Ponta Delgada, Portugal
Our last port of call on this cruise! Ponta Delgado on San Miguel island, part of the Portugese archipelago of the Azores. We called here last year too and knew to expect a beautiful, green, volcanic island with a climate that is springlike year round. The ship was on the dock by 8am and we were ready to go. We’d organised a rental car for the day to go out and see some more of the island.
Last time we toured around to the north and saw some of the volcanic lakes. This time we were going to the central area to see some more The Azores are the tops of huge underwater mountains and volcanoes. Many people believe them to be the remnants of Atlantis and certainly there is huge evidence of massive ancient volcanic activity. There are cones everywhere, massive craters and still bubbling calderas. The islands sit on the convergence of the American and African tectonic plates.
The rich volcanic soil and the benign climate have made for a horticultural paradise. Rich farmlands but the whole island is like a giant botanical garden. So many varieties of plants and trees, and some, which we have in the UK as small pot plants, thrive in giant, rampant form here.
We headed out of Ponta Delgada to the Valley of Furnas, a giant volcanic crater and rift valley which contains the largest lake on the island, a flooded caldera. It is the richest hydrological centre in Europe with over 20 mineral springs. People have come here for hundreds of years to bathe in the water and also drink it. The roads were really good, and it being a Sunday, pretty quiet. We reached the viewpoint looking down on the lake in good time and were rewarded by tremendous views. It is azalea time here and they were everywhere. Trimmed into hedges, flat topped bushes and shaped into topiary. There is one of the two golf courses on the island here and it looked fabulous, a really beautiful course.
Coffee was calling after our early start and we drove down into the town of Furnas to the Hotel Terra Nostra, an amazing art deco building. I fully expected Hercules Poirot to turn up at any moment, it was so full on. Fantastic place, well worth a few days. They have their own prizewinning botanical garden complete with hot spring spa pools and I would have loved to have spent time there but we just didn’t have long enough.
Our route took us through the little town, along the lakeside to the area of Caldeiras where the bubbling sulphury springs are visible on the surface. The smell wasn’t too pleasant but it was interesting to see the pools and the old bath houses and drinking fountains. Had a taste but like all these waters, they are really horrid!
Took the road down to the south coast and tootled along following the coast. We came down to a little cove, very reminiscent of Cornwall, very like Mullion. On the tiny harbour was a fish restaurant and we decided on lunch in the open air. It was just about warm enough, although they gave us blankets! I think we found a local favourite as it soon filled up and we would not have got a table if we’d not arrived when we did. Bob and I had ling, one of the fish of the day. Mick had swordfish and Maureen had barracuda. The portions were massive and the fish was perfectly, perfectly cooked. It was a great lunch there, overlooking the sea and washed down by a lovely glass of Portugese white wine.
We continued on back into town, arriving at about 230. We dropped the car off and Bob and I wandered into the old town. Today was the Festo do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres, the largest religious festival in the Azores, marked by a huge parade, fireworks and flowers. Our ship was sailing just after 5pm but we had the chance to see the start of the parade and some of the festivities. The parade route was marked on the road by mosaics of flower petals – really beautifully done – in many designs. We found a perch and managed to facetime both girls while we waited. At 4pm, the procession started: thousands of the islands men, dressed in red robes leading off. Then marching bands ahead of a figure of Jesus. We had to run back to the ship before the statue arrived but we enjoyed what we saw and also the crescendo of fireworks that had already begun, daylight or not.
Back on board we went up to the rear deck to a final sailaway party, a tradition on P&O especially for the last port of call. There is a lot of flag waving, quaffing of drinks, singing and dancing along to the songs of all the countries aboard. I know… it sounds ghastly but actually its a lot of fun and we enjoy it despite ourselves. Last Night of the Proms sort of spirit. The Azores faded into the dusk and the Acardia headed north back towards Southampton on Thursday.