S. Miguel (São Miguel), known as "The Green Island", is the largest and most populated island of the Azores as well as the home to the Presidency of the Autonomous Region of the Azores. S. Miguel Island has a surface area of approximately 293 square miles (759 km2). The island covers 759 km2 (293 sq mi) and has around 150,000 inhabitants, 50,000 of them located in Ponta Delgada the largest city in the archipelago.
S. Miguel's diverse scenery is a pleasant awakening to visitors, with beautiful lakes, sandy beaches, rolling hills, high mountains, green plains and blue ocean.
S. Miguel is also the island in the Azores with the most to offer. Its cosmopolitan town of Ponta Delgada offers the visitor a blend of contemporary life with historic flavor. S. Miguel monuments, turn of the century architecture, parks and cobble stone streets are interlaced with a modern marina, nice restaurants, shopping, bars, night-clubs, and ocean-front cafes.
S. Miguel is also known for is award winning Terra Nostra Park, wonderful golf courses, lakes, beaches, land, century-old architecture, majestic scenery, and most of all, its people.
S. Miguel is unlike any other destination in the world. Once you come you will want to come back.
Activities in S. Miguel include whale watching, swimming with dolphins, walking and trekking, diving, fishing, jeep safaris, bird watching, sailing, snorkeling, swimming, golf and many other outdoor and indoor activities.
The weather is best between June and October with the hottest months being July, August and September. November to January is also pleasant but temperatures dip slightly. February through May tend to be on the rainy side.
The first settlment in Sao Miguel was created in 1444 after Prince Henry the Navigator ordered that cattle be placed ashore on seven islands of the archipelago. Its captaincy was entrusted to Gonçalo Velho Cabral, knight and friar of the Order of Christ. The first inhabitants, from the Portuguese provinces of Estremadura, Upper Alentejo and Algarve, were later joined by Madeirans, Jews, Moors and possibly Frenchmen.
The fertility of the soil and the island's geographic position on the cross-roads of Europe, Africa and America contributed to rapid economic expansion based on the production of wheat (exported to the Portuguese garrisons of the North African strongholds), sugar cane, the dye-yielding plants called "woad" and "archil" (sold to Flanders), wine and dairy products One century later, sweet potatoes, maize, yams, flax and oranges came to broaden the range of the island's agricultural output. The victim of attacks by French, English and Algerian corsairs in the late 16th and part of the 17th century, São Miguel was occupied by Spanish forces in 1582 after the defeat, off Vila Franca do Campo, of a French fleet which
had Portuguese among its crews and which supported the claims of Dom Antonio Prior do Crato, to the Portuguese throne.
With the Restoration of Portugal's independence in 1640, Sao Miguel recovered its position as a trading centre and developed contacts with Brazil, to where it sent groups of settlers.
In 1831, during the Liberal Wars, after the landing of Liberal troops in Nordeste ordered by the future duke of Terceira, the resistance to the Absolutist regime on the Island was organized. In 1832, the Army, after declaring the Constitution and recognizing Maria II of Portugal as their queen, left Ponta Delgada. After the troubled period of the Liberal Wars, the previous economic expansion resumed, the port of Ponta Delgada was built, and also new crops such as tea, pineapple, and tobacco were introduced. The development of the fishing industry and the improvement of agricultural products helped to boost the economy until the present day.
The export of oranges to England brought Sao Miguel great prosperity as from the end of the 18th century. The orange groves were destroyed by a blight starting in 1860 but the local capacity for enterprise soon led to the introduction of new crops - tobacco, tea, flag, chicory, sugar-beet and pineapples - which guaranteed economic survival. With the passing of the years, these crops were joined by several industries and a growth in fisheries and livestock rising.
The island became the seat of the Presidency of the Autonomous Region of the Azores, and is the largest political-administrative center in the Azores.
S. Miguel island is situated at 25º 30' West longitude and 37º 50' North latitude.
S. Miguel, the largest island in the archipelago of the Azores, has a land area of about 910 square miles (759 km2): its length is 40 miles (65 km) and its maximum width is 10 miles (16 km).
S. Miguel island is composed of two volcanic massifs separated by a central ridge with a low altitude. The highest point is at Pico da Vara (Vara Peak) with an altitude of 3545 feet (1,080 meters), is situated in the eastern massif. The large craters of Sete Cidades (seven cities), Fogo (fire) and Furnas contain wonderful lakes of crystal-clear water.
The primary sector is the main economic activity of S. Miguel, especially the production of dairy products, cereals, tea, fruits and wine. Cattle raising and fishing are also important. The biggest source of revenue is the tourism sector. The greatest employer in S. Miguel is the government with 55% percent of the labor force employed by this sector. The private sector is dominated by a handful of companies with SATA (airlines) and Grupo Bensaude (shipping, tourism) as the leaders. Sao Miguel has around 150000 habitants with a per capita average monthly salary of 350 Euros (as of 2009).
Convent and chapel of Our Lady of Hope, known as "Convento de Esperanca" or simply Saint Christ's Church (Igreja do Senhor Santo Cristo), is home to the magnificent statue of "Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres" (Christ of Miracles), the patron of the largest religious festival in the Azores.
Sant'Ana" Palace, a 19th century construction surrounded by beautiful gardens and currently the residence of the President of the Regional Government of the Azores (it is not open daily).
Museum Carlos Machado in Ponta Delgada, an excellent institution with permanent exhibitions.
Lagoa do Fogo (Fire Lake). The hiker may reach the lake along well travelled paths.
Ermida da Senhora da Paz (Our Lady of Peace Chapel), an authentic Marian sanctuary constructed on a hill provides an excellent view of the village and of the islet. The "Ilheu" (Islet) of Vila Franca do Campo, protected as a Natural Reserve, is approximately 1 km from the coastline. The "Ilheu" is also a great swimming hole.
Furnas lake, surrounded by a beautiful flowered shore.The area of the Caldeiras ( Hot Springs ) at the Furnas lake, serve as a natural kitchen. Cooking by burying pots of food in the earth is a tradition that provides a fantastic meal of mixed meats and vegetables. In the town of Furnas the "Caldeiras" (hot springs) are even more spectacular. Many openings in the earth sprout geysers of boiling hot water.
"Terra Nostra" Park, behind the hotel of the same name, is one of the most beautiful parks in Portugal and well known throughout Europe. This 18th century park consists of small lakes and streams, colorful and exotic flowers, vegetation and trees, as well as century old trees of great botanical value. The park also features a lake that works like a pool of thermal iron water where you can relax in hot water. Be prepared to pay an admission fee of around 5 euros.
Nordeste (Northeast), is one of the most attractive municipalities in Sao Miguel . The look-out points, Ponta da Madrugada, Ponta do Sossego, Salto da Farinha, and the Ponta do Estorninho, among others are worth stopping at to admire the flowers and the amazing landscape.
Pico da Vara, the highest point on the island, with an altitude of 1105m, is a challenging one and a half to two hour walk along a path which offers magnificent scenery of nature in the most primitive form. Pico da Vara is considered Natural Reserve, and a previous authorisation by the Regional Forestry Ministry may be required.
Sete Cidades twin lakes, the biggest extinct volcano crater in the Azores with 12 km perimeter.
Several beaches all over the island where you can swim, including Melicias (just outside Ponta Delgada, Ribeira Grande (Areal de Santa Barbara a popular surfing spot) Agua D'Alto (Agua de Pau), Vinha d'Areia (Vila Franca do Campo), Moinhos (Porto Formoso), Mosteiros and Ribeira Quente.
S. Miguel is the island with the greatest range of activities due to its rank as the biggest island in the Azores. The island offers a natural green stage filled with beaches, lakes, mountains and a terrain made for outdoor activities. Two world class 18-hole golf courses, tennis clubs, rowing, windsurfing, hang lighting, scuba diving, surfing, climbing, fishing and many more activities wait to be explored. All this can be had under a reinvigorating climate and an unique scenery of green and.
Lakes and streams
S. Miguel streams flow between densely forested ravines with transparent water reflecting the verdant banks. One can catch the combative trout and carp, red gurnards and achigãs. The streams of Praia, Alegria, Bispos, Faial da Terra, Guilherme, Machado, Caideiroes, Coelhas, Salga, Carneiros, Limos and Grande offer trout that challenge the skill of any fisherman. The lake called Lagoa das Sete Cidades is rich in perch, carp and pike. In Lagoa do Fogo trout and carp abound, while Lagoa Rasa and São Bras are home to the achiga. In Lagoa das Furnas it is possible to catch trout, perch, carp, red gurnards and sandre.
S. Miguel features warm, transparent water with spectacular cliffs, valleys and craters. A rich and varied flora and fauna where the dusky perch swims past the dolphin and the tortoise past the ray while unending shoals of fish pass by, sure attractions for those who are keen on diving and underwater observation. In S. Miguel one can find thousands of tiny paradises along the coast where they can appreciate all the charms of the sea, by day or by night.
Privileged areas for underwater observation are Ponta da Galera, the coast in the Feteiras area and the islets of Vile Franca and Mosteiros. A ship called the Dori is sunk next to the port of Ponta Delgada at a depth that allows it to be visited.
Sea and fishing
The indented coast of S. Miguel and the wealth and variety of fish make São Miguel a paradise for those who are keen on rock fishing. The main species caught are barracuda, red bream, bluefish bream, conger eel, garfish, trigger fish, jack grevalle, mackeral, moray eel and common sea bream. Many fishing grounds are famous, the most interesting being those located at Ponta Deigada, Ponta das Freiras, Ferraria, Mosteiros, Ponta da Bretanha, Porto das Capelas, Poços de São Vicente, Rabo de Peixe, Ponta and Porto da Ribeira do Nordeste, Agua Retorta and Faial da Terra.
The existence of depths of 300 to 800 meters a short distance off the coast (2 to 3 km) makes it possible with the use of a boat to fish for barracuda, oceanic bonito, bluefish bream, dolphin, amberjack and several species of tuna. Of course it is the large and combative sword fish, oceanic bream, pecos, several kinds of tuna and shark, etc. that supply opportunity for thrilling struggles to keen sports fishermen Several record catches have already been made. Ponta Delgada has specially equipped boats for this purpose and they cruise as far as the Formigas islets.
Festivals of Senhor Santo Cristo - Ponta Delgada
The most important religious festivities in S. Miguel and, as far as number of people participating, the biggest festival in the Azores islands are held on the fifth Sunday after Easter. The festivities known as Festas do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles) date back to the end of the 17th century with the fame of the miracles obtained through the intercessors of the Senhor Santo Cristo (Lord Holy Christ), whose image is venerated in the Convent of Nossa Senhora da Esperanca. The endless procession, which comprises of thousands of faithful who come mostly from every island in the Azores and the Azorean communities spread throughout the world, dates from that period, and nowadays still follows the same itinerary which covers a large part of Ponta Delgada. At festival time the town is decorated with arches and other fascinating illuminations. The streets where the procession is to pass are covered by painstakingly decorated carpets of artistically laid out flowers. The blessing of the bread and meat distributed among the needy on Saturday, marks the start of the festivities, followed on Sunday by the procession with the image under its famous baldachin decorated with flowers. To the devotion shown by the faithful must be added the conviviality and joy of the profane part of the festivities, complete with fireworks and music played by dozens of bands. Ponta Delgada is transformed into a town full of color and animation during the six days the festival lasts.
Festas do Espirito Santo - Holy Ghost Festivals
Of Medieval origin (13th A.D.) they are one of the most traditional expressions of devotion. In S. Miguel Holy Ghost (Espirito Santo) festivals are held on Sundays from April to June. Presenting different characteristics from island to island and from village to village, the festivals common features are the coronation of the "emperor", the feast day on which the offerings of bread meat and wine, called "pensions", are distributed among the needy and the "brothers" of the "empire" and the "jesters" who, with their musical instruments and songs recall age-old customs. The most colorful festivals of the Holy Ghost take place at Rabo de Peixe, with ox-carts decorated with fanciful ornaments made of colored paper, and at Ribeira Grande, where girls march in a procession carrying trays on their head with the "pensions" of the "brothers" of the Holy Ghost.
Romeiros - The Lenten pilgrims
During the seven weeks of Lent, groups of men walk round Sao Miguel in a chanting meditative state led by a "master" stopping only to pray next to the churches and chapels dedicated to Our Lady. Eight days later they return to their home villages, where they are received by the local inhabitants of the parish and where a festival is held in their honor.
Cavalhadas - St. Peter's cavalcades - Ribeira Seca
Ribeira Grande and Ribeira Seca are a stage for the Cavalhadas (St. Peter’s Cavalcates). A "king" or headman, knights, lance's, stewards and trumpeters dressed in white, with red capes and sashes, mounted on splendid horses, ride through the streets in the morning of St. Peter's day, June 29th, repeating ceremonies whose origin is lost in time and which recall the tournaments of knighthood. A colorful spectacle which heads toward the centre of the town of Ribeira Seca and has its culminating point at the church of São Pedro when the "king" greets the saint in verse and makes his horse place its front hoofs on the door of the church.
Senhor dos Enfermos - Procession of Our Lord of the Sick – Furnas
The streets, covered with petals laid out in artistic designs, are the scene of the procession. The carpets of petals display all the hues of the flowers of the Azores. The procession is held on the first Sunday after Easter.
São Miguel - St. Michael's or Labor Procession - Vila Franca do Campo
A throw-back to the Middle Ages, this procession features groups of craftsmen where each profession gathers around the litter bearing their patron saint. The colors of the surplices worn by the participants define their profession. This splendid and long procession takes place on the Sunday following the 8th of May.
Festival of Bom Jesus da Pedra – Good Lord of the Stone - Vila Franca do Campo
The outcome of this festival is when the image of the Bom Jesus (Good Jesus) is carried Saturday evening to the church of Sao Miguel. It is returned in procession to the church of the Misericordia on Sunday of the last weekend in August.
In S. Miguel, the traditional old recipes remain alive in succulent dishes such as caldo azedo (a kind of soup), couves solteiras (prepared with cabbages). fervedouros, polvo guisado em vinho de cheiro (octopus stewed in local wine), torresmos em molho de figado (rashers of bacon with liver sauce), caldeiradas de peixe (fish stews), arroz de lapas (limpets with rice), ensopado de trutas (trout stew) and lapas de molho Afonso (limpets with a tasty sauce). To these must be added the curious cozido prepared at Furnas, where the pot containing meat and vegetables is buried in the soil wrapped in a cloth bag so that the volcanic heat can do its work... and several hours later it is ready to delight the palate with its rich flavour.
Lobster, cavaco, crabs and the strange goose barnacles, hidden in the holes they carve in the rocks, satisfy the needs of shellfish lovers. When it comes to cheese, S. Miguel can offer a smooth white fresh variety made from goat's milk and the famous queijo da ilha, made from cow's milk and with a piquant flavour when dry. The old conventional recipes for desserts are the delight of people with a sweet-tooth. Examples are the queijadas (cheese-cakes) of Vila Franca do Campo, the concertos of Ribeira Grande, the bolo levedo of Furnas as well as the barriga-de-freira, massa sovada, bichos de amendoa and compota de capucho (a jam made from the small fruit of a herbaceous plant). The Caloura region produces a wine called vinho de cheiro or morangueiro, which is light and has a characteristic flavour. The liqueurs made from passion-fruit and pineapples are agreeable ways of concluding a meal.
Pineapples and Tea
One of the curious things about S. Miguel is the green-houses for pineapples, which produce flavorsome, sweet fruit all year round for markets in many European countries. The main concentrations of green-houses are situated in the areas of Faja de Cima, Lagoa and Vila Franca do Campo. Tea, that delicious beverage brought from China, is also produced on plantations that attract attention because of the unusual and charming sight of the green tea bushes covering hills and dales, divided into fields by hedges of araucarias and Japanese cedars.
Tea growing got under way in the late l9th century and in 1878 two Chinese came to São Miguel to teach the islanders the complex tasks involved in its preparation. The main plantations are located at Gorreana, next to the old Chapel of Senhora do Resgate.
The repetition of old patterns and shapes and the use of local raw materials characterizes the handicraft of S. Miguel. Mats made from leaves of maize and flag, colorful dolls of maize husks representing picturesque figures in their regional costumes, artificial flowers made from fish scales, paper, cloth and feathers and wickerwork are examples of the works of art that come from practiced and skilful hands. To which must be added the linen embroideries, the hand woven counterpanes with squares, lozenges and colorful fluting and the woolen caps worn by the shepherds.
The pottery tradition in S. Miguel originated when the first inhabitants brought with them the art of clay modeling. Pottery making already has a centuries-old tradition at Vila Franca do Campo, which once had dozens of potteries in operation using clay brought by sail boats from the island of Santa Maria. Today only a few potters reproduce with their wheels the traditional shapes of bows, trays, pots, pitchers, fanciful and elegant jars and the excellent miniatures that attract collectors.
Lagoa, a pottery centre that was born in the middle of the l9th century, soon gained great fame beyond the horizons of the Azores for the decoration shapes and glazing of its pieces, The skill and art of its potters goes far beyond the utilitarian and includes statuettes and figurines, decorative vases and glazed tiles. San Miguel has a strong tradition in spinning and weaving, as all the other islands have as well. The antique weaver's looms are still used to create fabulous quilts, blankets, panels and tapestry all in the traditional colors.
The most popular products in S. Miguel revolve around pottery, ceramics, embroidery, cheese and pineapple.