Everything you need to know about the Azorean island of Sao Miguel as the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series touches down for its third tour stop of 2012.
The islet of Vila Franca do Campo, where this stage of cliff diving competition will take place, is located just off the coast of Sao Miguel, aka ‘The Green Island’.
North East of Bermuda, Sao Miguel may be the largest of the nine islands in the Azores archipelago, but hire a car at the airport and you can drive round it in a day (wind up back at the capital of Ponta Delgada in the evening, where the modern marina plays host to the island’s main nightlife).
The island’s black-sand beaches are great for water sports but the most dramatic landscape is inland, where you can bathe in bubbling waters, paraglide over flower-covered peaks and hike through lush green forests – after fuelling up on the, er, local pineapple cake.
Direct flights are available to the Joao Paulo II airport in the capital, Ponta Delgada, from Germany, London, the Netherlands, Boston, Providence and Toronto. Otherwise you’re looking at connecting through Lisbon, from where Sao Miguel is a two-hour flight. Unless of course you own your own boat.
WHERE TO STAY
Opt for the Furnas Lake Villas, where the minimalist cedar wood apartments squat on stilts over a moat, and private porches give panoramic views of the mountains. For more information, visit www.vistazores.com
REMEMBER TO PACK
Take your swimming gear to make the most of all the geothermal pools. A waterproof mac and shoes are also recommended – there’s a reason why Sao Miguel gets so many rainbows: it’s not unusual to experience all four seasons in a single hour.
5 PLACES TO VISIT
The yellow hue of the water and lingering smell of bad eggs may be a little off-putting, but these 30 natural hot springs are the island’s biggest tourist attraction. As well as bathing in the sulphur-rich waters, you can watch the locals bury their pots of cozida stew in the ground to be cooked by the geothermal heat.
Gruta do Carvao
This 2.5km cave is the longest lava tunnel on the island (some call it a ‘tube’ but that doesn’t sound too inviting), extending from the coast right under the streets of the capital city. Walk through it and marvel.
You can go kayaking across this lush crater lake (the bits that aren’t still boiling, that is).
A tea plantation
Sao Miguel has the only two tea plantations in Europe. Both Gorreana and Porto Formoso (+351 296 442 342) offer tours, sampling sessions (some of the brews are pretty heady) and a chance to peak at a production process that hasn’t changed since the 1880s.
You can kind of imagine Jurassic Park becoming a reality in these botanical gardens full of ancient ferns, waterfalls and, you guessed it, more thermal springs.
5 FAMOUS AZOREAN ALUMNI
The footballer less commonly known as Pedro Miguel Carreiro Resendes started out playing for youth clubs in Ponta Delgada on his native Azorean island of Sao Miguel before becoming a record-breaking international striker, scoring 47 times in 88 appearances for Portugal.
The I’m Like A Bird and Maneater singer (pictured, above) is a Portuguese-Canadian whose parents were both immigrants from the Azores.
The late American Major League baseball player and manager of the New York Yankees, Alfred Manuel ‘Billy’ Martin, had an Azorean dad.
The Portuguese heavy-metal guitarist, best known for his work with Boston rockers Extreme, was born in the Azores.
David Lee Roth
The 70s Cali rockers Van Halen frontman had – extraordinary fact alert – an Azorean grandmother.
WHAT TO DO WITH...
Sample one of the cozida stews of meat and veg cooked in the earth at Lake Furnas. You can see the staff from the local restaurants burying their pots in the early hours.
Go whale-watching. The Azores has 24 species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises, that sort of thing) and 50 euros will buy you a three-hour ocean adventure in their company.