Loosely inspired by a true story, the Portuguese Netflix series “Turn of the Tide” is captivating audiences all over Europe and the American continent. What you might not know is that the series takes place in the small fishing village of Rabo de Peixe, located near Ribeira Grande, on the stunning Azorean Island of São Miguel.
While the gripping narrative of “Turn of the Tide” follows four friends seeking a better life due to the packages of cocaine that float into the isle’s shores from a drug smuggling operation that went awry out at sea, you may also appreciate the incredible landscapes full of wild green forests, winding roads lined with pink and lilac hydrangeas and steep cliffs falling over a rough sea. Well, that is just a very small part of the amazing natural playground the Portuguese archipelago offers. Come with us to unveil the magical beauty of the Azores!
The Azores Archipelago
Discovered by Portuguese navigators in the 15th century, the Azores is an enchanting archipelago strategically located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Comprising nine volcanic islands, this Portuguese territory boasts breath-taking landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and a rich cultural heritage. São Miguel is the largest and most populous island in the Azores. With lush landscapes, crater lakes, hot springs, picturesque towns such as Ponta Delgada, and iconic landmarks such as Furnas Valley and Lagoa do Fogo, it is as if this island gathers the main characteristics of all the islands in one, kind of a showcase. The other eight islands are Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Santa Maria, Graciosa, Flores, and Corvo, the smallest one, with only 17.1 square kilometers (6.6 square miles). Each of these islands possesses incredible charm and natural wonders, making the Azores archipelago a truly diverse and captivating destination.
The Azores’ tourism, particularly focused on São Miguel Island, can be described as having certain limitations due to a deliberate emphasis on preserving nature and a relatively modest level of infrastructure development. This unique approach showcases the commitment of the Azorean people to maintain the pristine beauty of their islands while offering visitors an authentic and sustainable travel experience.
When to visit?
With a unique geographical position, right in the middle of the Atlantic, surrounded by the Gulf Stream and influenced by the trade winds, the Azores benefit from a mild and stable climate throughout the year. One of the key characteristics of the Azorean microclimate is its moderate temperatures. Summers are pleasantly tempered with average highs ranging from 23 to 26º Celsius (73 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit), while winters remain mild with temperatures rarely dropping below 10º Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).
The Azores also experience high humidity and frequent rainfall due to their location in the path of the prevailing winds. However, the weather is known for its variability and rapid changes. Rain showers may be followed by sunshine within a short period, giving rise to the famous saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes." These frequent rain showers contribute to the islands' lush green landscapes and the abundance of diverse flora and fauna. This consistent and comfortable climate makes the Azores an attractive destination for outdoor activities and exploration throughout the year, making it a great choice to visit outside the high season.
Things to see and do in São Miguel Island
Whether you seek adventure, tranquility, or a blend of both, the Azores Islands are an idyllic destination for an incredible holiday. And the most amazing thing is that you do not need to visit all of the nine islands to have the full Azorean experience. You just need to visit one! Yes, São Miguel Island holds a distinct position among its sister islands by encapsulating the diverse natural wonders and unique experiences found throughout the Azores. It stands out as a microcosm of all that the archipelago has to offer, showcasing a remarkable fusion of landscapes, cultural richness, and outdoor adventures.
So, we created a list of the 7 things you must see and do in São Miguel Island for a complete Azorean experience. Believe us, it will make you fall in love with this Portuguese gem.
Relax in the hot springs
Nestled amidst the island's lush greenery, São Miguel offers a unique and rejuvenating experience with several hot springs, each with one with its own uniqueness and character. Caldeira Velha is a hidden gem nestled in a lush forest. You will be greeted by the sight and sound of a picturesque waterfall cascading into a series of thermal pools. The iron-rich waters, heated by the island's volcanic activity, create a soothing and rejuvenating bathing experience, perfect to unwind and connect with nature.
Another must-visit hot spring destination is Terra Nostra. Here, you will find an expansive botanical garden boasting a stunning collection of exotic plants from around the world. Amidst this verdant paradise lies a large thermal pool with warm, iron-rich waters. Relaxing in Terra Nostra's natural hot spring is a truly immersive experience, as you soak in the healing waters amidst a tapestry of vibrant colours and fragrant blooms.
Poça da Dona Beija is another hot spring haven worth exploring. This tranquil complex features a series of thermal pools surrounded by lush tropical gardens. The waters are rich in minerals, offering a soothing and therapeutic experience.
Ferraria presents a unique opportunity to combine hot spring bathing with an exhilarating ocean experience. Situated along the island's rugged coastline, this geothermal site features naturally heated seawater pools. As you dip into the warm waters, you can gaze out at the vast Atlantic Ocean, feeling the contrasting temperatures of the hot springs and cool ocean breezes.
Admire the lagoons
The lagoons of São Miguel showcase the island's volcanic heritage and provide a sense of tranquility and natural wonder. Each lagoon has its unique charm, offering a glimpse into the island's volcanic origins and picturesque landscapes.
Sete Cidades is perhaps the most iconic and breath-taking of all the lagoons on São Miguel. Nestled within a massive volcanic caldera, this dual-coloured wonder mesmerizes with its contrasting hues of blue and green. The Lagoa Azul (Blue Lagoon) and Lagoa Verde (Green Lagoon) appear like a painter's palette, reflecting the surrounding cliffs and lush vegetation. The scenic viewpoints that overlook Sete Cidades offer panoramic vistas that are nothing short of awe-inspiring, making it a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts and photographers alike.
Lagoa do Fogo, translating as the Lake of Fire, is a hidden gem tucked away in a secluded crater. This pristine crater lake is surrounded by dense vegetation and protected by its designation as a nature reserve. The journey to Lagoa do Fogo takes visitors through breath-taking landscapes, passing by charming villages and lush forests. Once you arrive at the lagoon's viewpoint, you will be rewarded with a mesmerizing panorama of the azure waters nestled amidst the volcanic peaks.
For a more off-the-beaten-path experience, Lagoa do Congro provides a secluded and idyllic setting. Located in the heart of São Miguel's interior, this small crater lake is nestled amidst the verdant landscapes of the island. The tranquil surroundings and untouched beauty of Lagoa do Congro offer a peaceful retreat for those looking to connect with nature and escape the crowds.
Lagoa das Furnas is an enchanting lagoon nestled in the Furnas Valley, renowned for its geothermal activity. Steaming hot springs, bubbling mud pots, and fumaroles surround the lake, creating a unique and otherworldly atmosphere. The combination of the lagoon's calm waters and the dramatic volcanic features makes Lagoa das Furnas a captivating sight to behold. Take the opportunity to observe the traditional meal Cozido das Furnas being cooked using geothermal heat and volcanic steam.
Sample the island produce
The island boasts a variety of traditional foods that tantalize the taste buds and showcase the unique flavours and ingredients of the region. One of the most iconic and mouth-watering dishes in São Miguel is the Cozido das Furnas. This traditional meal is a true testament to the island's volcanic landscape. This is a kind of traditional Portuguese dish of Cozido à Portuguesa, so prepared with a variety of meats, traditional Portuguese smoked sausages, vegetables, and root crops. The main difference is that the ingredients are buried in the hot volcanic soil of Furnas, inside large pots, and slowly cooks for several hours using the natural geothermal heat. The result is a flavourful and tender feast that combines the essence of the Azorean ingredients with the magic of the earth's natural cooking techniques.
When it comes to sweet treats, the Bolo Lêvedo takes center stage. This fluffy and slightly sweet bread is a beloved staple of São Miguel's cuisine. Traditionally cooked on hot stone griddles, the Bolo Lêvedo has a unique texture and aroma that make it irresistible. Whether enjoyed plain or toasted and served with local butter or cheeses.
Cheese lovers will delight in the exceptional cheeses produced in São Miguel. The island's fertile pastures provide the perfect grazing grounds for happy cows, resulting in high-quality milk. The locally made cheeses boast distinct flavours and textures that range from mild and creamy to rich and tangy. Sampling these artisanal cheeses is a must for any culinary adventurer.
São Miguel's volcanic soil and mild climate also contribute to the cultivation of unique and delicious pineapples. The island's pineapple plantations are a testament to the Azorean agricultural ingenuity. Grown in greenhouses called "estufas," the pineapples thrive in a warm and humid environment. The result is a sweet and juicy fruit with a distinct tropical taste.
No culinary exploration of São Miguel is complete without a taste of the renowned Azorean tea. The mild and humid climate of the Azores creates ideal conditions for tea cultivation, being the only place in Europe to produce tea, and is highly regarded for its quality. Accompany it with the famous Queijadas de Vila Franca do Campo. These small, round pastries are made with a rich and creamy cheese filling, that offers a heavenly combination of textures and flavours.
Visit the ring-shaped islet
Nestled within the larger embrace of São Miguel Island lies a small paradise of enchantment: the captivating islet of Vila Franca do Campo, located opposite the village of Vila Franca do Campo, about 1 kilometre off the coast. Formed from the remnants of an ancient submerged volcano, this mesmerizing location has become one of the island's most sought-after tourist attractions, especially after serving as a stage for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Championship.
Designated as a Natural Reserve, the islet's crater walls are adorned with a tapestry of endemic vegetation, painting a lush and vibrant portrait of nature's splendor. Within this captivating haven lies a natural pool of unparalleled beauty, boasting an almost perfectly circular shape. This aquatic sanctuary connects harmoniously with the sea through a narrow passage known as Boquete. Facing the island's northern coast, this gateway acts as a guardian, repelling the relentless force of the ocean's turbulence, and ensuring a serene and tranquil haven within.
Go hike and discover the waterfalls
There is no better way to discover São Miguel stunning natural treasures than by walking its fabulous trails. This island is a true haven for hiking enthusiasts, with a plethora of routes that showcase incredible natural attractions, including mesmerizing waterfalls. Each trail offers a unique experience, catering to all levels of difficulty and leaving you in awe of the island's overwhelming beauty.
The Sanguinho Trail begins in the quaint town of Faial da Terra and will transport you through a lush forest to the breathtaking Salto do Prego waterfall, where the rushing waters gracefully descend, creating a paradise-like lagoon at your feet. The sheer beauty of the waterfall, coupled with the enchanting natural amphitheatre that cradles it, will leave you utterly spellbound.
For lovers of waterfalls and lagoons, the Moinho Félix Trail is an absolute must. This captivating circular trail unveils three more exhilarating waterfalls on São Miguel: the Cascata do Homem, the Cascata do Teófilo, and the Cascata da Gruta. As you navigate the path, you will also encounter the breathtaking Miradouro da Rocha, where you will be rewarded with a panoramic view over the island's magnificent north coast.
Then there is the Salto do Cabrito Trail featuring a waterfall that stands tall at a majestic 40 meters. Its powerful descent culminates in a pristine lagoon of crystalline waters. As you stand in awe of its grandeur, you will realize that the adventure does not end there. The trail bearing the same name as the waterfall offers its own allure. Starting and ending at the thermal area of Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande, you will have the opportunity to indulge in an invigorating bath of thermal water or receive a soothing massage with volcanic mud.
Take amazing photos at viewpoints
With its untouched natural beauty, São Miguel Island is renowned for breathtaking landscapes, and there is no better way to behold its wonders than from its remarkable viewpoints.
Vista do Rei, translated as "King's View," lives up to its regal name by offering a majestic panorama overlooking the iconic twin lakes of Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde, nestled within the colossal volcanic crater of Sete Cidades. As you stand on the precipice, the vista before you unfold like a masterpiece, with the contrasting hues of the lakes, lush greenery, and rolling hills creating a scene of unparalleled beauty.
Ponta do Sossego, perched on the northeastern coast of São Miguel, is a haven of tranquility. As you venture towards this viewpoint, you will be greeted by a lush and verdant landscape, with cliffs plunging into the deep blue ocean below. The view is a mesmerizing fusion of dramatic coastal cliffs, crashing waves, and panoramic vistas that stretch as far as the eye can see.
Located on the easternmost tip of São Miguel, Ponta da Madrugada translates as "Dawn Point” and is known for its breathtaking sunrise views. As the first rays of sunlight peek over the horizon, the rugged cliffs and expansive ocean come alive with a golden glow, casting a magical spell over the landscape.
For a different perspective, venture to the Arnel Lighthouse, which stood as a guardian of the sea since 1876. From the viewpoint near the lighthouse, you will be treated to sweeping views of the rugged coastline, crashing waves, and the infinite expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. The sight of the lighthouse standing tall against the backdrop of the azure sea is a testament to the island's maritime heritage and offers a sense of awe-inspiring beauty.
Unwind at the beach
If you are looking for a place to relax, dive in refreshing waters, get a tan, or just unwind by the sea, São Miguel got you covered. With a diverse range of beaches, this enchanting island offers something for every beachgoer, whether you are seeking secluded coves, dramatic cliffs, or expansive sandy shores. You can even choose whether you prefer the sand with golden hues or dark and volcanic.
One of the island's standout beaches is Santa Bárbara, located on the northern coast. This picturesque stretch of sand is one of the biggest on the island and is framed by dramatic cliffs, creating a stunning backdrop that adds to its allure. Santa Bárbara is a paradise for surfers, offering excellent swells for riding the waves.
Praia do Fogo, located on the southeastern coast of São Miguel, is another gem that beckons beach enthusiasts. Translated as "Fire Beach," it derives its name from the nearby Lagoa do Fogo. The contrast between the dark sand, the azure waters, and the verdant cliffs makes for a striking visual spectacle. This beach is a serene oasis with inviting waters, especially because of the warm temperatures due to the underwater springs.
Beyond these individual beaches, São Miguel offers a tapestry of coastal wonders. From the secluded beauty of Praia dos Mosteiros, nestled among volcanic rock formations, to the family-friendly Praia de Água d'Alto, where calm waters and golden sand await, the island's beaches showcase the diversity of its coastal landscapes.
It's a kind of magic!
The Azores Islands are an oasis of tranquility that will capture your heart with its untouched natural beauty. Amidst a tapestry of vibrant greens, you will find majestic volcanoes, now dormant, that rise proudly from the earth, creating dramatic peaks and deep craters. The São Miguel Island is adorned with pristine lakes, cascading waterfalls, and bubbling hot springs, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts. It is a place where you can find solace in the power and grandeur of nature, allowing the cares of the world to dissipate with the invigorating energy of the ocean breeze. Maybe you will have to pinch yourself to believe it is real. Come and find out for yourself the magic of the Azores.