São Miguel, The Green Island of Azores

Written By Lara Silva

The largest island in the Azores, São Miguel is known as the Green Island. If you’ve only seen a few photographs of the Azores, chances are you have seen photos of São Miguel.

São Miguel is part of the Eastern Group of the Archipelago with the island of Santa Maria that is 80 kilometers away. The island has around 140,000 inhabitants, with 45,000 people residing in Ponta Delgada, the island’s largest city.

The island was discovered between 1427 and 1431, after the island of Santa Maria. It was initially settled in 1440 by Portuguese people from the regions of Estremadura, Algarve, and Alentejo. The island was later on home to various groups including Moors, Jews, and French foreigners. Ponta Delgada became the capital in 1546. The capital had before been Vila Franca do Campo, but after the earthquake of 1522, this area was destroyed.

São Miguel is the perfect spot for those who want to experience the classic Azorean life, as well as a larger city. You can’t find this combination on any other Azorean island. The island has so much to offer. From diving, hiking, surfing, and biking, São Miguel is great for the whole family. From the São Miguel iconic pineapple plantations to the cozido das furnas, the island has a rich culture and Azorean cuisine.

What to do in São Miguel?

It is no surprise that the largest island in the Azores will have the most things to do. We have selected our top 5 things to do in São Miguel.

1. Sete Cidades

On the West side of the island, Sete Cidades is a municipality in São Miguel and probably the most famous place to visit on the island. Here you can visit the Lagoa das Sete Cidades, a large lake divided by a bridge into two parts: one green and one blue. Head to the Vista do Rei viewpoint where you can enjoy the best view of the lagoon. The Lagoa das Sete Cidades is the perfect spot for kayaking. Even though Sete Cidades is known for this particular lake, there are over 11 lakes in the municipality that you observe from miradouros (viewpoints).

Photo by Chris Slupski (Unsplash)

2. Visit the Capital Ponta Delgada

The capital since 1546, Ponta Delgada is a cosmopolitan town that is full of historic flavor. Around 70,000 people live in the capital, around half of the whole island population. The best part is that you can walk around the city on foot and that it has the best restaurants on the island.

The capital is perfect for a day of exploring modern Azorean life. Ponta Delgada is known for its historic churches and unique cobbled streets. Get lost through the capital discovering these. An area to not miss is Avenida Infante D. Henrique, a seaside promenade that runs from a military fortress to Calheta. The path has the classic Portuguese black and white cobblestoned floors.

Make sure to also look for the City Gates or Portas da Cidade, this monument represents how the capital is like the entrance gates of Azores. These gates were built in the 18th century and are located in the old city harbor, the first line of defense of the island at the time.

3. Furnas

In the eastern part of São Miguel you have Furnas, the thermal hotspot of the Azores. This place is like no other. You can visit two boiling caldeiras in action, as well as hot spring pools for swimming.

There are over thirty geysers around the Furnas village. These are essentially bubbling, steaming caldeiras that smell of sulfur. Temperatures range from 70ºC to 100ºC, which is perfect for cooking. You need to try a Cozido das Furnas here. This is similar to the classic Portuguese cozido, a meat stew with cabbage, carrots, potatoes, blood sausage, pork and beef. But this is no regular stew – it’s cooked by a volcano. This dish is placed in a metal pot and buried in volcanic soil to be slow-cooked by the natural heat of the caldeiras.

Another thing to do in Furnas is to visit the 200-year-old Parque Terra Nostra. Here you can swim in a popular orange geothermal swimming pool that’s 35ºC. 

4. Hiking

São Miguel has the most hiking trails in the Azores with over 20 to explore. This is a great way to explore the island and get into those secret spots that look like a fairytale. Make sure to hike on “official” trails that are taken care of by the Azores Tourism Broad. These are properly maintained and signed with hiking markers throughout so people do not get lost. You can look up the official hike trails here. You can find the routes on a map, the duration of the hike, as well as the elevation levels, and more. The best hiking trails in São Miguel are Lagoa do Fogo (11 KM, 4h00), Sete Cidades (7.7 KM, 2h00), and Lagoa das Furnas (9.5 KM, 3h00).

5. Pineapple Plantation

São Miguel, as well as all of the Azores, is known for its sweet pineapples. Pineapple seeds from America were introduced on the island in the 19th century. Pineapples are mostly grown in greenhouses and it can take up to 2 years to grow an Azorean pineapple? They are a bit different from other pineapples as they are smaller and sweeter in taste.

There are many pineapple plantations but the most popular is Arruda Plantation. You can walk through where these pineapples grow and learn about the time-consuming plantation methods used to produce them. The plantation has a cafe where you can buy pineapple cakes and ice cream.

Photo by Marta Ortigosa (Unsplash)

5. Tea Plantation

The only two tea plantations in Europe are actually in São Miguel. Gorreana and Porto Formoso have been producing black, green, and orange teas since 1883. And they’re all organic! You can enjoy a free tasting and learn a bit more about how the teas are produced sustainably.

View Tours & Day Trips in São Miguel

5 Best Restaurants in São Miguel: Where to eat in São Miguel?

The cuisine from São Miguel is one of the best in the archipelago. Most restaurants are located in the capital Ponta Delgada and are within walking distance of each other. These cobbled streets are filled with restaurants serving Azorean regional dishes, as well as high-end cuisine. Before getting into the best restaurants, you need to know the best things to order. Here are the must-tries in São Miguel.

  • Pineapple
  • Beef steak
  • Tuna
  • Sour cheese
  • Bolos levedos
  • Queijadas da Vila 
  • Cozido das Furnas

Now that you’re ready to order, let’s go through the 5 best restaurants in São Miguel.

1. Restaurante da Associação Agrícola de São Miguel

One of the most popular restaurants on the island, this restaurant is was founded by a society of local producers. This place is known for its beef steak prepared with local beef. You can choose to have it accompanied by a sauce, the best being the pepper or cream sauce. You should also sample their selection of regional wines. You can have a meal from €20 to €15 a person.

2. Casa da Rosa

This restaurant has a relaxed and comfy environment. Located next to Alcides, this place has live music and features Portuguese food, as well as international dishes. It is very affordable and you can also get some vegetarian options here. You can have a meal here for €15.

3. Tony’s

This is an iconic restaurant for Cozido das Furnas. Founded in 1984 and located in Furnas, this place makes the best cozido. This meat stew is slow cooked by the natural heat of the caldeiras by being buried in volcanic soil. If you want to see this, before you head to Tony’s for lunch, go to the hot springs where you can find a few tablets labeled “Tony’s”. A cozido for one person costs €13 and €20 for two people.

4. A Tasca 

Located in the center of Ponta Delgada, this restaurant’s name literally means tavern. The white and blue exterior provides an authentic Azorean experience. Do book a table because this place is always busy. Try their octopus with roasted potatoes and their tuna steak. A meal here costs €15.

5. Quinta dos Sabores 

This place is a farm to table restaurant. They only use organic products that they have farmed themselves. This family-run restaurant offers an affordable fine dining experience with unique flavors and aesthetically pleasing dishes. A meal here costs between €30 to €50.

Transportation: How can you get around the island of São Miguel?

The transportation in São Miguel is not great. The bus system is designed for the locals, not tourists looking to get to sights. However, the buses are quite cheap as tickets costs between €0.30 to €3.

To get around an island, we definitely recommend renting a car. In fact, this is the best way to visit any island in the Azores. You can pick up a rental car from the airport and return it when you are flying back. We recommend renting a car in advance because especially in the summer months, these run out fast. You can rent a manual car starting at €60 a day.

If you cannot rent a car, you can always use the taxi services. This will be a lot more expensive though. For example, a taxi from the airport to Furnas will set you back €40.

5 Best Places to Stay in São Miguel: Where to stay in São Miguel?

1. SENSI Azores Nature and Spa

If you are looking for a five-star experience, SENSI is the place to go. This place has an astonishing view of the ocean and is decorated in a boho-chic style. SENSI features an indoor and outdoor pool, a garden, and a spa. Ponta Delgada is a 30-minute drive away, which is not uncommon on the island. A large room with a sea view costs around €120 a night.

2. White Exclusive Suites & Vilas

This place’s name does it justice, it is an exclusive accommodation in Lagoa. White Exclusive Suites & Vilas features a restaurant, an outdoor pool, and a garden. This place is only a 15-minute drive to Ponta Delgada. You can get a room here for around €200 a night.

3. Herdade do Ananás

This guesthouse is an eco-friendly accommodation option in Ponta Delgada, the capital. Herdade do Ananás is known for its great customer service and for providing a luxurious experience. This place features a garden and a shared lounge. You can get a room here for around €150 a night.

4. Quinta dos Bravos

Located between Ponta Delgada and Ribeira Grande, this place has a 3000 square meters garden and an outdoor swimming pool. You are less than 20 minutes away from Ponta Delgada. You can get a room here for around €90 a night.

5. Atlantic 3 Bicas

If you are looking for affordable accommodation, this place in Furnas is a great option. It is only 90 meters from Parque Terra nostra where you can take a swim in a 35ºC geothermal swimming pool. Atlantic 3 Bicas has a gorgeous garden and shared lounge. A room here will only cost you €55 a night.

Final Thoughts

The largest island in the Azores, São Miguel, offers so much to see and do. São Miguel has both the cosmopolitan and the island side. It is no surprise that over 140,000 people choose to live here. If you are visiting the Azores, you cannot miss visiting Green Island. From discovering the local cuisine, to hiking and visiting the lagoons, this island will hold a special place in your heart.

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