beaten track
But for those, like Ben, who want to get oft’ the beaten track, the cluster of Europe’s westernmost outpost has something to please everyone, from whalewatching to climbing, hiking, kayaking, wine tasting, diving, fishing, cycling, birdspotting, surfing, coasteering, or soaking in a geothermal spring.
“Near Furnas there are some really amazing gardens called Terra Nostra Park, with a thermal swimming pool – the water looks rather muddy but it’s brilliantly soft, full of minerals, and you’ll want to spend all day in there. And nearby you can have a meal that’s been cooked underground by natural heat. Generally, the food is cheaper than mainland Portugal and there are decent local wines.”
“But one of the most amazing places on Sao Miguel is Ponta da Ferraria. It’s a natural geothermal rock pool on the shoreline. You can only get into the water at a certain tide when the natural hot water temperature is cooled by incoming seawater. You get in and see the waves crashing around you, but are protected by volcanic rocks, its extraordinary.”
Elsewhere Ben enjoyed kayaking on the sapphire and emerald waters of the Sete Cidades lake – one of the seven natural wonders of Portugal which was formed according to legend by the tears of a princess and a shepherd who shared a forbidden love – and plenty of hiking.
“My favourite walk was up Pico Mountain. Its 2,351m high and snow-capped sometimes. It’s a round trip of about ten hours and you are advised to hire a guide. Standing on top of that volcano, the highest point in Portugal, looking out over hundreds of miles of ocean, cloud below you, really takes your breath away. It’s a truly magical site.
The fact you climb down and you’re back at the sea, makes you feel like you’ve been on top of the world. It was so exciting to be in Europe but climbing a volcano, and to be there on your own.” There’s one important addition that Ben intends to bring on future trips – his family.
“Instead of beaches you have these rock pools, which are well protected so good for children. Islanders have built platforms so you can dive into the water if you want. You can go coasteering too – higher jumps for the older ones, smaller heights for youngsters – and gorge walking. And whalewatching is a family activity, as is swimming with wild dolphins.” Whales are highly protected by the Azorean community and in fact, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the cessation of whaling.
“I definitely want to go diving. It’s supposed to be amazing”. As it is, we have to face the realities of London’s dreary weather. But I think I know from the smile and faraway look in Ben’s eye where he would rather be.