Unusual and undiscovered – but near to home
At 29 weeks pregnant, this was just what I wanted: unusual, undiscovered but still part of the EU and not actually that far from home.
With nine islands scattered across 350 miles of ocean, I stuck to the largest one, Sao Miguel. Just 40 miles long and 10 miles wide, there was still plenty to discover.
Staying in the capital Ponta Delgada felt like I’d stepped back in time. The pace of life is entirely laid-back, but as I waddled along the pretty cobbled streets spotting intricate tiles and traditional brightly coloured Portuguese architecture, I was happy to take it as slow as the donkeys that roam through some of the island’s cliff-side villages.
From the viewpoints on the cliffs, I even managed to spot dolphins frolicking in the waves. You can see whales year-round too, although the bump meant that a boat trip out to see them was sadly off the cards.
Instead I lounged in the sunshine drinking up the green hills and bright blue lakes in calderas created long ago by the volcanoes, listening to the legends which have sprung up around them. Sao Miguel’s volcanoes are dormant – though not strictly extinct – but wherever you go, you’re reminded of their power.
In some places steam hisses through vents, water bubbles in springs and mud blups between the cracks in the earth, leading to one of the island’s more unusual traditions: cozido.
At the village of Furnas, men in wellies were busy hauling pots out of the ground. Packed with food, they’d been cooking slowly in the underground heat since the early hours to create this classic local lunch.
Eating local dishes – for two
With layers of pork, spicy black pudding and chorizo, not to mention chicken, beef and vegetables galore, the smoky meat is a carnivore’s dream. And I was eating for two. Especially as I had to skip an accompanying drink made with the pineapple liqueur from the plantation nearby (although I stashed a bottle away in my suitcase to wet the baby’s head later).
The climate means the tropical fruit grows perfectly here, along with tea leaves one Europe’s only commercial tea plantation at Cha Gorreana, where machinery dating back to British India is still in use.
Only one thing remained after all that exploration: to relax… in a nice warm geothermal lake. Lying back in water heated to around 27/28C, it may have been a murky brown shade but there was simply nothing better to soothe away any stress.