Furnas is the most easterly volcano on Sao Miguel and the best place to really feel the volcanic origins of the Azores. There are over thirty geysers and hot springs dotted around the village. Their temperatures vary, as does their mineral content – from the cool, crystal-clear waters of the drinking fountains to iron-rich hot springs and swimming pools. From the arrival of the first settlers to the valley, residents and visitors have been enjoying the therapeutic waters of Furnas for over 500 years.
Heading into Furnas valley from the south coast, the cobbled road will bring you to Lagoa das Furnas (Furnas Lake) at the western end of the caldera. Stick to the road and you’ll eventually arrive at the main lakeshore car park (with an entry fee of 2€). As you’ll see, the lakeshore’s a mish-mash of bubbling geysers and steaming sulphurous vents, home to the famous Cozido cooking holes – Cozido is a traditional stew which is slow-cooked in the naturally hot ground. It’s served in most of the restaurants in the village – be warned: it’s a real hardcore meat-eaters dish and not for the fainthearted.
There’s a waymarked trail along the lakeshore to the Furnas Monitoring and Research Centre, where you can learn about the geological history of the area and the on-going environmental work within the valley. The entrance fee is 3€ – guided tours begin on the hour and last around thirty-minutes.
Leaving the lake behind, the road brings you down into the centre of Furnas – to the 200-year-old Parque Terra Nostra botanical gardens and the Azores’ most famous volcanic hot springs and geothermal swimming pool.
A swim at the Parque Terra Nostra has always been one of our favourite things to do in Furnas – and if your holiday with us includes a stay at the Terra Nostra Hotel, guests have exclusive access to the pool when it’s floodlit the evenings. If you’re visiting for the day, entry to the gardens is 12€ and towels are available for a returnable 10€ deposit – be sure to bring along a dark-coloured swimming costume as the high iron-oxide content of the water will discolour anything light.
The gardens themselves are a diverse collection of endemic Azorean plants and exotic species from around the world, including palms, bamboos, azaleas, camellias and cycadophytes.
At the eastern-end of the village, you’ll find the Chã das Caldeiras. These geysers are the remains of the original Furnas volcano – as magma erupted, an empty underground void was created, which eventually collapsed under the weight of the ash and pumice ejected onto the surface. This collapse formed a volcanic boiler which super-heats water from an aquifer deep underground – in-turn, the hot water draws minerals up as it rises to the surface. Each geyser is named – the Caldeira Pero Botelho is the most famous: named after Senhor Pero Botelho who was pushed into the caldeira ‘by the devil’ for his bad behaviour. A local legend suggests that if you call out ‘Pero Botelho, are you there ?’, he’ll begrudgingly reply with a loud snort of sulphurous smoke.
The nearby Chalé das Misturas houses the Observatório Microbiano dos Açores or OMIC – a laboratory to study and preserve the microorganisms which live in and around the geysers. You’ll also see several fresh-water springs around the Cha das Caldeiras – some are hot, some cold, some carbonated, and each has its own distinctive taste according to its chemical content.
The nearby Chalet da Tia Merces is a good option for lunch. This small teahouse on the banks of Ribeira Amarela was originally constructed as a bathhouse in the 19th Century. Owner Paula Aguiar now serves traditional cakes and Azorean cheeses, with local Gorreana tea and Sao Jorge coffee – brewed using the naturally-heated waters of the caldeiras. We also have a handy online guide to our favourite restaurants in Furnas.
Another excellent swimming spot is Poca Dona Beija. Whilst the pool at the Terra Nostra is large enough for swimming, Dona Beija’s geared more towards relaxation, with a series of naturally-hot infinity pools, constructed from local basalt. The pools are open from 7:00 through to 23:00 and entry is normally 3€. Once you pass through the ticket barrier, take a left into the shop – you can rent a towel and locker for 1€ per person (plus a refundable deposit of 20€), and tokens for the showers also cost 1€.
On the journey home, if you head out of Furnas along the north coast road you could end the day with a visit to the Gorreana tea plantation, Europe’s oldest producer of tea (established in 1883). The factory is a living museum with many 19th Century production methods still in use today. The plantation is spread across thirty-two acres and produces around thirty tons of tea per year – mainly destined for the local Azorean market but some tea is exported to mainland Portugal, Germany, the USA and Canada.
We specialise in tailor-made holidays to the nine islands of the Azores. Call Paul on 017687 721020 to begin planning your personalised trip.
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