We love staying in truly memorable hotels whenever we have the chance, and the Convento de São Francisco was no exception. In a small and charming island like São Miguel, I think it would be a pity to spend the night in a run of the mill hotel when there’s a botique option like the convent.
The convent was built in the 17th Century in the southern part of São Miguel, and is part of the town of Vila Franca do Campo. This town is worth visiting for two main reasons – it is where Terra Azul – a highly recommended Whale Watching activity provider is located, and also where the best Queijadas are made. You see these custard cheese pastries all over the Azores, but here at Vila Franca do Campo, you can get them fresh from the “factory” – really a small workshop where few ladies churn out hundreds of these a day. But I digress!
Staying in the convent, I thought, was an attraction in itself. It’s a truly serene place with a beautiful courtyard and views towards the sea. The decor is a mix of stark simplicity and comfortable opulance, with touches of modernity.
For the most part, the developers have retained the structure of the building, which I suppose was very solid to begin with. The stone walls and floors have been left as they are, and you can really see that they have stood through the weathering of time. In some parts of the hotel, instead of stone floors, you get beautiful hardwood or terra cotta tiles, which add a more intimate feel.
When we stayed there, it felt as if we had the entire place to ourselves. It’s a pretty large hotel and the rooms are really spacious, and although there were other guests, we rarely bumped into them. It was really easy to imagine we were living back in the 17th century, and I enjoyed a few mornings meditating in the alcove in our room, facing the garden.
There’s also a delightful lounge area with a terrace facing the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a bar here and we spent some lovely evenings sipping gin and tonic, and some other, more exotic, local liquors – although for the life of me I can’t remember what they were! Perhaps that is a sign of a good night…
Like all convents, the courtyard is its main feature, and the Convento de São Francisco had a really lovely one. We had to walk past it every time in order to get to our rooms, and everytime we passed it, I couldn’t help but imagine the lives of the monks that must have treaded on its soft grass all those centuries ago.
The edges of the building that surround the courtyard are the resting place of many birds, and in the mornings, we could hear birdsong echo among the walls of the courtyard, accompanied by the lovely trickling of water in the fountain placed in its center.