To discover the island of Sao Miguel is to discover the essence of nature and wonder. The exuberant landscapes that blanket this beautiful paradise from mountain high cliffs to deep valleys of fertile vegetation is breathtaking. The location of Sao Miguel in the north Atlantic, hundreds of miles away from industrial pollution with a soft gulf stream breeze, makes it a unique region filled with Natural bio reserves, volcanic thermal springs and endless amounts of exotic flowers. The natural beauty is only of the reasons why this small island is considered the #1 tourist destination in the world for 2016 according to FlightTracker.com which analyzes the searches of 50 million queries a month, and provided 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 6 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, where a saying that “there are more cows on the island then people” has always existed. A small population of 140,000 people, the relationship between the people and the environment have always been in harmony with respect to the natural elements of the island’s unique history; never forgetting the importance of preservation and conservation.The island’s seasides with its majestic blue sea offers a variety of waters depending on their location and the bays that surround them. The island has some very tranquil beaches that are perfect for families that want to enjoy a swim in the calm waters, to beaches that are known for their surfing and waves that are generally more suitable for novice swimmers due to the tide. It is always good to check the flags on all the beaches indicating the tide with green being safest, yellow moderate to red indicating Danger.The capital of the island, Ponta Delgada has a population of 66,000 people and home to many off the island’s finest botanical gardens. The Jose do Canto garden, Antonio Borges, and Palace of Marquis Jacome Correia have been host to world leaders (President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill etc) and garden enthusiasts for over a century with thousands of plants and flowers imported from all over the world a century earlier make’s 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 if you are lucky enough to get one that’s available. The carriages are comfortable and can accommodate 2-5 people per ride. The experience of a lifetime: having the fresh ocean breeze in your hair as you admire the amazing architecture and unique cultural spots while the sound of the horse clicking their feet on the cobblestone streets only adds to the magical experience. 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 prior to your entry and I have always found them to speak good English or German and are very fair in their pricing for such a once in a lifetime experience.The island has so many landmarks, points of interest and outstanding 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 all cleaned and packaged for you at the dock. They everything from tuna, swordfish, many local fishes and in the summer months lobster and crabs the size of basketballs filled with the sweet juicy flavor, only the Azores islands clean waters could produce. The two fishing villages on the island of Sao Miguel are both located in the county of Ribeira Grande. Rabo de Peixe which in English translates to “the fish tail” to the beautiful village of Porto Formoso where they are known for having one of the most beautiful religious celebrations every year in September in honor of Nossa Senhora da Graça ” Our lady of Grace. Here is where you come when you want fresh fish and octopus, where the restaurants in the region 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 in the north coast of the island where you can tour the plantation and see a 19th century working tea factory and the breathtaking ocean views that is offered through the marked trail through the plantation.The protected conservation site of Sete Cidades is by far one of the most visited spots on the island of Sao Miguel and its picturesque green and blue merging lagoons is 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 is 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, walk, or lunch with anything in between. The roads can be a little challenging so it is good to have a driver or take one of the tours offered, that include beverages and stops at some of the best spots on the island to grab and snack and take a photo.In the county of Povoacao is the romantic spa town of Furnas. An international destination for those who seek the finest treatments that nature has to offer through the endless water treatments from the volcanic boiling geysers that surround this region to the thermal pool and spa treatments offered at some of the most beautiful, enchanted hotels you will ever experience. Located in the middle of one of the most complete botanical gardens in all of Portugal is the Terra Nostra park with its large naturally volcanic heated thermal pool, rich in iron as indicated by the colour of the water. A haven for the elite 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 1700’s. Built on the former residence of the US ambassador Thomas Hickling known as Yankee Hall this was purchased by The Marquês de Praia e Monforte where a large summer home was built and the thermal pool was created surrounding an elaborate garden created by his wife. This is the most outstanding garden in all of Portugal they say with current owners since the 1930’s being the wealthiest family in the Azores the Bensaude family (Group), which is 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 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 all perfectly manicured with elaborate animal designs carved into some of the shrubs.