Five reasons to return to São Miguel
1. Parque Grená
It was opened in December last year, but closed shortly afterward due to the pandemic and only opened again in July, so it remains one of the main novelties on the island. There are 18 hectares of forest, with about five kilometers of trails to traverse, between waterfalls, small viewpoints and rest or picnic areas, and an old palace in ruins.
The property's history goes back to 1832, when the land next to Furnas lagoon was acquired by an English traveler, to build a summer house here - something that would only happen in 1858, already by the next owner, Vines, then English consul. in Ponta Delgada. It gives the farm its name Grená in honor of the woman, longing for the summer vacation she spent in Ireland in childhood, in a family home with the same name.
Over the years, the property passed through different hands until, in 1987, the Portuguese government acquired it, with the aim of recovering the historic building and hosting high-ranking figures of the State there visiting São Miguel. The idea never came to fruition and Grená was abandoned until it was donated to the regional government of the Azores in 2015. Three years later, it was sold by public auction to a group of foreign investors for 500 thousand euros and, after a year of cleaning and requalification works, opened to the public, managed by Feliz Terra.
The manor house remains in ruins and cannot be visited (only from the outside), but Norberto Botelho, the company's administrator, told the Lusa agency in December that the objective is to recover the building for tourism purposes, although he did not commit to deadlines or advance details of the project.
One of the main attractions of the park is the “jumping of the English”, right at the top of the slope. But to climb up there, you have to climb 633 steps on a new wooden staircase. In the summer months, the waterfall does not usually have a lot of water, so we chose to look down here, we confess. But “it's worth it”, despite being a “very steep” and “a little hard” climb, guarantee Liliana and Sérgio, she from here, he from Seixal, both on vacation on the island. Just to get up there it takes about 35 to 40 minutes, step by step, says Sérgio, 28 years old. It is the first time that he visits Grená and the park, he says, is “spectacular”. "It is very accessible."
For some, the problem may be in the price: entry costs 10 € (for residents in the archipelago the value entitles them to five tickets, for the rest it is a single, free ticket for children up to 12 years old). But, to access it, you have to go through the Furnas boiler park, which costs 3 € (with the right to parking). The ideal is to take the opportunity to visit both spaces in a single trip (do not forget that the stews are removed from the fumaroles during the morning).
You can also choose to start the walk in the Lagoa das Furnas garden (paid parking) and be part of the trail around the water mirror to Grená (between 30 and 40 minutes; the complete route, with 9.5 km, takes about three hours). Both the lagoon garden and the boiler area have picnic spaces, ideal for a lunch break or snack. Finish the tour, on arrival or departure, with a pass through the Pico do Ferro viewpoint, for panoramic views over the lagoon and the village of Furnas.
2. Trail of Quatro Fábricas da Luz
This pedestrian trail, near Água de Alto (Vila Franca do Campo municipality), was officially opened in 2017 but is still little known. It is a great suggestion for those who are exploring this area of the island and want to stretch their legs on a relatively easy trail with the right to waterfall baths or an alternative for those days when the lagoons hide in the fog and the weather closes in São Miguel.
The trail is called Quatro Fábricas da Luz because, along the way, you will find ruins of old units of electricity production, generated from the force of the water that descends from Lagoa do Fogo, towards the sea. They date back to the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, portraying the beginning of the production and distribution of electricity from renewable sources on the island, installed by José Cordeiro. Nowadays, the main source of renewable energy in São Miguel is geothermal (over 45%), while hydroelectric energy represents about 5%.
The marked pedestrian route starts next to the water reservoir that currently supplies the Mini Hydro Power Plant of Ribeira da Praia, built-in 1990, one of the two that remain in operation. Then you go down to the buildings of Fábrica da Cidade, in operation between 1904 and 1974. In ruins, you still have old equipment, such as hydraulic turbines, alternators, or water pipes.
Shortly thereafter, you arrive at the old Fábrica da Vila, the first hydroelectric power station on the Ribeira da Praia, built-in 1899 to supply Vila Franca do Campo. The path goes through a forest of incense and acacia trees, passes under a viaduct, and close to fields of cultivation to end in the “waterfall of secrecy”. The water is cold but the dip is rewarding. For adventurers wanting to jump rope into the water, the “well of the 30 kings” is a little further ahead. The trail ends next to the houses at Lugar da Praia, where the old Praia Factory is located, meanwhile transformed into the Electricity Museum.
The route is linear and is 2.1 km long, covered in about 1h30. If you have to return to your starting point on foot, keep in mind that everything will be going down to the waterfall, and then going up - or vice versa, if you leave your car near Lugar da Praia.
Not to be missed on a stroll through this part of the island: Vila Franca do Campo (and its famous queijadas or the photogenic islet, accessible by river transport next to the pier) and Caloura, for dives, conversations with fishermen or seafood snacks, fresh fish at the famous Bar da Caloura. In 2017, the same owners opened A Casa do Abel, in Água de Pau, a restaurant specializing in meat that, we are told, is also succeeding, although we have not had time to prove it. For panoramic views over the Caloura, climb to the Pisão viewpoint.
3. Picnic at Lagoa das Sete Cidades
The Vista do Rei is on all postcards and, if you take a jump to the viewpoint of Grota do Inferno (the small trail leaves next to the Canary Lagoon), you can even see the four lagoons that nest in this area of the western tip of the island: Rasa on the left, Santiago on the bottom, Azul on the right and, with some dose of imagination, Verde there in the middle, composing the iconic Sete Cidades lagoon. But there are few who end up going down to the banks of the water mirror.
On the bridge that separates the two lakes cried by the lovers who star the legend of Sete Cidades, follow the dirt road from Cerrado das Freiras to the garden of Lagoa Azul. And get ready for a picnic. On summer weekends, when the weather is perfect, many people from São Miguel take the opportunity to have lunch outdoors. The picnic parks seem to sprout from every corner of the road or piece of garden and are all well composed of people, at least on Saturday and Sunday.
As the Lagoa Azul garden is large, there is plenty of space to spread the blankets and socialize. César Fernandes brought his family and a friendly couple, all from neighboring parishes in the municipality of Ponta Delgada. With no summer parties in the villages due to covid-19, this is a way to get together for a different day, he says. They usually have a picnic "four or five times" a year, "whenever it is possible" to join the group, and they end up coming to Sete Cidades because "it is closer", it has "good places" and "nature".
The drum of a washing machine was used to build a grill, brought from home (to pick one of those available in the picnic area, in stone, you have to arrive early, warns César), and the fire is almost ready to bake some sardines , bifanas and chicken already seasoned. To accompany, potatoes stuffed with ground pepper and carrot cake, among other delicacies.
4. Ribeira dos Caldeirões
It was the most imposing waterfall that we crossed these days, both in height and in strength of flow, like this all year. And you don't even have to get out of the car to see it, as it breaks so close to the road. However, it is well worth parking and touring the entire Ribeira dos Caldeirões Natural Park.
It is located in the parish of Achada, in the municipality of Nordeste, less explored for tourism and therefore still has much to explore. It turns out to be one of the favorite areas for canyoning in São Miguel, but the park can also be explored on foot.
The trail through this protected area, which nestles in the valleys traced by the Guilherme river, in the Serra da Tronqueira, is short and leads us through several waterfalls (you can dive in at least one of them) and five water mills ( one of them open to visits to the mill, in the interior). They date back to the 16th century and there are many others in the Northeast, once the only source of income for many families in the region.
The miller's houses were transformed into a craft store, tourist office, rural tourism unit and cafe. Along the way, the laurel forest mantle and tree ferns stand out, even though the container, an invasive plant, is in wide expansion.
5. Ferraria: thermal water in times of COVID
It is not that Ferraria is properly a poorly kept secret of São Miguel, but it gains prominence in times of pandemic. As a precautionary measure against the COVID-19 outbreak, the most famous hot dives on the island are forbidden to the public - read the thermal water tank at Terra Nostra Park, Poça da Dona Beija, Caldeira Velha, or even the Ferraria thermal baths - leaving only a few corners known to the locals and two beaches that, being Atlantic, are next to thermal springs.
This is the case of Praia do Fogo, in the parish of Ribeira Quente, where a strip of sand is close to several underwater hydrothermal vents, which heat the water, especially at low tide. And the natural pool of Ferraria, in Ginetes, a tongue carved in the volcanic rock where a flow of hot water crosses with the cool of the ocean. The resort has changing rooms, lifeguards, and other valences. But, to walk on the rocks and go down to the water it is advisable to wear water shoes. Given the dimensions of the natural pool, even though the COVID-19 has emptied the island of tourists, it is a popular place among locals, especially at weekends. To catch the hot, hot water, you have to go during the low tide period.