Fiery Furnas: Steamy cauldrons in the Azores

As the plane descends, my youngest daughter exclaims: “Look! The earth is boiling.” And it is! From above, the Furnas Valley looks mysterious and misty. A few minutes later we land on São Miguel, the largest island in the Azores archipelago.

Furnas, Sao Miguel, Azores

About halfway between Britain and America, the Azores islands are volcanic and verdant, and form the visible part of the world’s longest mountain range, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Politically, they’re an autonomous region of Portugal.

We go straight to Furnas to see the caldeiras, the hot springs, up close. The town is surrounded by mountains, absurdly green hills and luxuriant gardens. All around us are lush flowers and large ferns.

Furnas, Azores Islands

The sound of boiling, bubbling mud follows us along the winding paths. It’s as if a giant cauldron is simmering deep inside the earth. Every now and then, a geyser emits steamy hot water. Large holes in the ground look ready to erupt.

Furnas, Azores Islands

Dark, mysterious caves emit even more mist. I have to fight an irresistible urge to go closer and peek inside. Don’t know what I would find in there, but luminous, ghostly aliens seem a definite possibility.

Furnas, Sao Miguel, Azores

Nearby is the garden of Terra Nostra with its age-defying geothermal pool. It’s a fountain of youth, purported to take 20 years off anyone who ventures in. The iron-rich water is yellowish-brown and muddy, yet looks oddly appealing. Or, at least, that’s what I think.

Terra Nostra, Furnas, Sao Miguel, Azores

“Really, mum? You want us to swim in that?” The idea of shedding 20 years holds no attraction at all. “We wouldn’t even be born yet then…”

But, as usual, curiosity gets the better of them. Soon they’re splashing about in the warm water.

Leaving the valley, we pass Furnas Lake and the pretty Chapel of Nossa Senhora das Vitórias.

Chapel of Nossa Senhora das Vitórias, Furnas, Azores Islands

If you’re in Furnas, try cozido: pork, turnips, carrots and sausages cooked together in a pot deep inside the earth and left to simmer for hours in the sulphurous volcanic heat. Nom nom!

Center map

Have a look at DeliciousBaby for more fun Friday photos

Have you been to the Azores? Which are your favourite islands?



46 Responses to “Fiery Furnas: Steamy cauldrons in the Azores”

  1. Ana (Ana Travels) 29 November 2011 1556 #

    I love those hydrangeas!

  2. ItalianNotes 29 November 2011 1726 #

    I wouldn’t mind a dip in that muddy pond, if it could subtract a year or two. Did it work?

  3. Anne-Sophie Redisch 29 November 2011 2334 #

    @Ana – Very pretty, arn’t they? And so much bigger than up here.

    @ItalianNotes – Can’t say I noticed any difference, but perhaps it’s one of those subtle things…

  4. Candice Michelle 30 November 2011 0902 #

    Although I have a good feeling, I still would like to know if it is really safe to have a steam bath in there? I would love to if it is.

  5. Anne-Sophie Redisch 30 November 2011 2338 #

    Candice – Well, you can have a nice warm bath in one of the many pools. I’d be a bit careful with the caves, though 🙂

  6. Muza-chan 1 December 2011 0829 #

    Great place to visit (^_^)

  7. Michael 1 December 2011 0845 #

    Well, one more for the bucket list.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 December 2011 0930 #

      @Michael – I think you two would like the Azores. Gorgeous hikes and you can break for lovely, age-defying baths in pools and under waterfalls along the way 🙂

  8. RyukyuMike 1 December 2011 0937 #

    Boiling, bubbling mud. I want some, too !

  9. Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 December 2011 1001 #

    @Muza-chan – It really is. Absolutely recommend a visit to the Azores.

    @Mr Ryukyu – I imagine you get a bit of volcanic activity in your part of the world, too.

  10. Average Traveller 1 December 2011 1024 #

    Very nice. From a purely geographic standpoint it kind of looks like the Hawaii of Europe.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 December 2011 1049 #

      @Average Traveller – Interesting observation. It does resemble Hawaii in some ways. Cooler temperatures (I think… never been to Hawaii), but both archipelagos in the middle of a large ocean, and both volcanic.

  11. Denise 1 December 2011 1058 #

    I can’t believe you’ve been to the Azores! (you seem to have been everywhere!). My cousin goes there for the birds many times a year and I’ve had them on my travel list for a long long time now…

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 December 2011 1331 #

      @Denise – I think you would like it – definitely a slow travel kind-of place. Lots of stunning nature to amble (or ride horses) through and swim in, birds and whales to spot… and, somewhat surprisingly, good shopping (what can I say… I have two shop-crazy daughters).

  12. InsideJourneys 1 December 2011 1349 #

    Wow, how absolutely lovely! Like you, I’d want to take a peek myself. I feel the same when I see waterfalls, like I want to jump in and cascade over the falls.

  13. Vera Marie Badertscher 1 December 2011 1552 #

    You do travel to the most fascinating places. I hope your girls will remember when they grow up about all their exotic experiences, but I have to tell you that after one trip with my little ones (now all adults), the 5-yr-old reported to his kindergarten teacher that the most exciting thing about the trip was when a lady came and cleaned the room.

  14. Leigh 1 December 2011 1610 #

    Anything – well almost anything to knock 10 years off sounds like a great plan – even if the waters look very uninviting.
    My gosh, your children have had some fantastic travel experiences. I had parents who never went anywhere and I grew up envious of families that did.
    Looks like a great place to visit.

  15. Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 December 2011 2302 #

    @InsideJourneys – I know exactly what you mean – like some invisible magnet pulling one towards the fall. Delicious and scary.

    @Vera Marie – Too funny. My kids sometimes remember the oddest (and seemingly insignificant) things as well. All part of the experience, I suppose.

    @Leigh – I didn’t travel much as a child either. A classmate of mine did and she always brought back fabulous plastic gondolas and Eiffel Towers. Fabulous through a child’s eyes, anyway.

  16. Katrina 2 December 2011 0241 #

    How deliciously fun! I tried several times while in Italy to get to hot springs, but it kept not working out. Cold springs in summer, yes, but not hot springs. And cooking with the volcanic heat? Genius!

    I do love volcanoes, so I will now add this to my list of must see places. Thank you! 😀

  17. Cathy Sweeney 2 December 2011 0429 #

    Great shots, Sophie. I’m definitely ready to go there to try the age-defying geothermal pool (and to taste the cozido)!

  18. Andrea 2 December 2011 0706 #

    All the cold weather we’ve been in lately is making me long for a dip in some hot springs right about now!

  19. Angela 2 December 2011 0906 #

    Wow this looks wonderful, I wouldn’t mind at all swimming in there and spending some time in such a paradise!

  20. It looks incredible! I want to go!

    Thanks for linking up!


  21. Stephanie - The Travel Chica 2 December 2011 1806 #

    Gotta love a bowl of food that is cooked from the heat of a volcano!

  22. Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 December 2011 1834 #

    @Katrina, Cathy, Andrea, Angela, Becca, Stephanie – thanks for reading 🙂

  23. Steve 2 December 2011 1858 #

    “Look. The Earth is boiling!” is not what I want to hear when my flight is on final descent. Hope there were no nervous flyers sitting near you!
    Looks gorgeous, but is it really a good shopping destination? Why in the world would it be an ideal place for stores to set up? Bizarre.
    Thanks for the look.

  24. Anne-Sophie Redisch 2 December 2011 1901 #

    @Steve – Haha. I think most of the passengers knew what it was about.

    Shopping is by no means a major reason for visiting the Azores. But interestingly, there is quite a good selection of shops. My daughters adored Parque Atlântico, a beautiful shopping mall in Ponta Delgada (capital of the island). They had loads of locally produced goods, such as tea, brandy and hand rolled cigars, as well as lots of high end fashion boutiques. There’s Massimo Dutti, Zara, Mango – that sort of thing.

    The Azores is a popular stop for sailors crossing the Atlantic. I suppose that might account for some of the business.

  25. Lisa 2 December 2011 1903 #

    My sister-in-law is from the Azores and has never told me about the age-defying geothermal pool! Do you think she’s keeping that information to herself?

  26. Nancie 3 December 2011 0117 #

    This looks awesome, and shedding 20 years…what a bonus!

  27. Sherry 3 December 2011 1349 #

    My curiosity has now been piqued more as I am sure you have secured my desire to want to go here. Its looks so lush and full of life – my kind of place. The geothermal pools are an added bonus. I’m so envious of your expereince here.

  28. Camels & Chocolate 3 December 2011 1657 #

    Ahhh I’m dying to go to the Azores to do a little diving!

  29. Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 December 2011 2317 #

    @Lisa – I think maybe she is…

    @Nancy, Sherry, Camels & Chocolate – thanks for commenting!

  30. Michael Figueiredo 4 December 2011 2319 #

    Wasn’t Sao Miguel unbelievable? Did you try the cozido (the food cooked in the volcanic earth? I want to return someday!

  31. Michael Figueiredo 4 December 2011 2322 #

    I tried to rewrite my comment but it wouldn’t let me…. what did you think of the cozido? I liked it…it was very earthy. 🙂

  32. Melinda 5 December 2011 0654 #

    Glad you enjoyed the Azores. They are beautiful, low key and a reminder to appreciate the planet. I’ve been to Terceira, Pico and a short stop on Sao Miguel. I miss it. We actually lived on Terceira for 2 years. This post makes me miss it. If you get a chance to visit Terceira check out the site I made while there to organize and showcase life off the base for those of us Americans living there.

  33. Tim 5 December 2011 1148 #

    Thanks for introducing me to the Azores. You go to all these interesting places I haven’t heard of – but now want to see for myself. 🙂

    By the way, I’ve heard the Maoris in New Zealand also submerge pots of meat and vegetables into the earth and leave it there to cook for hours. Similar conditions, I guess.

  34. Anne-Sophie Redisch 6 December 2011 1644 #

    @Michael – So beautiful the Azores. You’re lucky to have family connection there.

    @Melinda – I was only at Sao Miguel, but dfo want to see the other islands as well. Especially the tiny island of Corvo seems intriguing.

    @Tim – Thanks – and yes. We had a meal like that once in Rotorua in New Zealand. It’s called a hangi. Really nice!

  35. Red Nomad OZ 7 December 2011 0145 #

    OK, where are the before & after pictures?? Or did you always look that young?!?! The closest I’ve come to life-enhancing waters was at Hepburn Springs, downunder in southern OZ where people have been coming for many years to ‘take the waters’ from the natural springs! No ‘drop 20 years’ claim though … although I DID feel a lot more relaxed after a spa treatment!!!

  36. Anne-Sophie Redisch 7 December 2011 1646 #

    @Red Nomad – Those are both my kids. Young before and after 🙂

  37. Mike Stewart 21 December 2011 1440 #

    The Azores islands reminds me of the Aztec civilization which were rich with ancient beliefs and traditions. On the other hand, I’m glad to see that these Islands are still preserved.

  38. Elizabeth 2 February 2012 1932 #

    I will be going to Sao Miguel in April. I have traced my family back to the Azores, (Sao Miguel) for three generations, so far. I will be staying in Porto Delgado for two weeks. I’ve been reading your bog and I was wondering if you know about transportation. I don’t particularly want to rent a car. What is the pubic transportation like? Do you have any suggestions as to how I would get around without a car?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 3 February 2012 1128 #

      Hi Elizabeth,
      first of all: how exciting! I’m sure you’ll love it; such a beautiful and peaceful place, the Azores. As for transport: We rented a car. It was fairly inexpensive and very convenient, especially for getting to areas outside the main towns. Driving was very easy as well, with little traffic outside of Ponta Delgada. Streets in Ponta Delgada itself are narrow and best maneuvered on foot.

      There are busses between Sao Miguel’s main towns, and they should work fine if you’re not in a hurry. (With 2 weeks in Ponta Delgada, you won’t be 🙂 ) I would suggest you try the busses first, then maybe you’ll decide to rent a car when you’re more familiar with the place. Happy travels!

  39. Christina 10 April 2012 1539 #

    Always wanted to go there. Almost booked for this Easter but decided for Madeira instead. I live the lush green scenery and volcanic landscape

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 April 2012 1749 #

      Madeira is beautiful, too. Though I haven’t been there in 20 years.

  40. Kate 15 April 2012 1831 #

    Looks like such a magical place – your pictures really capture that aspect. Adding this to my bucket list, it just looks like somewhere I would love to stand and soak in the surroundings.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 April 2012 1834 #

      Thanks. The Azores really are wonderful.

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