Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Azores 2024 - Villa Franca, Jungle Walk, Povoação, Lighthouse Thigh Burner

After yesterday’s full day of administration, Ana and I wanted to make the most of today and do an island circuit. We left the house earlier than normal and drove east to the village of Villa Franca – another of our favourite places on the island. We drove through the winding streets down into the marina and went for a walk. The marina is small but perfectly sheltered on all sides and was all local boats with the exception of maybe one or two. We have coffee on the patio of the marina snack bar, enjoying the 19 degree weather, and read through a local newspaper that has a story about a new 101 room Hilton hotel opening in Lagoa – their first in the Azores.

From here we take the twisty road to Furnas and before long find ourselves in the clouds once again. We arrive at the caldeiras and pay three euro to get in. This is the place where the ponds boil and sulphureous steam rises from the earth. There are also holes in the ground where pots of food are lowered then covered and left to steam and boil for hours, producing the “cozido” stew that Furnas is known for. Is it good? Well, it is certainly unique, and if you like a sulphureous flavouring to your meat and potato stew, you’d love it.

Incredibly, a new privately owned nature park called Parque da Grená has opened since our last visit six years ago. We pay the comparably steep ten-euro entrance fee and step into another world. Waterfalls, ancient forests, jungle stairs and bridges, spectacular vistas, mansion ruins, hot tubs – this is an amazing place and well worth the admission. We spent two hours hiking and exploring and leave mesmerized.

Another drive along impossibly winding roads leads us to the town of Povoação, another of our favourite towns on the island. The centre is surrounded by tall cliffs and feels as if it’s been cut into a mountain. There is a small, well protected marina here too with mostly commercial boats. We walk around the town, admiring the elaborate patterns and images built into the cobblestoned streets and pedestrian walkways (the best on the island in my opinion), but are then saddened to find that the small municipal zoo has closed and the animals are gone. There used to be monkeys here as well as peacocks and many other birds. Not sure what happened there.

After a delicious lunch at one of the restaurants in the main square, we continue our drive heading east then turn northwards as we reach the easternmost end of the island. We stop at two of the incredible miradours (lookout points) to see the mind-bending views over the island and out to sea. There is hardly a breath of wind today so the ocean looks far happier than it has in recent days.

We continue along to the Farol do Amel – a lighthouse on the easternmost point of Sao Miguel and park in the small parking lot. There is a sign warning visitors not to take their vehicles down the steep road leading to the lighthouse, but it says nothing about the heart attack you are sure to experience if you try doing it on foot. Ana and I start our walk down the impossibly steep paved road and start getting a little worried when we see the people hiking back up – all of whom have red faces, are dripping sweat, and are sucking breath greedily. At one point the road is so steep that I can hardly believe that anybody would be able to get a car down and back up unless it was a 4x4. I check online later and find that it is a 500 metre walk and the grade is over 20% in places. We walk together until we can see the lighthouse then Ana decides to start making her way back up. I walk down the remaining hundred metres or so to the lighthouse which is interesting, and has a great view to a waterfall spilling over a cliff, but I’m not sure if it was worth it, especially since the lighthouse was closed and you couldn’t go in. The walk back up is an absolute killer and it feels like my heart is going to burst out of my chest by the time I catch back up to Ana. We crawl back to the car and collapse into our seats and take a break before continuing on to the town of Nordeste.

Nordeste is a very small town but we stop for a coffee and a look around, then continue up and around the coastline, then drive westward across the top of the island and stop at two more viewpoints along the way. The scenery is stunning and the gardens built around the viewpoints make you feel as if you are a character in a fairy tale.

We finish off the day with a great evening at home as Natercia stops by to join us for dinner and to eat up the leftover food from John’s party.

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