A Gastro Obscura Guide to São Miguel (2024)

As your plane descends onto the island of São Miguel, the largest and most populated island in Portugal’s Azores archipelago, the first thing you’ll notice are verdant rolling hills. These not only give the island its nickname, Ilha Verde, or “Green Island,” they’re a preview of the edible delights that await. A product of the Azorean archipelago’s tropical climate and soil, the lush landscape is home to a dazzling array of fruit, vegetables, and tea plants. And those hills? They’re remnants of São Miguel’s explosive origins, since a volcanic eruption gave the island its current shape 50,000 years ago.

São Miguel still hisses with geothermal power, in the form of mineral-rich hot springs and bubbling calderas. Locals have made an art of harnessing this natural resource, for bathing, for drinking, and, most ingeniously, for cooking.

At just 300 square miles, the island is easily explored by car. In the span of several hours, you can dive along cliffs overlooking the azure Atlantic, immense crater lakes, and fields of vibrant flowers. But don’t get sidetracked: Stay on course with this culinary road trip, and you’ll be rewarded with a caldera-cooked stew, one of the world’s sweetest pineapples, a violet volcanic tea, and more.

A Gastro Obscura Guide to São Miguel (1)

Cash Crops

For years, São Miguel’s star export was the orange. But after a blight destroyed crops in the late 1800s, farmers looked to a new fruit that had recently been imported from Brazil: the pineapple. They built greenhouses that mimicked the heat and humidity of the plant’s native home and grew them in the fertile Azorean soil. The resulting fruit, heavy on sweetness and light on the acidity, quickly became the island’s main export crop.

Today, you can buy Azorean pineapples at restaurants and grocery stores across São Miguel. You can also visit one of the island’s pineapple plantations. Plantação de Ananás dos Açores is a five-minute drive from downtown Ponta Delgada and offers tours through its greenhouses as well as plenty of opportunities to indulge in the prickly fruit—on its own or in the form of pineapple-flavored ice cream, co*cktails, and juice.

A Gastro Obscura Guide to São Miguel (2)

Pineapple wasn’t the only successful transplant when orange crops failed. After your pineapple experience, hop in the car and drive 30 minutes to the Gorreana Tea Plantation. Open since 1883 and the oldest still-operating tea plantation in Europe, Gorreana is a relic of São Miguel’s heyday as a tea-producing powerhouse. While Azorean producers steadily supplied Europe throughout the 1800s and into the 1950s, hardships from the aftermath of World War II decimated the industry. Today, only two producers remain—the Porto Formoso Tea Factory and Gorreana.

Today, visitors can see this history in the antique equipment on display at Gorreana’s factory and watch the traditional tea-making process.

A Gastro Obscura Guide to São Miguel (3)

Alchemical Brews

For exploring the island’s volcanically-cooked delights, all roads lead to Furnas, a small parish about 15 minutes from Gorreana. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you detect a slight sulfur odor in the air. The aroma comes from the area’s fumaroles, holes in the ground that emit hot gasses and vapors.

Your first stop will be Chalet da Tia Mercês. Sitting on a hill overlooking fumaroles and the River Amarela, the former 19th-century bathhouse now houses a business offering educational experiences on the Azores and tastings of local tea, honey, wine, and geothermally-cooked delicacies. The menus vary by season and availability, but past offerings have included rhubarb and citrus-banana cakes, savory puddings, and spiced oatmeal—all delicately steamed to perfection inside Furnas’s calderas.

For a colorful chemistry lesson, be sure to book a tea tasting. When servers mix Azorean green tea leaves with Furnas hot-springs water, something magical happens: Instead of adopting green tea’s typical amber hue, a unique chemical reaction produces a shockingly purple brew. (Note: The Chalet requires advance booking for all of their experiences.)

A Gastro Obscura Guide to São Miguel (4)

Subterranean Stew

No visit to Furnas would be complete without a stop at its crater lake, Lagoa das Furnas. The best time to visit is the early afternoon, when staff from restaurants across the island arrive in droves, shovels in hand, to retrieve lunch from the fumaroles. They walk over to several steaming mounds, kick away the dirt, and unearth large pots that have been buried underground. These pots hold the island’s most distinct culinary treasure: cozida das Furnas, or hot-springs stew.

The recipe for cozido das Furnas is simple: a combination of meat, potatoes, taro, cabbage, and carrots sprinkled with a bit of salt. But the secret to this singular meal is the six to eight hours slow-cooking in the gentle geothermal heat, yielding tender vegetables and falling-apart meat. Cooks don’t even add water or stock to their pots, since the steam pulls out the ingredients’ natural juices.

Plenty of island tours will include a trip to the fumaroles, followed by a lunch of cozida das Furnas. You can also try it at one of the island’s eateries, such as Vale das Furnas or the restaurant at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, which also features iron-rich (and rust-brown) springs for an invigorating soak.

A Gastro Obscura Guide to São Miguel (5)

Marvelous Muffins

Not all of Furnas’s delicacies rely on volcanic activity. Born in Furnas, the bolo lêvedo can be compared to an English muffin, except that it’s bigger, chewier, and sweeter. Across the Azorean archipelago, diners cook their bolos on griddles, then slather on jam and cheese at breakfast or use them for burgers or steak sandwiches at lunch. These pillowy buns have fans around the world—especially in Portuguese enclaves.

You can find bolos lêvedos at most shops in Furnas and across São Miguel. If you want to combine a workout with your carbs, try a trek at the Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões, a 25-minute drive from Furnas. Go for the scenic waterfall, stay for the sweet, light buns at the on-site café.

A Gastro Obscura Guide to São Miguel (6)

Liquor Library

End your journey with happy hour. There’s no better place to sip an adult beverage than Solar Branco, a hotel that happens to house the largest “gin library” in Europe. The collection of more than 1,500 bottles includes varieties from South Africa to Scotland, Malaysia to Mexico.

Sip on Japanese apple gin, a Spanish one infused with strawberries, or a gin and tonic made with any of the bottles. If you want to support local causes while sampling the booze, try one of the house-made Ghosts of the Ocean gins, which include pineapple-and-chili, yuzu, and Azorean honey flavors. Proceeds go toward protecting the whales that live in the Azorean waters.

Like our Atlas of amazing places, the gin library is also a community project, with many of the bottles contributed by visitors. Got an interesting bottle yourself? If you bring it, you can exchange it for one of the treasures in the collection, leaving a piece of yourself on São Miguel and taking a piece of it with you.

Gastro Obscura covers the world’s most wondrous food and drink.
Sign up for our email, delivered twice a week.

A Gastro Obscura Guide to São Miguel (2024)


How do I get to Sao Miguel, Azores? ›

How to get to São Miguel. The island of Sao Miguel, unlike many of the Azores, can be reached by plane without great difficulty. The airport, dedicated to Pope John Paul II, is by far the busiest of the archipelago and is located about 3 kilometers from the capital Ponta Delgada.

How long is Sao Miguel, Azores? ›

São Miguel is up to 40 miles (65 km) long and 9 miles (15 km) wide and has an area of 293 square miles (759 square km). The island is volcanic in origin, with peaks culminating in Vara Peak, 3,570 feet (1,105 metres) above sea level.

What is the history of the São Miguel? ›

Sao Miguel History

The first settlement in Sao Miguel was created in 1444 after Prince Henry the Navigator ordered that cattle be placed ashore on seven islands of the archipelago. Its captaincy was entrusted to Gonçalo Velho Cabral, knight and friar of the Order of Christ.

What is the population of the Sao Miguel Azores? ›

What To Know About Sao Miguel Island In Portugal's Azores Islands. The Azores are made up of nine islands - the largest of which is Sao Miguel. Sao Miguel Island has a population of around 140,000 people, with around 45,000 calling the Ponta Delgada (the largest city of the archipelago) home.

Can you get around São Miguel, Azores without a car? ›

Public Transportation São Miguel

The Buses and minibuses are one of the many ways to get around our islands and make anyone's adventurous spirit stand out.

What is the best month to visit the Azores? ›

Go preferably from June to September.

Still, it is best to go in summer to limit the risk of rain. There are nine volcanoes still active in the Azores, but the islands are home to many more. You will thus visit many caves and find crater lakes and geothermal springs all about the place during your trip.

What is São Miguel known for? ›

Sao Miguel is one of the more-obviously volcanic islands in the archipelago, particularly in the east at Furnas. Furnas is one of the island's oldest calderas, roughly 100,000 years, with over thirty geysers and mineral-rich springs dotted in and around the caldera.

What language do they speak in São Miguel Azores? ›

The official language in Azores is Portuguese. In most of the nine islands, the variety of Portuguese spoken is very similar to standard European Portuguese.

What are people from São Miguel called? ›

São Miguel Island
Native name: Ilha de São Miguel Nickname: The Green Island
Population133,295 (2021)
18 more rows

Why do people leave the Azores? ›

It only took a few hundred years for the islands to become severely overcrowded. As a result poverty increasingly became an issue on the islands. A thousand miles from anywhere with nowhere to expand Azoreans began to immigrate to the United States in force in the early 1800's.

Are the Azores expensive to live? ›

In fact, many find the Azores a more accessible alternative compared to the mainland. Housing, for example, tends to be more affordable, especially outside the more developed urban areas such as Ponta Delgada.

Do they speak English in São Miguel Azores? ›

The official language of the Azores is Portuguese. However, whilst it is not common to find many english speakers within the more rural village populations, you will find that the majority of the agents and businesses operating within tourism will all have staff that speak english.

What airport do you fly into for São Miguel Azores? ›

To get to the Azores, it's best to fly into João Paulo II Airport (PDL) at Ponta Delgada, the capital of São Miguel, the Azores' biggest island. Because of its remote location, direct flights to the Azores from destinations outside Portugal are limited, so you should expect to take at least one connecting flight.

Can you fly directly to the Azores from the US? ›

Yes, you can find nonstop flights to the islands of Azores. You can fly from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) to Ponta Delgada Airport. You will also find nonstop flights from Portugal via Lisbon Airport (LIS).

Is there a ferry to São Miguel, Azores? ›

Ferry connections allow travel between some of the most popular destinations, such as São Miguel, Terceira, Pico, Faial, Graciosa and other smaller islands. Not all islands are directly connected by ferries, so it may be necessary to stop at an intermediate island to reach the desired destination.

How long is the ferry from Portugal to the Azores? ›

The quickest crossing to The Azores is Madalena - Porto Horta with Atlânticoline and takes 30 min, while the longest crossing is P. Vitoria - V. Praia with Atlânticoline and can take up to 3 hrs 30 min.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Kareem Mueller DO

Last Updated:

Views: 5527

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (46 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kareem Mueller DO

Birthday: 1997-01-04

Address: Apt. 156 12935 Runolfsdottir Mission, Greenfort, MN 74384-6749

Phone: +16704982844747

Job: Corporate Administration Planner

Hobby: Mountain biking, Jewelry making, Stone skipping, Lacemaking, Knife making, Scrapbooking, Letterboxing

Introduction: My name is Kareem Mueller DO, I am a vivacious, super, thoughtful, excited, handsome, beautiful, combative person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.