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they love travelling

Sao Miguel in eight favourite directions

Sao Miguel in eight favourite directions

12.05.2019

Casa Santa resembles a house from a fairytale. With its volcanic stone walls. With an image of the sun embedded in the bathroom floor. With blue wooden window shutters and a front door decorated with a colourful figure of a rooster. With a garden, where every plant is marked with a little notice of its name, as if it were in a botanical garden, with a table and benches in both corners of the yard and a fragrant arch of roses. With a fireplace inside, with a family history dating back to 1919 and a telephone exchange that is nearly as old. Upon entering the place, right opposite the front door we found 5 ceramic churches which were similarly painted in a black-and- white pattern but their entrances were definitely different. In four days we discovered all these four elements of Casa Santa decoration as real life churches …at the four ends of the island. And we felt even stronger how special Francisco and Tamara’s house is. It is not a mere unit of accommodation, but is in fact a little story of a large island, the largest of the Azores – Sao Miguel.

We try various tastes. We share stories.

5 euro. That’s how much it costs to enter a history that started 114 years ago in the center of Ponta Delgada, the major city of Sao Miguel. 5 euro is the price of a large piece of chocolate cake and the cappuccino George and I share (we like to create our own little secrets, so a glass or a cup on the table is for both of us to drink from). We either don’t have secrets, or love to tell them to each other.

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We arrive at Louvre Mihaelense, and at 9 o’clock in the morning the town is still sleepy. No one is in a hurry. Shop assistants arrange the shelves, the pyramids of pineapple in the market are growing, neighbours stand up at the bar drinking coffee from tiny coffee cups and talk in a language that sounds as warm as spring poetry. We order a pine apple and while the owner of the corner shop is peeling the fruit and cutting it into pieces, the other people in the shop are curious to find out who we are. They probably take us for newlyweds. Besides, the picture of a couple where the woman is diminutive and the man stands tall enough “to reach the sky”, must be curious for onlookers to observe. Anyway… We have grown used to that. Azore pineapple has a very interesting taste. It is somewhat more “rounded”, sharper and fresher.

A cleaning company employee is using a small vacuum cleaner to pick up tiny bits of litter wedged between the cracks of the pavement (a sweet wrapper or a cigarette but in the street is an extremely rare sight and it seems no one in the city disposes of a tissue). The whole island is so clean it doesn’t even need a robot vacuum cleaner. In the street life goes on in a quiet, joyful and carefree manner. In this Azore morning we already knew about the Louvre of Ponta Delgada and had put it first on our list of things to see. Louvre Mihaelense is the Louvre of Sao Miguel. The association with the French museum is dates back to 1905, where in Louvre Mihaelense (these days a chocolaterie and a little shop for hand-made art) a Mr.Duarte Karoso used to make hats, none of which like the other. Marvellous unique hats. All the materials for the hats came from Paris. The hats were so exquisite that the locals treated them like museum exhibits. They were not affordable for everyone, but anyone could admire the perfect shapes, created by Karoso’s imagination, in the shop window. Some of them are still kept in Sao Miguel Louvre. In the 1970s the hatter died and so did his workshop. For a long time the doors of the place remained closed. Later the milliner’s was converted to a little dress -making workshop, of which a sewing machine and a counter for cutting cloth are still preserved. If you open the drawers of the cupboards below the cutting counter, something you are allowed and even encouraged to do, you’ll find spools of thread and buttons. Today’s counter is the one from 1905.

The dress-making workshop pottered on for a few years and then the place went quiet again behind closed doors. History remained under the cobwebs and inside cupboard drawers. 5 years later an entrepreneur from continental Portugal arrived in Ponta Delgada and “adopted” the Karosos’ history with a great deal of respect. Today Louvre Mihaelense has a heart again, but this one beats for chocolate cake. It’s a sweet Louvre. Very delicious. With time passing in three dimensions –past, present and future.

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Louvre Mihaelens is one of the seven places Francisco recommended, so that we could experience the Sao Miguel he loves.

§ The other six:
Relaxation in the Poca da Beija hot springs in Furnas. Entrance fee is 6 euro. For 2 euro extra we can have a towel, and a locker will be another 1 euro. We buy the ticket, get a stamp on our hands and we are allowed to walk in and out of the premises as often as we wish. We don’t take advantage of this opportunity. An hour spent in the hot water is more than enough for us. The temperature of the water is about 39 degrees C, changing rooms contain six lockers for men and six for women, there is also a shower. The scenery around the hot springs is very beautiful and even exotic. The “pools” have been carved in natural stone, the whole place looks bright green and wild. There are altogether 6 little springs with a holding capacity of about 10 people each. The particular zones are separated by little bridges and fountains. Don’t miss this attraction, on the contrary, repeat the experience! The advice the locals are always giving is “a hot spring – yes! But not with your stomach full”.

Right after the mineral water complex in Furnas, we sit at Tony’s. His restaurant is the local tourist attraction. Here and only here, and only after an advance reservation for 12:30 or 14:00 you can try the local island delicacy cozido. The dish is prepared in the ground of Tera Nosra Parc. The food is buried and stewed in the heat of the thermal springs. It’s a slow, nearly 9-hour- long underground cooking. Lunch may start around 12:00 – 12:30. We don’t feel that type of curiosity so we are quietly waiting at Tony’s. Cozido is slow-roasted meat with vegetables, covered with cabbage leaves. The meet can be pork, beef or chicken and among the vegetables yams is a must. Yams are a kind of sweet potato, and again a local attraction according to the story of the Azores. A portion is big enough for two and costs 14 euro. At Tony’s we also try morchela com ananas – another dish recommended for the gourmet experience of Sao Miguel. Now this is a specific grilled sausage. The filling is pork, boiled rice, onions and basil. It is served over grilled pine apple and costs 10 euro. We later prepared it ourselves in Francisco’s house.

The fishermen’s village and the light house at Nordeste, which provides the perfect close encounter with the ocean. There is a monument to the 12 Portuguese seamen who sailed 200 nautical miles to the Azores shore in a whaling rowing boat.

A trip to the tea plantations Correana and Porto Farmoso. We choose the first one, try green tea and black tea and discover the traditional sweet breadrolls bolos levedos.

A trip to Sete Cidades and the three views over the little town…We also use the time we spent in the region to have lunch, as we find an unassuming but pretty appetising little place called Lagoa Azul. The bistro offers a la carte menu including salads, fish, soups and main dishes for 9 euro altogether for adults and 4 for kids. You can also sample every dish in a special day menu and no one expects you to have the style and sophistication of a gourmet explorer. The plates there are exceptionally flat.

Fresh fish at Bar da Caloura… … It’s a small restaurant in the bay of the eponymous village of Caloura. Here we taste Trigger Fish for the first, and, hopefully, not the last, time. This is by far the most delicious fish we have ever tried. A portion of Trigger fish plus another of barracuda, roasted vegetables and selected sauces from a special bar is 30 euro. The same price we pay for the dinner on the Azores before we pack our luggage for the journey home. And just as we think it’s too late, and nearly the finish of our Azores adventure and we shall never have time to get to Vila Franca for the famous queijadas, we see the deserts at Bar da Caloura in the last two package menus. What we crave is made from wheat flour, eggs, cheese, milk, butter and plenty of powder sugar. All ingredients are familiar but the end product tastes like nothing we have tried before. Obviously they keep a secret of kneading the dough at Vila Franca.

Sao Miguel is one of the 9 Azores islands. It is authentic, uninfested by tourists, smiling, and sunny even viewed through the rain drops. It is both touristy and uncommercial. It is clean, tidy and green. It is a little Paradise. There are 8 more islands for us to discover. Some day. With their wind mills, paths, shores and miradouro, which make one stop breathing and feed the spirit.
And if one day you set off for Sao Miguel, Fransisco and Tamara’s house is 15kilometers from the airport of Ponta Delgada and equally close to all things you’ll find worth seeing. Even if you choose to stay in (for a day or two), this will be the most beautiful and romantic settling into a house built from basalto (black volcanic stone). And remember to send us a card!

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