The Magic of the Macaronesia Island of Sao Miguel
Most people only recently began hearing about the Azores Islands, and that is because of the recent tourism boom that has struck the region. The Azores, which comprise of nine islands, is located in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean; 1500km off the coast of Portugal. These breathtaking islands were uninhabited until they were discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century. One of the privileges of growing up in such a pristine environment was the many benefits of outdoor activities that invariably lure people outside. Sao Miguel, the largest and most populated of the nine islands, is a gift to anyone looking to explore the magnificent flora and fauna that exists here. A photographer’s dream, the many unique settings, and the backdrops of the Azorean landscape are only one reason why the region is continuously being acknowledged for its captivating natural environment. A favorite among travel writers from Conde Nest, Travel and Leisure, National Geographic, and many more, the experience felt when visiting the Azores is one that you only feel when traveling in particular parts of the world. This island is one of those places.
The countryside is filled with green pastures and grazing cows, goats, and sheep while the farmers tend to their herds. The coffee shops, bakeries, and fruit markets are busy with the young ladies gathering freshly made bread and cheeses for lunch. It is prevalent as a predominantly agriculture-based society. Many farmers and fishermen wake up early to go to work, return home for lunch, and then go back to work, which is common throughout Europe. It is here on the island of Sao Miguel that exists the Cha Gorreana tea plantation; it’s the only location of its kind in Europe. A 19th-century family-owned and operated tea plantation, it is here you can come and enjoy the many flavors of natural, pesticides free grown teas that they grow and process right on-site at the factory.
The history of this plantation is rather impressive. It has many unique sites and facts, one being that it became the only plantation due to the rise in electricity prices here in the early 20th century. However, Cha Gorreana had years prior brought the finest engineers to the company to design the waterfall and small ravine that passed through the estate to power the factory hydro-electrically, which was one of the first of its kind in the country. This is a must-see when visiting the island of Sao Miguel, and the teas are delicious and of very high quality. It is no wonder why their product, which has been exported throughout Europe for decades, has introduced so many people to a region they may never otherwise have.
There are countless restaurants and bed and breakfasts on the island, and this is where you want to get a taste of authentic Azorean cooking. The meat and seafood are always fresh since this is a region with more cattle than people and produces a very high quality, organic, and grass-fed product for the consumer. I would recommend seafood. You can ask to see the locally caught fish of the day where it will be presented to you or ask your server for the daily specials. The chefs and cooks are outstanding, and it is always a pleasure dining out in the Azores as the food is excellent and affordable.
A fun thing to experience on the island is the food cooked in the volcano geysers in Furnas. It is here that one of the many traditions associated with the Azores takes place. Here you fill your pot with the meats, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, onions, and other vegetables and then cover it with a lid, wrap it in a bag that is provided, and then buries it in the designated holes with a rope on the top, tied to the bag. This is usually done early in the morning, as it takes a few hours to cook the food. There are many options when deciding how you want to eat this meal, whether it is at a restaurant, which many will allow you to bring it to them, and they will prepare it for you on a platter with bread and cheeses, and you pay a nominal fee for the preparation. Another option is to have a picnic in one of the countless locations throughout the island that have outstanding ocean views, fire pit BBQs, and of course, stone-made picnic tables and benches.