It was a relatively short ‘hop’ from Faial to Sao Miguel, the largest of the islands in the Azores Archipelago, which was accomplished overnight, so we arrived early in the morning of Saturday 9th February. This is prime dolphin and whale-watching territory, but unfortunately we didn’t see any. A few people who happened to be stood on the fore deck as we approached the island did manage to sight a school of dolphins as they passed in front of the bow – but I wasn’t one of them. Drat!
Sao Miguel is the largest and most populated of the nine islands that make up the Azores. Also known as the “Green Island”, Sao Miguel is home to the Presidency of the Autonomous Region of the Azores. We docked at the cosmopolitan town of Ponta Delgada, a delightful town with grand monuments, ancient architecture, cobble-stone streets, mingled with a modern marina, lively bars and ocean-front cafe’s that together create a wonderful atmosphere.
We were booked on an organised tour to see the Sete Cidades Crater Lake, with some cheese and wine tasting thrown in (not literally!). The Crater Lake was magnificent to behold, and in terms of visual impact, possibly the highlight of the holiday. We passed meadows bordered by hydrangeas (though not yet in bloom) before ascending the main crater, some 1,900 ft above sea level. The crater has a circumference of 8 miles, and holds two lakes, one blue and one green, connected by a narrow road bridge. On the shores of the Blue Lake is the village of Sete Cidades (Seven Cities), and the village and lakes are surrounded by the dark forest-covered walls of the Caldeira.
Words cannot convey the beauty of this whole region, which has many walking trails for the determined rambler. I was quite reminded of our own Lake District, where we make an annual pilgrimage every June, but in some respects the scenery here was even more stunning. Add to this the fact that the annual temperature range is a very temperate 15C to 28C, i.e. no ice snow or frost, and you have an almost perfect environment for wildlife to flourish.
We also visited the Santiago Lake, inaccessibly situated at the bottom of an extinct crater before heading back to Ponta Delgarda to sample some of the local cheeses and wines.
The afternoon was taken up with exploring the ancient city of Ponta Delgarda, but unfortunately – and despite it being a Saturday – most of the shops and churches were closed. However, we made the most of wandering the cobbled streets and sampling the beer and custard creams on offer at the sidewalk cafes, and did the archetypical tourist thing and had a tour of the town in a horse-drawn carriage. We did manage to get to see the inside of one of the churches – St Peter’s, (Sao Pedro) which features many statues from 16th through 18th centuries and is home to the famous Carvalho painting of the Pentecost.
A truly wonderful day was rounded off by a sea-food dinner at one of the Marina restaurants ( O Marineiro, www.omarineiro.com) with some fellow passengers (and now friends) who we’ve spent the past six weeks with sharing bread and gossip on table 26 in the Marco Polo’s Waldorf Restaurant. The dinner party consisted of Brian, Bridgit, Dermot, Margaret, Dale and Jo (and wife – Lynda), and if any of you ever get around to reading this blog post – thanks to all of you for your company these past few weeks. And don’t worry – whatever happened on the Marco Polo stays on the Marco Polo!
So, this is our last port of call on this epic journey to the Amazon, the West Indies and the Azores. We now have another four days at sea before getting back to our starting point in Tilbury. By that time we will have spent 42 days having the holiday of a lifetime, and with many very happy memories and some truly incredible sights to reflect on. A final word of thanks to all of the staff and crew of the Marco Polo, who made this journey possible, and looked after us every step of the way. And now – to good ol’ Blighty!
The Blue and Green Lakes