Our last full day on São Miguel! We kicked things off with another homemade breakfast (we had some bread and eggs to use up). Then we hit the road to the north side of the island to check out the Gorreana Tea Plantation, the only remaining tea plantation in Europe. It’s another very low-key tourist destination. We pulled in, and then wandered into the factory where they dry and process the tea. There wasn’t anyone around. The factory isn’t processing tea right now because of the season (we think). After wandering through the whole production line, we were able to try a few types of their tea – again, nobody around, but there were some carafes of tea and cups.
We did eventually find some humans – in the shop, unsurprisingly. We had a pastry and bought some tea, and then headed out into the tea fields. Truth be told, we didn’t sit and watch the video about how tea is grown, so we didn’t quite know what we were looking at. There were bushes, which we believe to be tea in some form. Or, proto-tea. Near the tea bushes there were cows. And also kittens. And some rusty tractors. Can you feel the knowledge oozing out of us?
Our overall plan for the day was to wind our way around the east end of the island, avoiding the highway as best as we could. We took the intense, winding road up and down river valleys, dodging horse-drawn carriages hauling milk pails.
Along the road, we came to a parking spot and decided to hop out and see what it was all about. It turned out we were in the Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões, a recently renovated park highlighting the history of water mills in the Azores. You can hike up the valley to a waterfall, and behind it more waterfalls. Or you can hike down the valley to three restored mills. Or, if you pay money, you can put on a wetsuit and some padding and hike to the topmost waterfall and then slide/tumble/rappel down the waterfalls. No matter which way you go, you can buy a pastry from a nice lady in one of the mills. It’s a bit of a side hustle – she explains how the milling process works. Then she lifts a towel to show you some pastries. She doesn’t speak English, but she has the price for the pastries written in pen on her hand. You slip her the euro, she slips you the pastry, and The Man is none-the-wiser.
Pastry in hand, we had a coffee overlooking the falls and got back on the road. More winding brought us to Lomba da Fazenda, where we’d heard about a cool hike. We were pretty hungry at this point, and so popped into the restaurant closest to where we parked the car. It turned out to be a good choice (later confirmed by our guidebook), run by a guy from Rhode Island and serving local fish and meat. We had a delicious lunch, with some fresh cheese and a dessert of some type of whipped cream with cookies.
The lunch left us with plenty of fuel (and dairy) for our hike. We found a sign in town describing the path (it’s not in the guidebook or our trails app) and set out. The path begins in pasture, but then drops down into the river valley. As we descended, we noticed holes drilled into the rock all over. Kat immediately recognized them as evidence of geologists studying the lava sequences (the oldest on the island). They take many samples from all different levels within the hillside, so a road descending a valley is a great place for them to work.
At the bottom of the valley, we came upon the ruins of another mill. Most of the mills in São Miguel were destroyed by flooding in the 1980s. There’s a nice modern campsite next to this one. From there, the path went back up the hill, before dropping again, right at the ocean.
At the bottom, we found a pool that’s filled by waves breaking from the ocean. At one time, this might have been a commercial operation – it’s not clear. Today, it’s strictly a swim-at-your-own-risk kind of place, but seemingly maintained by someone. Plenty of locals were enjoying the pool, as it periodically received a top up from a breaker.
We didn’t have our suits, so we continued back up the valley. We stopped at some scenic viewpoints, nicely built at the edge of the cliffs, before winding our way back into town. We were pretty spent at this point, and had to make a choice – continue poking around the island, or head for Furnas to visit the gardens we failed to visit on Tuesday. In the intervening days, we’d learned that these gardens also have thermal pools. Since we were pretty sweaty, a nice soak in a thermal bath sounded nice. We went with plan B.
The Terra Nostra gardens have two thermal “jacuzzis” and a large thermal pond. Though they’re all close together, they’re very different. The pond is huge, deep, and a muddy red-brown. The jacuzzis are smaller, warmer, and a cloudy blue. We floated around (trying not to drink any water mind you) enjoying the crowds and the warmth.
We finished the day off with another visit to the grocery for some pasta and vegetables, refueled the rental, and tucked in for an early evening at the apartment. Tomorrow is an early morning, as we fly to Faial for a new slice of the Azores.