General Information About São Miguel
São Miguel is the biggest island of the archipelago, with 62.1 km in length and 15.8 km at its maximum width. More than half of the Azorean population (137.856 inhabitants in 2011) occupies an area of 744.7 sq. km. With an altitude of 1,105 m, Pico da Vara is the island’s highest point.
Until the devastation left by the earthquake of 1522, the capital of the island was the town of Vila Franca do Campo. Then, Ponta Delgada started to play the most important role and became the capital in 1546. Throughout the 18th century and mid 19th century, the export of oranges, mainly to Great Britain, became the main source of wealth. Most churches, decorated with rich woodcarvings, and manor houses, built with refined stoneworks that are the delight of visitors, date from this period.
The landscape of São Miguel is marked by two mountain areas separated by a low altitude platform. Nicknamed the Green Island, its landscape is made up of extensive fields and patches of tress that were forced into the valleys of streams and into difficult to reach areas. São Miguel is a land of lakes nested in volcanic craters that are many kilometres wide. The most iconic one lies in Sete Cidades. This is a place filled with legends and myths, and it deserves to be seen from the Vista do Rei Lookout; from there, in noble contemplation, one can see two twin lakes, the Green and the Blue, paired together by a bridge. The ecstasy moves on to Lagoa do Fogo (Fire Lake), which has a wilder nature. A large lake surrounded by extravagant, lush vegetation stands out in the Furnas Valley , which lives up to its nickname of Vale Formoso (Beautiful Valley). High cliffs covered with green forests, black basalt headlands that penetrate the sea, promontories and sweet inlets, challenging fajãs [flat, low-lying strips of land on the coast], and numerous beaches with grey volcanic sand are some of the features of São Miguel’s coastline that deserve to be seen and visited with tranquillity.
From the various cultures introduced in the Azores the highlight goes to tea. During visits to the museum-factories, one learns the history and evolution of the machinery, before a well deserved cup of Azorean tea.
In Furnas, the pots containing meat and vegetables for a typical boiled/steamed dish are put into a sac and buried in the geothermal soil. The food cooks for approximately five hours.
On São Miguel Island there is a tradition for cultivating exotic fruits such as pineapple, annona, guavas and passion fruit, which are eaten raw or used to make liqueurs.
The cuisine of São Miguel is filled with fish dishes, always with a common factor: freshness. There are also various types of sea food, and delicacies like the barnacle, a crustacean boiled in sea water. As for appetizers, there are the famous local red, mashed peppers served with fresh cheese. The bolo lêvedo from Furnas is a cake that is well known and may be served during any meal. As for sweets, the most famous are the Queijadas de Vila Franca do Campo (Vila Franca do Campo Custards).
Other things to do on the Green Island, are canoeing and other sports activities, that can be practiced on lakes located in the craters of extinguished volcanoes. Another way to enjoy the beauty of the island is by horse riding or by cycling. Those who prefer more action may hire a 4x4 SUV, a quad-bike or a mountain bike. One can go down to the subterranean world in the Gruta do Carvão (Carvão Cave), and there are various cliffs equipped for the practice of climbing.
Diving, whale watching or big game fishing are other activities with a great development. On the north coast of the island, there are many spots available for the practice of surf and body board. The beaches of Pópulo, Água d’Alto and Ribeira Quente featuring volcanic sand, the tidal pools spread along the island, and the spas at Ferraria and Furnas are ideal locations to relax from the strong emotions.
Intrinsically linked to São Miguel, the age-old Festa do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (Lord Holy Christ of Miracles Festival) venerates the statue of Christ kept at the Esperança Chapel in Ponta Delgada. The festivities last for three days and take place around the fifth Sunday after Easter Sunday. Starting in the parish of Ribeira Seca, municipality of Ribeira Grande, the Cavalhadas de São Pedro (Saint Peter’s Horse Riders) take place on 29 June and are a parade of horse riders dressed in colourful outfits – symbolising a king, knights, lancers, stewards and horn players or trumpeters, riding equally adorned horses. Carnival is lively enjoyed in Ponta Delgada. The Batalha das Limas (Water Battle) is a tradition that persists, with groups confronting each other on the streets of the city throwing at each other various types of “weapons” filled with water.
New Year’s Eve attains a new dimension at the Portas do Mar in Ponta Delgada, with its marina and cruise-ship terminal providing a new stage for music shows and exhibitions, with restaurants and bars animating the evening in the city.