The plan was to spend 3 hours or so walking around the crater lake at Furnas, one of many such lakes on the island of São Miguel in the Azores. Our attempts the day before to walk around the crater edge at Sete Cidades and gaze down at the blue and green lakes had been obliterated by low lying cloud.
We set off feeling optimistic that by choosing lower ground, this time we’d beat the weather.
The further we got from Ponta Delgada, the more I began to regret leaving my umbrella in the hotel room. By the time we reached the village of Furnas, not only was it foggy, it was also raining hard enough to take all the fun out of a walk.
Not ones to give up without a fight, Dori and I drove down to the lake, just in case the weather showed signs of improvement.
This time, we struck lucky in an unexpected way.
Steamy lakeside caldera in Furnas, Azores
Steam wisping out of the mossy rocks as we entered the car park gave us a hint of what was to come. Intrigued, we headed towards the clouds of sulphorous vapour and the plopping of boiling grey clay. We arrived in time to watch as two men brushed aside a mound of earth, flipped off a round lid and hooked their long poles around the handles of a steel cooking pot in the ground.
This vat contained famous cozido, a meat and vegetable casserole/stew that had been slowly cooking and absorbing flavours during the 6 hours it had been buried in the fumarole (underground cooking hole). Furnas’ lakeside caldera has been used as a free underground oven for centuries although these days, restaurants appear to have staked a claim on most sections of the steaming earth.
Visitors can pay 50 cents to walk through the bubbling mud and curls of stinky steam along wooden walkways and 3 euros extra to try some freshly cooked furnas cozido. You could, of course, sit down to a plate of it at a restaurant but half the fun lies in seeing how and where your meal was cooked.
Tip: If you drive down to the furnas lake and park at the Caldeiras da Lagoa, don’t forget to pay at the house on your right as you leave. I had initially thought that the money we paid to see the steamy springs covered parking but it doesn’t.
Tip: Pick up hiking trail leaflets for São Miguel at the tourist information office in the airport.
Want to stay overnight in Furnas? See my top picks.
Related: Find out more about Furnas, cozido and other reasons why you must visit the Azores.
Poças Dona Beija, Furnas
Since the rain was still against us, we abandoned all hopes of doing a walk and decided to check out Poças Dona Beija, a series of thermal pools open to the public (€3 entry).
It was an excellent choice.
The caramel coloured water is warm enough to lounge around in and the contrast of cool rain on my face and shoulders was a refreshing bonus. The complex has only recently been developed and what started as a murky stream and a natural grotto or two is now a series of small pools, each with a slightly different feature. My favourite was the waterfall, closely followed by the spouts that result in a free hydromassage coupled with a champagne bubble effect around your legs.
Tip: If you want to use the lockers or have a hot shower when you’re done, you need to pay separately inside the gift shop, ideally before you get changed. You’ll need a deposit of 20 euros for a locker key but it only costs about 1 euro to rent.
Tip: The paths between pools are quite slippy so a pair of flip flops would come in handy. Don’t wear your best swim suit as the iron in the water is likely to discolour it.
Terra Nostra Gardens, Furnas
In contrast to the intimate pools at Dona Beija, there is one enormous brown pool near the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel and a smaller one with spouts off to the side. Dori and I didn’t fancy getting changed back into our cold wet swimming costumes by this point so I can’t tell you if the water feels any different here. I doubt it.
What is very different, and worth the 6 euro entrance for non-guests even if you don’t bathe, is the garden. Or gardens, I should say. Thankfully, by this point in the afternoon, the rain had eased off so we were able to enjoy wandering around the variety of lakes and themed gardens within the grounds.
My favourite was the bubbling lake, surrounded by tropical flowers and spongy mossy ground that felt like luxury carpet with expensive underlay.Other highlights of the gardens include the topiary with its scary looking species of green beasts and the gorgeous flower garden.
Tip: Don’t leave your raincoat and umbrella in your hotel room like we did! The lakeside walk still wouldn’t have been much fun because of the mist but visiting the gardens and the fumaroles would be better with a brolly.
If you’d rather experience Furnas hot springs as part of a day trip from Ponta Delgada, this full day Furnas tour covers all the highlights and more besides, as well as lunch cooked in the ground and time at Poças Dona Beija.
This guided hike around Furnas lake enables you to learn about the local geology and nature. You’ll aslo get a picnic lunch and time in a thermal pool.
There are three golf courses in Madeira Islands and one of them is in Furnas. If you’re interested, read this article.
Places to stay in Furnas
For a taste of luxury in a lush setting, the recently opened 4-star Furnas Boutique Hotel – Thermal and Spa is worth considering.
If the gardens I mentioned sound appealing, you can extend your appreciation of them by staying at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel.
There are several self-catering options including the magical World’s Nest Furnas Pods Village.
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