Posted by: MummyTravels | May 4, 2012

The bump and the volcano

I’ve got a sneaking fondness for volcanoes – from a respectful distance, at least. Not the ones belching huge clouds of ash into the air and grounding planes worldwide but show me a tortured black lava field, like those in Lanzarote and Iceland, and I’m happy.

Watching Stromboli shoot red sparks into the night sky was mesmerizing, while the looming presence of Vesuvius over Pompeii was an eerie reminder of its power. So with nine volcanic islands, I was always going to love the Azores.

The tallest is on Pico and the most recent major eruptions were on Faial. But even though Sao Miguel’s are officially dormant (although not extinct) there was plenty still bubbling away for my visit.

Ancient eruptions transformed the island from two separate landmasses into its current state, while there’s caldera after caldera in the hills, round bowl-shaped dips where volcano cones collapsed, many of which have become crater lakes. Off the coast, smaller ones even fill with seawater to mak natural swimming pools.

But the best bit is the hissing, steaming reminders around the typically Azorean village of Furnas, with its white Baroque church and flower carpets decorating the cobbled streets for the weekend procession.

Magma, several thousand feet closer to the surface than normal, heats the multicoloured mud until it bubbles and blups on the surface, as well as causing water to boil in small pools – one is so regular it even sounds like a heart beating. And there’s three volcanic springs, one warm one used by villagers to wash clothes for decades, another cold, fizzy mineral one and a final iron-packed one which tastes just like licking a rusty car (no, I didn’t try that personally).

Just outside the village at Furnas lake, steam erupts from the ground and the soil is so hot that villagers use it to cook food – called cozido, the traditional meat and vegetable dish is layered in a pot which is lowered into the earth on a string and left for six hours to slowly heat through.

These days, the city council pays Tomas to oversee everything, and he marks up stakes for each family (if you don’t get there at around 5.30am, the pits are gone and your lunch becomes dinner), while local restaurants have their own section, with burly welly-clad men turning up at intervals with spades.

I tucked into mine (pork, more pork, black pudding, beef, chicken, potatoes…) at the Terra Nostra hotel, after one last volcanic surprise – a swim in the hotel’s geothermal pool. For five euros, which includes entry to the beautiful botanic gardens, you can laze in the gorgeously warm waters, around 28C and hotter in summer, before getting pummeled under the 35C hot springs.

It might look like a muddy pool, but it’s like relaxing in a hot bath – thankfully not too hot for the bump, and even worth sacrificing my new tankini to the rusty water.



Disclaimer: My trip was arranged with the Azores tourist board and SATA International


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