The Azores part 2: the interior of Sao Miguel island

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For the second half of our holiday we had rented a car. We checked out from the Marina Atlantico hotel to drive up to Furnas where we would stay the second half of the week. We drove to Furnas via the north coast. We drove up to Capelas, to visit the small former whaling harbor. The view of the harbor and coast is spectacular. There is a small road going down, but if you have a car, fight the temptation to drive down, there is a chance you get stuck because the winding road continues to narrow on the way down! We did drive down, and luckily had a very small car and managed to get back up without any scratches! We continued in the direction of Ribeira Grande.

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At lunchtime we stopped in Rabo de Peixe, where we had lunch in O Pescador, a fish restaurant in front of the tuna factory. The restaurant has a real nice atmosphere. It is decorated with fishing gear. They serve fresh fish, and give you a card with drawings of fish on which they point out which fresh fish is available that day. It was a difficult choice.

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We go for two different fresh fish: swordfish and grilled squid . And we take some fresh azorean cheese as an appetizer. We get a big basket of fresh bread, and a big plate of salad and fresh vegetables with our grilled fish. We take a galao coffee to round it of. The fish tastes very fresh and the wine is as always good.

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We stop at the tea plantation Cha Gorreana (since 1883) in Maia on the way. You can see the plantation and take a walk in it while inside you can see the different steps in processing the fresh tea into dried tea leaves. You can taste the different kinds of tea: green, pekoe and orange pekoe tea free of charge, and you should taste their green tea ice-cream which is delicious! You can buy the tea in the little shop. ( we buy some to take home)

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We stopped at Miradouro do Salto Farinha, to enjoy the view of the coastline and the gorge formed by lava. The waterfall is very small to non existent in this season. If you have time you can walk down the path to the valley and to the seaside.

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We continue our way to Furnas, following the road inland, through green lush surroundings, on roads bordered with flowers (hydrangeas), into the volcano crater, with Furnas lake in it. Furnas itself is a small pleasant town, famous for its thermal pools. You can take a bath in the Terra Nostra botanical gardens, or with the locals in Rua da Agua Quente.

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We had booked three nights in Furnas Lake villas, a set of modern wooden chalets on the other side of the road from Furnas lake. Each little house has its own living area, bathroom, small kitchenette, a small terrace, and a fire-place. You look out on the lush forests of Furnas. There is also a swimming pool on the grounds. You can take care of you own meals, or have a breakfast delivered at 12,5 euro per person, and have dinner at the guest tables, which you have to book a day in advance. You can choose to order a cozida das Furnas, a stew of meat, vegetables and potatoes slowly cooked in a whole in one of the sulphurous ponds on the border of lake Furnas: caldeiras.

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We settle in in our room and go out to buy our breakfast for the next few days. There are two little supermarkets and a bakery in Furnas where you can find all necessary ingredients for a tasty breakfast. We buy some wine to drink in front of our fireplace in the evening. Te weather had drastically changed from the previous days, with cloudy skies and intervals of rain showers. We drive out to the seaside to Ribeira Quente for dinner, where the restaurant Ponta do Garajau had good reviews.

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It is now raining quite hard, and unfortunately the restaurant is completely full when we arrive. The restaurant has a nice covered outside terrace. A bit lost, and with the bad weather, we head for the first place we see, a small cafe with an adjacent tent where locals are eating. We see a guy coming out with a pizza box, and order one pizza for two with a beer. It takes quite a while before the pizza is served, but it is worth the wait. It is a freshly made pizza topped with minced meat and azorean cheese. It tastes great, and although the pizza is actually too much for the two of us we finish it because it tastes so good, and that for 12 euro!

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On the way back we pass by the caldeiras which are quite eery in the dark with the lights on them. We visit them, and plan to come again to see them in daylight the next day.

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The next morning we have a bolo levado, a very tasty local bread that looks a bit like English scones! and Sao Miguel and especially Furnas is famous for them. You can warm them in a toaster, they are extra yummie with local honey! We had also bought some local grown pineapple which are wonderfully sweet. We go for a walk at lake Furnas in the morning.

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We start at the parking lot. A bit further you pass a small church, the chapel of Nossa Senhora das Vitoria. A short walk further you can enter the Jardim José do Canto, a forest garden with one of the largest collections of ancient camelias ( which are not in bloom in August) , and you can make a walk to to the natural waterfall of Salto do Rosal. On the way you pass a large Oak and many beautiful trees, ferns and flowers. At the entrance they are willing to give you an explanation on the different plants of the garden.

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We decide to to visit the caldeiras of Furnas lake and the caldeiras at the other side of Furnas village we had seen the previous evening. The one at Furnas lake are also used to cook cozido for the restaurants. In the caldeiras in the centre of Furnas, they cook mais in large bags that hang in the boiling sulphurous water. (We did not taste them) You can taste the water spouting out from different springs which all taste different (some of them really disgusting!). Locals claim they have medicinal properties.

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We decide to find better weather by driving up north and visit the Northeast coast of the island. We stop at Cha Gorreana for some ice-cream and drive to Nordeste where the sun welcomes us. We drive towards the lighthouse of Farnel, south of Nordeste. We leave the car at the main road and walk down to the oldest lighthouse of the island, with great views of the coastline.

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The walk back up gets us hungry so we head towards restaurant Tronqueira. It is just 7 PM, and the staff of the restaurant are still preparing for dinner.

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We can have fresh fish, but will have to wait till 8 PM for meat. The weather is still good so we take a table outside, a bottle of white wine (Frei Gigante from Pico island) and some bread and cheese as appetizer. We each take a different grilled fish of the day: one grouper and one parrot fish ( did not know you could eat them!). They are served with salad and potatoes. The fish is really fresh, but I like the grouper better than the parrot fish. We finish our wine with the sun slowly setting behind us.

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We had postponed going to Sete Cidades in the hope the weather would get better, so we head out to the West side of the island the next day. When we arrive at the famous viewpoint over Caldeiras Sete Cidades, Vista do Rei ( King’s viewpoint), we are completely surrounded by fog and clouds, with nothing to see! So we continue in the direction of the village Sete Cidades. Just before the village you pass in between of the two lakes, and here we could finally see the lakes. Of course with the cloudy weather the views are not what they should be and surely not as impressive as we had expected.

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Well this is the Azores also, the weather can change very quickly, and it rains a lot on the islands here in the middle of the Atlantic! We decide to go in search of better weather at the coast and head to Mosteiros, where we take a look at the rocks in front of the city that look like monks in front of their monastery (mosteiro meaning monastery). We stop for lunch at Briso do Mar in Mosteiros. They serve fresh fish and seafood. We decide to try grilled limpets, a local specialty of the Azores, limpets being a kind of seasnail that tastes a bit like mussels but are less soft, and more chewy to eat. We ask bread and salad to go with it.

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We only take one portion and it was more than enough for us two! We then go out to the piscines naturalis, a kind of natural swimming pools in the sea between the cliffs. As dinner we finish the bolo levada and cheese in our fridge with some Azorean pineapple.

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Before checking out on the last day we make a walk around Furnas lake, a refreshing walk between beautiful greenery.

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We are lucky because it only starts raining after we come back to our room. We check out and decide to return to Ponta Delgada via the east-coast , starting in Provoaçao, which used to be the first settlement on Sao Miguel. We continue up North to Nordeste, where we have a last coffee Galao in restaurant Tronqueira.

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On the way back we stop at Cha Gorreana again to have a last green tea ice-cream. We drive via the highway to Ponta Delgade to the airport where we return our rental car with Autatlantis.

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We have a small lunch/dinner at the airport (some tosti), before heading to the gate, to return home after a very relaxing and refreshing week. When travelling on the azores it is useful to check the website Spotazores, where you can see the weather in realtime on webcams on different places on the different islands. It allows you to look for good weather when needed.

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