One of the things definitely worth doing on São Miguel is an island tour. There are lots of providers for this type of tour on the island, but we went with Azores Adventure Island Tours, since we were already going canyoning and hiking with them.
The island tour was less about any one place and more about getting a fuller picture of São Miguel. The tour lasted pretty much the entire day, and we covered a lot of ground. It gave us a good overview of the highlights we had seen in the previous days and the attractions that we would visit in the coming ones.
During the tour, we visited a tea plantation. I really enjoyed this visit. The Gorreana Tea Factory has been around since the 1800’s and it still used a lot of the original machinery from the time to make tea. I found it quite amazing to see such old machines still looking good and functioning well. I feel like this is how things should be – made to last.
The first thing we noticed when entering the factory was the glorious smell of roasted tea. It was absolutely delightful – slightly sweet and toasted. We were taken on a tour of the factory, where we were told its history and about the historical significance of the Azores as a tea producer for Portugal and the rest of Europe.
Towards the end of the tour, we were taken to the floor above where we got to see the final, drying process of the tea. The aroma in this room was really wonderful – I wished I could have bottled it and taken it away with me!
Sete Cidades is one of the most beautiful places on an island full of natural beauty. Its naming also comes with a truly fascinating story. Sete Cidades – the Seven Cities – is a reference to a legend from the Middle Ages that told of the escape of seven bishops from a Muslim Invasion into the Iberian peninsula. At that time, there were stories by sailors of islands that existed in the Atlantic – these stories were confusing, of course. Sometimes the sailors referred to the island of the Azores, sometimes they referred to the Eastern coast of Brazil. Whatever it was, this legend played its part in the naming of Sete Cidades. Of course, the official records note the discovery of the Azores in the fifteenth century, but I like this story anyway, whether it is true or not.
On this island tour, we did not enter Sete Cidades (since we already experienced it on horseback), but rather went around the rim of the crater that surrounded its twin lakes. The view from the crater rim is truly stunning. Lush vegetation surrounding beautiful blue-green pools of still, clear water, reaching out into the horizon to meet the sky.
My favourite view on this whole trip however was definitely the view of the crater lakes just before the Atlantic ocean. It was funny to see these large pools of fresh water on the island, seperated from the great ocean by a thin crust of land. On the interior side of the crust – fresh, drinkable water, collected in neat little pools and beyond that, the Atlantic – wide open and untamed. Pondering this contrast greatly amused me.
Bits and Bobs
The rest of the island tour was all about more landscape, and a lot more there was! We drove around the sunny rolling hills of São Miguel and made many stops to take photographs of the wide open vistas.
São Miguel is by no means untamed – the entire island feels somehow really manicured. I supposed it’s because a lot of the land is grazed by horses and other livestock like cows, or used to grow tea. But there aren’t a lot of houses or roads outside the main cities and towns – in fact there aren’t that many within the cities or towns themselves. In a lot of ways São Miguel feels like place that time has forgotten. The landscape here has probably not changed much since the 1800s and people still largely live a rather agrarian lifestyle – the main industries here being agriculture and eco-tourism.
If you’ve never read the science-fiction classic, “Grass” by Sherri Tepper, I highly recommend it. I read it just before I visited the Azores, and I really felt that the world building of the novel matched the sunny yet sleepy and dreamy landscape of São Miguel.
The one thing I find wonderfully strange about this island is how its landscape seems so perfect although we encountered so few people on our trips around the island; It was as if there were many garderners who come out at night just to tidy the grass, grow the flowers in the right places and clear the dead leaves before simply disappearing at daybreak.
There’s a magic to the Azores that can’t be explained in words or pictures. You’ll have to visit it for yourself to experience the wonderful tranquillity we felt when we were there.