São Miguel offers the largest area of land in the group of Azores islands and while weeks can be spent uncovering its treasures, you won't want to forgo an opportunity to see the other 8 isles. In fact, skipping from island to island by boat or plane is a popular choice for those who take the time to travel to this lush green archipelago.
Known as the "Green Island", São Miguel looks like a small Ireland, minus the hundreds of castles, Celtic culture and Guinness or whiskey tours. Instead, tourists will see a strong maritime/Portuguese culture, waterfalls, geysers, a mild temperate climate and lots of wine. It is a great place to go for hiking, scuba diving, fishing, water sports, whale watching and many other outdoor activities. Although flight prices drop significantly in the winter, summer is the best time to go.
Word to the wise, you may fall in love with this cozy spot as early as your first footsteps fall along its cobblestone streets. As is also the case in mainland Portugal, little bars sit on each corner where coffee drinkers enjoy their many espressos (known as cafés) per day. It's common to see children running around imitating their favorite futebol players and men or women walking away from the docks with fresh fish. Produce is very inexpensive in this area and the fruit markets are as plentiful as the coffee shops.
The cuisine in São Miguel, as with the other islands, is mouthwatering and will leave you satiated for days (though you won't want to wait longer than a couple of hours for your next meal fix). Influenced by its meager history as geographically isolated and financially feeble, the cuisine is composed of simple ingredients, most of which is caught or grown and gathered locally. Despite this, recipes create dishes that explode with flavor.
Cooking styles are influenced by both the land and sea. One famous dish from São Miguel is the cozido which literally means "cooked". Potatoes, cabbage, carrots, various Portuguese sausages and slices of pork and beef meat are placed into a pot that is then lowered into the volcanically-steamed ground and left to cook. The main location where this occurs is Furnas, a civil parish just inland from the coastal. Cozido is a filling dish that can feed multiple people, and watching the process take place can be an interesting activity for foodies and geologists.
Plenty of fish and seafood dishes fill up many menus and one of the most famous items is codfish, known as bacalhau. Azoreans, from São Miguel and elsewhere, have perfected many ways to cook and serve bacalhau, from grilling to baking. Also are sardines (sardinhas), shrimp (gambas), clams (amêijoas), crab (caranguejo), and limpets (lapas).
Bread-lovers will want to try the bolo lêvedo, a sweet and buttery bread that looks like a large English Muffin. This makes a great breakfast item when sliced in half, toasted and enjoyed with a generous spread of salted Azorean butter.
Tea and pineapple are two markets in São Miguel that may surprise visitors. Fruitarians will love the pineapple, ananas, that are locally-grown, and the A. Arruda Pineapple Plantation will let you on their property for free to view the process of growing and harvesting these sweet fruits.
Did you know that São Miguel is the location of Europe's oldest tea plantation? You do now! Also, at the moment of writing this article, it's the only tea plantation on the continent. In addition to its taste, you may enjoy knowing that these teas are free of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and preservatives.
Local extra-curricular activities
Do you love a good party? If the answer is yes, this will be the perfect destination. Açoreanos (Azoreans) are notorious for organizing feasts to celebrate holidays, saints (this is a predominantly Catholic region), seasons and anything else they can think of. One of the most popular feasts in São Miguel is called the "Festa do Chicharro". Held every July in Ribeira Quente, a small coastal town hugged by ocean and mountains, this feast attracts thousands of visitors for a full weekend of music, camping on the beach, and delicious local food.
After days of hiking, camping and partying, you may want to relax, and São Miguel has the perfect place. The caldeiras or hot water springs are located in tranquil woodsy settings in a few areas around the island. Late at night, it is possible to soak your weary body in these natural hot tubs to ease away the stress (or energy) from the day.
Parks also freckle the town, full with sitting areas, mineral-filled swimming spots, zoos and food stands.
Simply driving around will help you uncover many beautiful spots. The island accommodates picnickers with many tiki-style sitting areas alongside the road. And as you approach the western side of the island, don't forget to look for the crater lakes at Sete Cidades municipality. These kissing lakes are a stunning play on your senses, as one is blue and the other is green.