The moment we landed on the island of São Miguel, I knew we were going to love it. There is something about islands that I really enjoy. Maybe it’s the easygoing nature of island life, or the fact that nobody really seems to care what you wear or do. Whatever it is, I love spending time on islands. Even though I wasn’t exactly in peak physical condition while visiting, I wanted to hike the Azores.
The Azores are a series of islands located in the Atlantic Ocean. They’re about two hours flying time from Lisbon. The Azores has been an autonomous region of Portugal since 1976. The islands are a very popular destination for hikers, and many tourists on the plane flew in wearing full hiking regalia… ready to embark! Apparently, in the UK and Germany, the Azores are advertised as a retiree destination. I found this interesting. São Miguel is one of the less touristy places I have visited. I didn’t see any fancy resorts, or flash hotels and restaurants. Ponta Delgada had a little bit of nightlife and a downtown, but it was obvious why many people visited – to visit the great outdoors.
Our AirBnB hosts had helpfully left us a range of pamphlets showing various hiking trails around the island. The most popular, by far, is the Mata do Canário – Sete Cidades walk. However, I wasn’t sure I was really up to the 11km walk. We instead opted for the shorter, easy graded Quatro fábricas da Luz walk.
First things first – if you want to find your way to the trail, you should be able to enter the name into your Google Maps. However, this will take you to the car park for the longer Praia – Lagoa do Fogo walk. You can either park here, or if its full, continue the road to the right and up the hill to another parking area. This will save you about 20 minutes of walking at the beginning and end, before you even hit the trail.
The beginning of the path is clearly marked. I have to caution you slightly – the walk is by no means difficult, but it is steep in parts. Occasionally, there are stairs with a rope alongside to help pull yourself up. You go downhill first – though it’s very up AND down – and the way back is uphill. I didn’t find it a hard walk, but it still requires a fair bit of exertion for a 2.1KM (each way) easy trail!
THE WATER RESERVOIR
You start the track by walking past a water reservoir area, which used to feed into the small factory that is located just down the track. Today, the reservoir supplies the Mini Hydric Central of Ribeira da Praia. The Mini Hydric was built in the early 90s.
Fábrica da Cidade and Fábrica da Vila
Here, you can see several ramshackle old buildings, now clearly defunct, which provided water-powered energy from 1904 until the 1970s (da Cidade) and 1899 to 1970 (da Vila). They were an important step in the utilization of renewable energy for the small island. Today, 47% of power on Sao Miguel comes from renewable sources, mainly geothermal energy.
Cascata do Segredo
As we walked the track, we noticed a dry riverbed and wondered, in disappointment, whether the waterfall we had read about had been diverted. However, we were delighted to come across the beautiful water and pool. We sat here and enjoyed the scenery for a nice break. There is a lovely pool here where you can swim, and you might even spot some New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) nearby. This was introduced to the islands and used for weaving purposes.
Finally, you walk down to the quaint little village of Trinta Reis. There isn’t much to see here. It’s a typical Azorean neighbourhood with many small, one story houses, and we came across a chap trying to move his calf down the track. Average day in São Miguel, really.
Once you have made it to the bottom of the track, you end up at the beginning of the road where you turned up to go to the trail entry. It might be useful to actually park at the bottom of the hill. This means you can walk all the way to the top, start the trail, and walk downhill.
While it isn’t essential, I certainly found it helpful wearing hiking boots. Wear lots of layers you can take off when it gets hot. Even though it was overcast, it got up to 26 degrees. Take lots of water, too, and be prepared for rogue cows, sheep and ducks. There are helpful markers along the trail to show you which way to go. Have a look at the board before you start to see what each means. Alternatively, you can print off this guide (or save it to your phone).
As a quick introductory hike in the Azores, this was perfect, and we saw lots of families enjoying the trail. Even if you’re not particularly interested in hiking, give it a go – it only takes a few hours, and if you enjoy it, there is plenty more to enjoy!