Ideas for Short Weekend Trips away from London, and Walking holidays in Europe
São Miguel, Azores (Portuguese Mid Atlantic Island)
São Miguel Island is ones of the Portuguese Azores islands in the mid Atlantic. It is very rugged and volcanic but with few beaches, so little tourism. There is only 1 large town, Ponta Delgada, in the south east.
Recently, walking has been promoted, and there are a series of walks around the island. These include coastal walks, walks around the rim, and into a volcanic caldera, and a few mountain walks.
You will need a hire car. The island is 60 km (40 miles) long by 15km (10 mi) wide. Due to the terrain, driving can take a long time, so a 2 centre holiday is advised. A few days in the east near the capital, and a few days near Furnas in the west.
The capital has few sights apart from a wander around the old town. In the east there is a large, dramatic volcanic caldera with a lake in the middle, and a town!
In the west, there is a mountain region, and Furnas, with many hot springs. One hotel, the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, in Furnas is particularly recommended - it is art deco, set in a botanical garden, and has its own hot springs fed mineral lake to swim in. It was (very) faded grandeur, but has recently been renovated.
Unfortunately, the guidebooks tend to be to the Azores chain of islands, so, especially with the walking books, only a few walks will be on São Miguel. Fortunately, there are a series of 30 or so free walking leaflets - it would be a good idea to get these beforehand. The walks are online, but unfortunatley, not in an easily printable format.
PR3SMI - Vista do Rei – Sete Cidades : 7km : Stunning walk around the rim of a massive volcano caldera, then down into it. Recommended.
PR4SMI - Mata do Canário – Sete Cidades : 11 km : The other side of the caldera rim
Both the above go round part of the rim, then down to the bottom, I think there is one other (PR 17?) which takes you back to the starting point of walk 3, i.e. join #3 and #4, with a long quiet road walk, to make a full circle, or use #3 and #17 to do a half circle through the middle.
PRC20SMI - Rocha da Relva - 4.5km one way - out and back trail down to a coastal hamlet with no road access. Recommended
PRC5SMI - Serra Devassa - 4.2 km - short circular walk over open terrain with OK views
Serveral one way walks which we didn't try - getting back to the start would be a problem
PRC2SMI - Praia – Lagoa do Fogo - Out and Back levada walk (small canal carrying water) - recommended
There were 3 long 1-way walks from the coast to the highest mountain, Pico da Vara. You would have to do out and back by the same route. Or use #7, from a nearby road.
PR7SMI - Algarvia – Pico da Vara : 3.5 km one way : Relatively easy out-and-back walk to the highest point on the island, from an already high road
PR12SMI - Trilho do Agrião : 8.4 km : Great coast walk, but no easy way of returning to your car, so best to do half as an out and back walk
PR22SMI - Pico do Ferro – Caldeiras da Lagoa das Furnas : 2km one way : Viewpoint over Furnas Caldera lake down to the lake. Return the same way.
PR23SMI - Povoação – Pico da Vara : 15.2 km and 3,000 feet climb : South coast to highest point on the island
Quiet a few of the walks are linear - i.e. no obvious way to get back to the start, so you's have to go out and back by the same route. But there are some great short walks, which are great if you're riving around the island, and do 2 or 3 in one day. Some of the coast walks take you to hidden beaches, which is also cool.
Guide books : The best (only) guide books is the Bradt. The Sunflower and Rother walking guides each only have a few walks on the island
Accommodation : There are relatively few hotels. Its old school - best to book a package tour, e.g. Sunvil in UK, or with a 'Expedia' type website. Pontal Delgada (the capital) is a good place to stay, either near the motorway or the old town. The other good option is Furnas - its in the east of the island, and handy for many good walks. Navigation is easy in most of the island once you get the hang of it, but the capital can be very difficult without a satnav.
When to go : Year round, but mid winter can a bit rainy. Mid-summer isn't too hot, but the sun can be fierce if you're outside walking in the mid-day sun, so spring and autumn are best.
Getting Around : Hire a car. The roads are windy but not too bad. Its still slow going in many part of the island.
Getting There : Fly to Ponta Delgada Airport on the east coast take about 3 hours from London. Its a bit of a monopoly, so no bargains.
Cost : About £500 (Euro 400) for a hotel and flight package for weeks. More in Summer or Christmas/New Year. Based on 2 sharing. Add £100 (Euro 150) for a rental car. Either breakfast and dinner, or self-catering with breakfast is a good option, especially if you are outside the capital. Away from it, the variety and quality of restaurants is poor, so a breakfast and dinner package might be better, but do check times for the earliest breakfast, and latest dinner. Away from the coast, cafes are very cheap. About 1 euro for a coffee or beer. But meals seemed expensive for the price.
What Else To See : Apart form the landscape, only the Botanical garden and hot springs lake at the Furnas hotel