Past Tour: São Miguel, Azores Islands

Past Tour

São Miguel, Azores Islands
May 20 – May 27, 2016

$2299 for payment by credit card

$2249 for payment by check

TOUR SOLD OUT

A delightful, eight-day, six-night tour to beautiful São Miguel, the most populous of the Portuguese Azores islands, known for its natural beauty, idyllic scenery, and quaint architecture. Organized for the FRHS by Alan Amaral of Italian Wine Services, LLC, this tour is comprised of a six-night stay in the four-star Hotel Marine Atlántico in Ponta Delgada and a comprehensive sightseeing program throughout the magnificent countryside and along the beautiful coastal regions of São Miguel.

This tour includes:

  • Round-trip motor coach transportation to and from Boston’s Logan International Airport.
  • Round-trip scheduled flight Boston – São Miguel and return, with full meal and beverage service, and stereo headsets.
  • Special meet-and-greet service and assistance at Logan International Airport by a professional Travel Service Representative.
  • Portage of luggage at the hotel.
  • All transfers and sightseeing aboard a private, temperature-controlled, deluxe touring motor coach.
  • Six-night accommodation at the four-star Hotel Marine Atlántico, based on twin occupancy. A limited number of single rooms are available at an additional supplement of $420 per single.
  • Substantial breakfast each morning, four lunches, and dinner each evening.
  • Full services of a professional driver and English-speaking Tour Escort who will accompany our group throughout the tour.
  • Expert English-speaking tour guides where required.
  • Comprehensive sightseeing package as described in the itinerary, including entrance fees where applicable.
  • All room and meal taxes and gratuities to bellmen.
  • Informative pre-trip orientation festa.

Itinerary

Day 1: Boston – Ponta Delgada

Depart Boston’s Logan International Airport on our transatlantic flight to São Miguel. Full meal and beverage service, as well as stereo headsets, available while in flight.

Travelogue

Group assembly and easy transfer to Boston for check-in at SATA Internacional; airline logo is a whale fin, a distinct symbol of the Azores. A fine group of fellow travelers from the greater Fall River area and as far away as Illinois. Restful flight with beverage and meal service, including dinner and continental breakfast. Many travelers eagerly anticipating a visit to their ancestral homeland.

Day Day 2: Ponta Delgada, São Miguel

Upon our arrival at the João Paulo II Airport in Ponta Delgada, we will meet our Tour Escort, who will help us board our private motorcoach to take us to the Hotel Marina Atlántico. As we arrive early in the morning, our rooms may not be ready for us. If they are not, it has been arranged that we will have two courtesy rooms available for relaxation and freshening-up; breakfast will also be available. Following check-in, the day will be at leisure to have time to relax and get to know our surroundings. This evening, we will enjoy a “Special Welcome Dinner” and overnight at our hotel.

Travelogue

Arrival on São Miguel. Greeted at airport by our guide Patricia; extremely affable, clearly very knowledgeable and passionate about her native land – a keen sense of humor. Short drive by comfortable motorcoach to our hotel, where a breakfast buffet awaited us. The Hotel Marina Atlántico beautifully situated overlooking the ocean with striking décor, well-appointed rooms, and lovely views in every direction – all the amenities one could hope for. R&R followed by an excellent dinner in the hotel dining room. A visit to the lounge before bed; delightful conversation with old friends, new friends, and strangers alike.

Day 3: Whale Watch and Ponta Delgada

After breakfast, we will be transferred to the port for a whale-watching tour, featuring over twenty species of Azorean sea life, as well as historical facts. Return to the hotel for lunch, followed by a half-day tour of Ponta Delgada, featuring the “Portas da Cidade” (which has a special connection to Fall River), the “Three Squares,” the Matriz church, and the Convento da Esperanca, where we will visit the sanctuary of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres and see the famous jeweled statue. This evening, we will enjoy dinner at the Portas do Mar, a dining and entertainment area just a four-minute walk from the hotel. Afterwards, we will return to the hotel for overnight.

Travelogue

Misty day. Breakfast before assembling for a whale-watching tour; rough waters discouraged surprisingly few from participating to witness a wealth of amazing sea life and spouting whales. Wet attendees returned to hotel to change and enjoy lunch before departing for a walking tour of Ponta Delgada. The city a surprising mixture of quaint old structures and modern architecture; the juxtaposition of native volcanic stone in rich black shades a sharp contrast to white stucco on longstanding structures. Numerous sites very familiar to Fall Riverites from reproductions seen since childhood; the 18th century Portatas da Cidade on the old quay the original version of the facsimile standing in Fall River, the latter gifted by the Azorean people. Much to see at every turn: the beautiful Matriz church, lovely squares and fountains, exotic plantings, and the Convento da Esperanca, which holds the much-venerated Senhor Santo Christo dos Milagres statue, covered in precious metal and jewels, a testament to the deep-rooted piety of these people. The convent garden tranquil, with age-old stonework, and a magnificent specimen of wisteria, its ancient, twisted trunk like some sculpted biblical serpent.

Late afternoon spent wandering about. Strong black expresso and a scrumptious cuajada nata, a Portuguese custard tart, at a small open-air café frequented by locals – fabulous!

Back to the hotel for R&R, followed by a fine dinner featuring local cuisine and more-than-ample quantities of red and white wine from mainland Portugal at a restaurant located a very short walk from our hotel.

A delightful visit to the lounge before retiring for the evening.

Day 4: Furnas

After breakfast, we will take a full-day tour of Furnas. Additionally, we’ll stop at Pico do Ferro, where we will see that the town of Furnas is actually located in the center of a volcanic crater. During our tour, we will enjoy a very special lunch, with wine and mineral water included, called cozido das furnas. This is a “cavern stew” cooked by the volcanic heat of the ground. It’s one of a kind! Cozido das Furnas is only available in Furnas, and it’s a “must-do” while in São Miguel. Later, we will return to our hotel for dinner and overnight.

Travelogue

A lovely day! Breakfast at our hotel before assembling for a day-long tour to Furnas, famous the world over for good reason. Spectacular scenery en route with beautiful vistas beyond imagining; rugged mountains, ocean in vibrant shades of blue and green, lush pastures, magnificent hydrangea, and thriving plantings of all sorts the result of rich volcanic soil. The tremendous energy of eons of volcanic activity evident at every turn, the landscape a riot of once liquid stone forced by nature into fascinating sculptural forms. A feast for the eyes – one can easily understand why many have long believed this place to be the site of the legendary lost city of Atlantis.

Pico do Ferro nestled in the center of a volcano, quaint and inviting with breathtaking views; the scent of sulfur permeates the air. A visit to the hot springs on the north shore of Furnas Lake to view pots of cozido das furnas buried in the soil, cooking in natural earth ovens due to intense volcanic heat; the dish, similar to a New England boiled dinner, is distinctive to this area. Lunch followed by a short walk to the gates of the superb Terra Nostra Botanical Park, its thirty-one acres, originally laid out as a private pleasure garden in the 18th century, centered by a famed thermal pool, celebrated for its curative properties. Lush, mature plantings from the world over, including a renowned collection of rhododendrons, and over three hundred varieties of fern. A botanical dream and an artists’ palette of flowers – one could spend days here, meandering along walkways bordered by verdant foliage, and dotted with secluded seating areas, monuments, and urns hidden away, awaiting discovery. The sites, the scent, the sounds – all mesmerizing.

Dinner and overnight at our hotel.

Day 5: Fogo-Caldeira Velha-Ribeira Grande

After breakfast, we will follow the mountain road to Lagoa do Fogo, at an altitude of 3000 feet, to see the magnificent “Fire Lake,” located in the center of the island and noted for its ambiance, tranquility, and natural beauty. From there, we head on to witness water in a different form at Caldeira Velha, where we will enjoy a nature walk and visit the amazing hot springs. Afterwards, we head for a short visit to the small, charming town of Ribeira Grande on the north coast, which is noted for its amazing waves and has hosted major surfing competitions. Lunch is included. Later on, return to the hotel for relaxation before dinner at a local restaurant.

Travelogue:

A drive though breathtaking scenery to visit Lagoa do Fogo, the so-called Fire Lake – awe inspiring natural beauty a wonder to behold. En route, a stop at Cha Gorreana, the oldest, and currently, the only tea plantation in Europe, established in 1883; five generations in the same family. A fascinating tour to view the progression from cultivation, to harvest, to processing – much still done by hand – and finally, consumption, in a well-appointed tasting room.

Lovely lunch en route featuring fresh, local cuisine, with fish, pork, beef, and poultry on the menu – delicious, perfectly spiced morcellas, an Azorean black pudding, grilled to perfection, and washed down with a fine, dry red wine of local origin. Fabulous!

Next on the itinerary: A visit to the health-giving hot-springs at Caldeira Velha, beautifully situated amidst volcanic rock and lush vegetation of primal appearance; one can imagine some prehistoric beast emerging from massive ferns, obscured by a sulfur mist. Some of our group take the plunge and immerse themselves in the waters, while others enjoy a nature walk through the park, or meander about outside its gates, examining wares offered by various vendors.

Return to hotel to rest before dinner at a local restaurant; wait staff familiar with Fall River, having lived there themselves or having family residing in that city. One finds this all over the island, the distinct connection between Fall River and São Miguel; a very small world, indeed.

Day 6: Sete Cidades

After breakfast, we will embark on our tour of Sete Cidades (The Seven Cities), one of the most beautiful settings in the Azores, composed of two lakes in the center of an extinct volcanic crater. We will make a stop at Vista do Rei for a view of the two lakes from above. Our lunch today will be at Cavalo Branco near Bretanha, once inhabited by fishermen of French descent. We’ll also visit a local brewery, pending the brewery’s schedule, or a local pineapple plantation to sample their pineapple liqueur on our way back to Ponta Delgada. Dinner and overnight at our hotel.

Travelogue:

Another drive through stunning scenery on the way to Sete Cidades, beautifully situated by two lakes, one vivid green, the other vibrant blue, and situated at the center of a long-extinct volcanic crater – for very good reason said to be one of the most beautiful settings in all the Azorean archipelago. Fabulous views from the Vista do Rei, named for King Carlos and Queen Amélie of Portugal, following their triumphant visit to the Azores in 1901.

Lunch at the delightful Cavalo Branco; staff extremely welcoming and accomodating. Enough cannot be said about the local cuisine – fresh, delicious, and of a wide variety, all prepared in simple, almost rustic manner, and a delight for the palette. Fabulous stuff! Wine, of course, delicious.

Interesting visit to a pineapple plantation; the Azorean fruit is smaller than Americans are accustomed to, and rounder in shape that the common, market variety. Extensive plantings in greenhouses, masterfully tended, produce a quantity of the fruit. The pineapple liquor produced locally is sweet, packing rather a punch to the uninitiated.

Free time before dinner and overnight at our hotel.

Day 7: Ponta Delgada At Leisure

After breakfast, we will enjoy a day at leisure for shopping, browsing, or independent sightseeing. Ponta Delgada and its surrounding region offer everything from golf to deep sea fishing and much more. Some sites to explore include a vast marina, the local university, several beautiful churches, parks, the São Bras fort, open-air cafes, and the city gates. Later we reunite for a “Special Farewell Dinner” at a local restaurant. Overnight at our hotel.

Travelogue:

A leisure day for all, with fellow travelers venturing out in different directions, alone or in groups; our party made up of six friends, accompanied by our guide, Patricia, hired privately for the day. Itinerary: visits to the ancestral towns of three of our group – Arrifes, a suburb of Ponta Delgada; Capelas, on the northern coast in the municipality of Ponta Delgada; and Ginetes, in the westernmost part of the island. A homecoming and a very poignant experience, with visits to three churches once central to the lives of our ancestors; marriages, christenings, and deaths were all celebrated in these venerable edifices.

Patricia a treasure as she brought family histories to life, with a well-planned tour thoughtfully created in advance just for us. An exemplary guide with an amazing treasury of knowledge, she pointed out sites of ancestral import as she drove us around the island, her animated conversation peppered with fascinating facts of all sorts – from history, to flora and fauna, and the current political situation in Europe.

Untiring and dogged, she ferreted out the home of the caretaker of Nossa Senhora da Apresentação, the main church of Capelas, and convinced him to open the church, unexpectedly closed for the day, for a private visit for “the American visitors from Fall River” – clearly, there is no denying Patricia. The simplicity of the exterior of the church, constructed in 1780, belies its grand interior, beautifully preserved by its congregation.

Lunch at a small dockside restaurant, a favorite of our guide; the table set with house-made warm breads, fresh farmer’s cheese served with pimenta moida, a crushed pepper condiment, pickled vegetables, and fish and pork pate – a delicious foretaste of the what was to follow. The meal, chosen by Patricia: simple salad of fresh picked greens dressed with fruity olive oil and locally produced wine vinegar; fresh Lapas, a variety of Portuguese limpets, grilled and seasoned; and four varieties of fish fresh from the sea, selected from the school beautifully displayed on crushed ice, prepared lightly seasoned and grilled – absolute perfection.

A delightful day, with a somewhat reluctant return to the hotel signifying that it was over.

Our final evening on São Miguel. Dinner at a restaurant minutes from our hotel specializing in traditional Azorean inspired nouvelle cuisine; fine tasting and beautifully presented.

Day 8: São Miguel-Boston

After breakfast and hotel check-out, we transfer to the João Paulo II Airport to board our non-stop flight to Boston.

Travelogue:

Breakfast and check-out followed by a short drive to the airport for the return flight home. A delightful sojourn on an island of fantastic natural beauty, and home to a welcoming people – far more than ever expected.

 

Testimonials From Tour Participants

“In May of this year I had the opportunity to travel to the Azores through the Fall River Historical Society’s Grand Tour Travel Program. This tour was a collaboration of efforts between Michael Martins, curator of the Historical Society, and Alan Amaral of Italian Wine Services, LLC. — and quite a collaboration it was. Every detail of this tour was carefully planned out allowing travelers the ease of simply enjoying the trip without having to worry about any of the details.

“Our stay at the Hotel Marina Atlantico on the beautiful waterfront of Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, could not have been better, from the comfortable accommodations to the friendly staff and superb Azorean cuisine. Our guide, Patricia, was amazing …. more like family than anything else. She guided us on a walking tour through Ponta Delgada, the hot springs of Furnas, where we enjoyed a cozido (boiled dinner) lunch, Fire Lake, charming Ribiera Grande, & Sete Cidades.

“If you are looking for affordable travel with an amazingly friendly group of people, enjoy having all the details planned out for you, and not having to worry about safety issues, then I would highly recommend traveling with the FRHS Grand Tour Travel Program. You will make memories to last a lifetime!

“Looking forward to the next trip!

—Cathleen Gagnon, West Wareham, Massachusetts

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