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The perfect Azores trip: Four days on São Miguel Island

Sao Miguel Island coastline with flowers

I was sitting in my kitchen one day last year mindlessly scrolling through Facebook when a Travelzoo ad caught my eye. It was billing a trip to “The Hawaii of the Atlantic” with a photo of a location I didn’t recognize. I clicked immediately. How come I hadn’t heard of this?!

That location turned out to be São Miguel Island, the largest of the Azores—a chain of islands owned by Portugal that sits about two hours by plane off the Portuguese coast. While you can fly directly to São Miguel from the U.S.—and options for doing so are increasing—the easiest way at the time to get there was from Lisbon, where I just so happened to be going for an upcoming work trip. I had the entire Azores trip planned within minutes.

purple hydrangeas
Orange flower in front of mountains

São Miguel, Azores Islands, Portugal
September, 2017

GETTING THERE

My sister Betsy and I flew TAP from Lisbon to Ponta Delgada on São Miguel, which was a quick—and kind of surreal—experience. After all, how many times do you leave Europe headed in the direction of the U.S…. but stop just a couple hours later?

My friend Nathan joined us the next morning, flying Azores Airlines direct from Providence.

If you’re coming from Europe, TAP has multiple flights throughout the day to Ponta Delgada. And for North American travelers, in addition to Providence, Azores Airlines flies nonstop from Boston, Oakland, Montreal and Toronto. It also offers free stopovers in the Azores on the way to its other destinations, which is an option I’d definitely check out if I lived near one of the cities it services!

pink and yellow flowers

AZORES ACCOMMODATIONS

If you take away one thing from this blog post, let it be this: STAY AT AZOR HOTEL ON YOUR AZORES TRIP. This property is modern, beautiful, and trendy without being sceney or overcrowded. It’s a design lover’s dream, which makes it no wonder that it’s part of the Design Hotels collection (with which I am thoroughly obsessed). It also so far and away surpasses the other hotels on São Miguel (aside from its sister hotel, the Furnas Boutique Hotel, in the town of Furnas). Plus, there’s a rooftop pool with great views!!

Azor Hotel lobby

Candle and vase at Azor Hotel
Chair and decor at Azor Hotel

Couch and bike at Azor Hotel
Shelves with decor at Azor Hotel

beds at Azor Hotel
bed at Azor Hotel

Red-roofed houses in Ponta Delgada

Because we booked our Azores trip late (August 21 for a September 15 check-in), Azor only had availability for the first three nights of our four-night stay. For our last night, we (very sadly) moved down the street to Marina Atlantico Hotel, which was solidly mediocre. Azor is definitely a very tough act to follow.

AZORES FOOD

My favorite restaurant in Ponta Delgada was easily Colégio 27, which is also a jazz club. The food was great, the setting was intimate, and they had live, mellow guitar music—wins all around. If you’re going to go, make a reservation! I was surprised, but places book up quickly.

A Tasca is another place we really liked that gets packed quickly. We went for lunch one day right when it opened, and soon the whole place was full. It’s a lively restaurant full of locals and families and definitely shouldn’t be missed.

Food at both the Furnas Boutique Hotel and Azor was pretty good, too. We never tried Azor’s sit-down restaurant, but we had snacks at both and dinner in Furnas. I would definitely recommend these over other restaurants in their respective towns. 

And last, but perhaps most importantly—gelato. You can find La Gelateria in downtown Ponta Delgada, and you definitely should! They also have a pedi-cart that we came upon at a miradouro (the Portuguese word for “viewpoint”) in Nordeste, which was the perfect place to enjoy it. The blackberry was my favorite!

Azor Hotel restaurant
Gelato pedi-cart

Tables and chairs at Furnas Boutique Hotel restaurant

AZORES DRINKS

We didn’t really go out, so to speak, but Azor does have a really nice rooftop bar if you’re looking for nighttime drinks and views. Vinho verde—”green wine”—is a favorite in Portugal, and you’ll find plenty of it in the Azores!

THINGS TO DO ON AN AZORES TRIP

HOT SPRINGS

São Miguel is a volcanic island, and there is no shortage of hot springs around. There’s also no shortage of hot spring variety. You can soak everywhere from Caldeira Velha, which feels straight out of Jurassic park; to Ponta da Ferraria, a heated cove surrounded by cliffs in the ocean; to the orange-colored pool at Parque Terra Nostra.

People in jungle hot springs
Orange hot springs pool

Volcanic coastline and hot springs pool

Speaking of hot springs, a visit to Furnas (which gets its name from its geothermal activity) is a must while on the island. We spent almost an entire day at the Furnas Boutique Hotel soaking in its different pools and exploring its gorgeous gardens.

Indoor hot springs pool at Furnas Boutique Hotel
Outdoor hot springs pool at Furnas Boutique Hotel

Streams of hot spring water
bench and path near Furnas Boutique Hotel

protea
Fuscia flowers

Pink flowers in a garden

LAKES

Lakes are another big highlight on São Miguel, which has two of the most beautiful ones I’ve ever seen in my life. The first, Lagoa das Sete Cidades, is actually two twin lakes—one green, one blue—that are visually separated by a bridge. To see them from above, we headed to Miradouro da Boca do Inferno, an absolutely incredible viewpoint. This was our very first stop on São Miguel, and the stunning scenery left us absolutely giddy. The best part? It was nearly totally deserted. Meeting fellow tourists was a rare occasion, and every time we did, we would all excitedly ask each other how we’d heard about the Azores and how we’d gotten there. 

Two lakes of Sete Cidades

Hydrangeas near Sete Cidades
Yellow flowers near a lake

Carly and Betsy near Sete Cidades

We continued on to Miradouro da Vista Do Rei for a different vantage point and finally into the town of Sete Cidades, and down to the lakes themselves. 

Twin lakes of Sete Cidades

Water and mountains
People picnicking by a lake

Ducks near the lake
Two ducks near a lake

Houses in the town of Sete Cidades

São Miguel’s other breathtaking lake is Lagoa do Fogo, which we were lucky enough to see without cloud cover. Once again, we saw this one from different vantage points, hiking down to the lakeshore and back up and then driving all the way to the top of the hill for a different view.

Lagoa do Fogo from above

Lake and pine trees
People at the shore of Lagoa do Fogo

Carly in front of Lagoa do Fogo

Another must-do: Sunset at Mosteiros. Don’t think I have to explain this one. 

Sun setting over the ocean

SEE NORDESTE

Driving around Nordeste was also insanely beautiful. We set out on our last day with a list of miradouros to hit, and while we couldn’t locate all of them, the ones we did see were unbelievable. 

Butterfly and flowers near the ocean
Ocean cliffs

On the way back from Nordeste to Ponta Delgada we also stopped to see the waterfalls at Ribeira dos Caldeirões, which was an easy and beautiful stop that I’d highly recommend. 

Waterfall from below
Garden of hydrangeas

PONTA DELGADA

If you’re staying in Ponta Delgada, one fun way to spend an hour or two close to home is the Arruda pineapple plantation in the Fajã de Baixo neighborhood. They have pineapples at all different stages of maturation, so you can see how they change as they grow! Plus, you can buy pineapple to eat, and it’s amazing.

Pineapple inside a greenhouse
Building covered in pink flowers

Lastly, Ponta Delgada is a small city, but it’s worth walking around for an hour or so for some nice views and street art.

Street art on a building
Rainbow painted cobblestones

Port at Ponta Delgada

ON MY NEXT AZORES TRIP… 

With more time, I definitely would have gone whale watching; it’s supposed to be great in the Azores. More hiking and visiting at least one other island would have been on the agenda, too. I probably also would have done an overnight at Furnas Boutique Hotel and spent the second day there doing a longer visit to Parque Terra Nostra. I only got to poke my head in for a couple quick photos, but I’d love to have gotten in the orange water and strolled the botanical gardens!

MILES MATH

FLIGHT

To get from Lisbon to Ponta Delgada and back, Betsy and I each redeemed 25,000 United MileagePlus miles for flights with Star Alliance partner TAP. Revenue tickets were running above $600, so this one felt like a great use of the miles. To learn more about using your miles to book partner flights, here’s a primer on how airline miles work!

HOTEL

Luckily, Azor is member of Marriott, which was Starwood at the time. We redeemed 21,000 Starpoints total for our three nights, a sum that would be equal to 63,000 points in today’s Marriott currency. 

For our last night, we chose to pay $269.16 for Marina Atlantico, and I booked it through Hotels.com. I don’t generally like booking through third parties, but I make an exception for Hotels.com because of its stay 10 nights, get one night free policy. Those free nights have definitely come in handy at properties that aren’t part of points programs I participate in.

RENTAL CAR

I put our rental car (easily acquired at the airport—don’t forget to reserve an automatic car if you can’t drive stick!) on the Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x on travel (and utilize the CSR’s rental car insurance benefit). For gas, I used the Citi ThankYou Premier to earn 3x as well; Citi puts gas under the “travel” umbrella.

For more on earning and using points and miles to travel for free, visit the 52 Cities free resource library or register to join me on a future masterclass! For more on the Azores, check out these posts on the perfect four-day itinerary for São Miguel and things you should know before your trip.

Have you heard of the Azores, or have you taken your own Azores trip? If so, how did you hear about them? Are they on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments! >>

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Four days in the Azores Islands
Four days in the Azores
Azores what to see where to stay where to eat and more

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