São Miguel - the green island!
By many considered the most beautiful and doubtlessly the most diversified island of the Azores, it is not surprising that many tourists start their exploration of this amazing archipelago in São Miguel, the principal island of the Azores. There is no visitor who is not impressed with the incredible myriad of all the different shades of greens exhibited by its extensive prairies, forests, tobacco fields and tea plantations as well as the abundance of hues this island has to offer… ever so soothing to the eye of the beholder.
Covering an area of approx. 747 sq. km (65 km long and 16 km wide), São Miguel is the largest and, with around 135,000 inhabitants representing more than half of the archipelago’s total population also the most populated island of the Azores. Its epithet being ‘the green island’ because of its extraordinary fertility, São Miguel is indisputably the economical, political and intellectual centre of the archipelago, with its capital Ponta Delgada representing the seat of the presidency of the Autonomous Region of the Azores and boasting the archipelago’s most important trading and fishing port as well as its only university and one of the three international airports.
Of volcanic origin as the whole archipelago, this mountainous island is characterized by two volcanic massifs separated by a chain of basalt cones reaching heights between 200 and 500 m in the western centre. With 1,105 m the highest peak of the island, the Pico da Vara forms the end of the eastern massif, while the Pico da Cruz with its 850 m above sea level is the highest peak of the western massif. In the centre of the island rises the Serra da Àgua de Pau, a mountain range reaching an altitude of 940 m above sea level. The impressive craters of Sete Cidades, Fogo and Furnas have turned to mysterious mountain lakes with crystal-clear water of striking blue and green colours representing today some of the main tourist attractions.
Since the 15th century, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes of major and minor dimensions struck the island on multiple occasions the most terrible earthquake, which devastated most of the island, was witnessed in 1522 and there is still living proof of ongoing volcanic activity in its interior, such as hot sulphur springs and steaming fumeroles, particularly evident in the valleys of Furnas near the south coast and Ribeira Grande near the north coast. In some places, the earth is so hot that as a tourist attraction a regional dish, called the ‘Cozido’, is cooked for several hours in a bowl in the ground.
São Miguel’s inhabitants, who preferably live on the steep south coast, make their living today predominantly from agriculture the main crops being corn, figs, oranges, pineapples, tea, tobacco and wine cattle breeding, fishing, commerce and tourism, which is more evident here than on its sister islands.