Deep valleys, lush tropical forests, steep cliffs, small roads – The East of São Miguel is the least developed and least populated part of the island.
But before you head East it’s worth to make a stop in Ribeira Grande, especially to visit the contemporary arts centre Arquipélago. Not only the exhibitions but also the site – old buildings from a former tobacco and alcohol factory combined with new modern constructions create a fascinating complex – is worth a visit.
Driving by car – mandatory on the island, by the way – further east along the North coast, you’re spoilt for choice: which miradouro (view point) do you want to drive off? Probably all of them! Each of them opens new perspectives on the coast and each of them really is so much more than only a viewpoint: well equipped picnic and barbecue area, recreational park, childrens playground.
A place where you definitely should stop at the North coast is Porto Formoso. Here you’ll find one of those typical Azorean curiosities: tea plantations. Actually – as the Azores are part of Portugal – the only two still existing European tea plantations and factories: Chá Porto Formoso and Chá Gorreana, the bigger one that we visited. How the tea came to the Azores? Some say it was a (mainland) Portuguese who brought a plant from Brasil, some say it were two Chinese from the Portuguese colony of Macau. This or the other way, it’s the heritage of global colonial exchange processes at the end of the 19th century, when this plant – and the imported ananas – saved the Azorean agriculture, cause a nasty fungus had just destroyed all their orange trees, until then the wealth of São Miguel and its ‘orange barons’.
Walking through the tea terraces, the smell of the fresh tea leaves in the factory, the charming equipment, the sip of your tea while looking at the ocean, the hand-packaging of each tea bag … and the absurdity of (unimpressed) Chinese tourists observing the tea production definitely is an experience you shouldn’t miss. I guess in summer it’s a good advice to come in the morning or in the late afternoon, in spring this isn’t a big issue.
Life in the East of São Miguel goes in a slow rhythm, and on the Easter weekend everyone in town seams to be in church or preparing at home for the festivities. Only a few men come together in front of the local café/pastelaria/bar. And the rest: “It’s oh so quiet…”
Down the East coast from Nordeste to Povoação – the only road EN 1-1A doesn’t leave a lot of options – some skills in driving serpentines (that he has!) are recommended. But the road is newly repaired these days, and the roads in general, including the grass on the side and the miradouros, are always very well maintained. Keeping in mind the fertile climate this must be a round-the-clock task for the staff.
And if you get tired from all the serpentines: the next miradouro always lies ahead!
There was one ‘major’ hike (about 2 hours hiking time) that we made and that can be really recommended. From the miradouro do Pôr-do-Sol near Povoação a smaller road goes down to the coastal village of Faial da Terra. From there a trail goes up to the waterfall Salto do Prego. While you first walk along orchards, the green soons gets more lush and dense, until you end up in a humid rainforest surrounded by ferns, and a waterfall just in the middle.
On the way back you pass Sanguinho, an abandoned but lately revivified little settlement, before you can spot Faial da Terra again and – of course – the blue blue ocean.
In the next post it won’t stay that quiet as on the East coast. It will fizz and bubble and it will smell…