Sunday, November 30, 2008

Portugal Vacations: São Miguel Azores

The Island Of São Miguel

I'll start up my description of the 9 Islands of the Azores with São Miguel.

São Miguel (St. Michael in English) is both the capital of the Azores and the largest of the 9 Azorean islands, roughly 67 k in length and 15 km wide. On the east side of the island you will find the highest mountain summit, Pico de Vara, which is a height of 1105 m. On the western side of the island is where you will find the picturesque Sete Cidades, ( Meaning 'Seven Cities' in English) with a summit of 874 m. In the Centre of the island the highest peak is Pico da Barrossa at 949 m, which includes the nature reserve Lagoa do Fogo(Meaning "Fire Lagoon" in English).

Sete Cidades is a must see for anyone visiting São Miguel. With its breathtaking panoramic views and luscious green hills, it is a place of inspiring beauty. Sete Cidades main attraction are the two lagoons, affectionately known as the Green Lagoon and the Blue Lagoon due to the different color of water in each lagoon. You can see the two lagoons in the image to the lower left.

There is a local legend regarding how the two lagoons were created. It is a tale of a blue eyed Princess and a green eyed Shepard boy and it goes something like this:

Early one summers day, a blue-eyed princess was playing on the green rolling hills when, by chance, she met a green-eyed Shepard boy. That summer, their friendship grew until they were deeply in love.

Rumor spread that the Princess was spending all her time with a Shepard boy, until it eventually reached the ear of her father, the King. Upon hearing of the princess and the Shepard boy, the king became furious and confronted his daughter. He scolded her and reminded her status as a princess was being tarnished by her love for the boy.

The king forbid the princess from seeing the Shepard boy again and devised a plan to send the princess far away from that place. Upon hearing the king's horrible plans, the Princess ran away, seeking the boy.

When the the Princess found the Shepard boy, she told him that she was running away from the king and wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. The Shepard boy realized that the Princess' plan were folly, and that the king would never let them be together. The Shepard boy, fighting back tears, convinced the princess that it was best that she do as the King demanded. Unable to bare the pain that his own words brought him, the Shepard boy ran away from the Princess. In absolute horror, the Princess sat at the top of the highest ridge and wept. The tears from her blue eyes fell deep into the valley below, creating a blue lagoon.

After some time, the Shepard boy realized the mistake he had made and ran back to where he left the princess, but she was nowhere to be found. Heart-broken he sat on that same ridge and wept, his tears falling into the valley below creating a Green Lagoon. To this day, when it rains and if you listen closely, you can still hear them weep.

There are many variations to the tale, but the above is my favorite.

On the east side of the Sao Miguel, you will also find the hot springs and mineral springs of Furnas, a very popular place for locals and tourists alike. Among the many natural springs abundant there, you can also partake in mud baths which are reputed to offer skin and toxin cleansing properties. Furnas is also the place where a peculiar island custom of underground cooking is popular. Locals and tourists bring bring along their own pots from home, pre-filled with an assortment of meats and vegetables. On-site workers will then attach the pot to a rope and slowly drop it into deep man-made holes. Underground, the volcanic heat will gently cook the contents of the pots. When deciding to get involved in this Island custom, it's important to mark the place where your your pot is buried, as it's not unusual for people to mistakenly pull up the wrong pots.

Sao Miguel's capital, Ponta Delgada is the administration capital of the Azores. It is the largest city in the Azores, but still relatively small when compared to cities in North America or Asia. It's recommended that you park your car and take a stroll around this island city, as there are many great old buildings to see and breath-taking vistas to be experienced.

Possibly the most interesting town in Sao Miguel is Villa Franca do Campo. This picturesque little town comes complete with it's own small islet that is used by locals and tourists alike as a natural swimming pool. If you get the chance, why not take a boat out to the islet and enjoy an afternoon in the warm water and sun. You can see the Islet on the picture to the left.

I hope you enjoyed this brief overview of Sao Miguel, Azores. Stay tuned for more as I explore the other Azorean islands with you.

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