Sao Miguel in the Azores is the ‘Green Island’
The exuberant landscapes that blanket this beautiful paradise, from mountain high cliffs to deep valleys of fertile vegetation, are breathtaking. The location of Sao Miguel is in the north Atlantic ocean, hundreds of miles away from industrial pollution. The gentle gulf stream breeze makes Sao Miguel a unique region filled with natural bio reserves, volcanic thermal springs, and endless amounts of exotic flowers. Natural beauty is only one of the reasons why this small island is considered the #1 island destination in the world for 2016, according to FlightTracker.com. The website analyzes the searches of 50 million queries a month and provides a list of reasons why this small island is receiving so much international recognition. According to FlightTracker, searches from all over the globe increased 63% with the topic of Sao Miguel and searches into flights to the island, showing a trend of nature filled tourists who are planning their trips to Sao Miguel.The six regions (counties) of Sao Miguel – Ponta Delgada, Ribeira Grande, Povoação, Vila Franca, Nordeste, and Lagoa all represent the combined beauty of this island. Each one of these regions has countless unique spots of interest that attract tourists who love nature from all over the world. Sao Miguel is predominantly a rural area, with a saying that “there are more cows on the island than people”. The island has some very tranquil beaches that are perfect for families that want to enjoy a swim in the calm waters, as well as beaches known for their surfing and big waves that are generally more suitable for novice swimmers. It is always good to check the flags on all the beaches, which indicates the tide levels with green being the safest, yellow moderate to red indicating danger.The island’s capital, Ponta Delgada, has 66,000 people and home to many of the island’s finest botanical gardens. The Jose do Canto Garden, Antonio Borges Garden, and The Palace of Marquis Jacome Correia has been host to world leaders (President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, etc.) and garden enthusiasts for over a century.It is here, with thousands of plants and flowers that have been imported from all over the world a century earlier, that make these gardens a mecca in the spring and summer months. The terminal for the cruise lines that enter the bay of Ponta Delgada is centered right downtown and is the perfect place to get a horse and buggy tour of the capital city. The carriages are comfortable and can accommodate 2-5 people per ride. This is an experience of a lifetime having the refreshing ocean breeze in your hair as you admire the amazing architecture and unique cultural points of interest. The fare is negotiated before the ride, and the conductor will take you for a 15-25 minute tour or longer. All this can be arranged before your entry, and I have always found them to speak good English or German.The island has so many landmarks, points of interest, and great churches located in every corner of this island, from the highest peaks to the sea level fisheries where you can buy fresh fish coming right out of the ocean daily. They have everything from tuna, swordfish, many local fishes, and in the summer months, lobster and crabs the size of basketballs. The two fishing villages on the island of Sao Miguel are both located in Ribeira Grande. Rabo de Peixe, which in English translates to “the fishtail,” and the beautiful village of Porto Formoso where they are known for having one of the most beautiful religious celebrations every year in September. Here is where you come when you want fresh fish and octopus and where the restaurants in the area are known for their famous fish soup. The Gorreana tea plantation, Europe’s oldest remaining plantation, and the only place in Europe to produce green tea commercially is found here. The protected conservation site of Sete Cidades is by far one of the most visited spots on the island of Sao Miguel. Its picturesque green and blue merging lagoons are one of the most photographed places on the island as well. The legend of these two lagoons has been told for centuries in Portugal. Considered one of the top 7 Natural Wonders of Portugal, the story of the shepherd boy and the young princess who cried until she filled the lagoon with her tears is now just legend, and the real story and beauty behind these beautiful lakes are based more on geography and nature than tears for a lost shepherd boy. With magnificent trees, surrounded by fences of blue hydrangea and Azaleas as far as the eye can see, makes this the perfect spot to come for a hike. The roads can be a little challenging, so it is good to have a driver or take one of the tours offered, which includes beverages and stops at some of the best spots on the island. In the county of Povoacao is the romantic spa town of Furnas. An international destination for those seeking the finest treatments that nature has to offer. It is here that the island has some of the best hotels and restaurants. This quaint resort town is filled with culture and tradition. The hotels here offer amazing outdoor water springs and thermal pools.Located in the middle of one of the most impeccable botanical gardens in Portugal is the Terra Nostra Park. It has a large, natural volcanic heated thermal pool, rich in iron, as indicated by the water’s color. A haven throughout history, this area was home to some of the island’s finest summer chalets and was the center of much culture and tourism since the 1700s. This is the most outstanding garden in all of Portugal, with current owners since the 1930s being the wealthiest family in the Azores. The Bensaude family (Group), a family business that owns and protects some of the most beautiful locations on the island. Just over 30 years ago, the Bensaude family hired Mr. Fernando Costa to become a head gardener in which he spent hundreds of hours searching gardens from all over the world to enhance his project. He restored and developed this garden to what it is today, surrounded by thousands of plants perfectly manicured with elaborate animal designs carved into some shrubs.