The village of Furnas, as well as the nearby volcanic complex of geothermal springs, is situated beside the easternmost of the three spectacular caldera lakes on the island of Sao Miguel - Lagoa das Furnas. Apart from other places in Azores, Furnas, as one of the main tourist attractions on Sao Miguel, is extremely extraordinary yet still very authentic and, comparing to mainland Portugal, visited by few. Probably due to the deficit of beaches and guaranteed sunny weather. But it has so much more to offer! It is idyllic, easily accessible and sometimes confusing, but in a very positive way: when you leave one of the cozy towns, you begin to doubt you are in Portugal and start to think you've been teleported to Iceland, Ireland and New Zealand, all blended into one.
How to get to Furnas
Furnas lies on Azores' main island of Sao Miguel where the capital - Ponta Delgada (which is also one of the most beautiful Portuguese towns) is located. Nowadays it's extremely easy to fly from Lisbon to Ponta Delgada - with low cos airlines offering flights for as little as 40 EUR (45 USD) return! I'll describe Ponta Delgada in another post.
The town of Furnas is around 50 km (30 miles) away from Ponta Delgada and it takes around 1 hour to drive to Furnas along the southern coast - which will allow you to visit other places worth seeing on the way.
If you don't drive, there are two ways: you can either use the public transport or book a tour in a tourist office in Ponta Delgada or at the airport. The public buses are very cheap but you will need more time for visiting.
Bus number 315 goes to Vila Franca do Campo (you should stop there to visit it anyway). Then, you can catch the bus number 318 to Povoacao which stops in Furnas (318 departs from Ponta Delgada and goes all the way to Furnas directly - take it if you don't wish to stop in Vila Franca do Campo). Be ready for some hiking - the buses don't go everywhere. The area is so nice, however, that walking is a pleasure and if you intend to stay 2-3 days around Furnas, there's no point to buy an expensive excursion or take a taxi. Bear in mind, however, that there are around 8 buses daily starting operating from 7 AM but on the weekends, the number of buses to Furnas (318) goes down only to 2.
If you have only one day and want to enjoy Furnas, you might have to book a tour. There are multiple companies that offer a day or half-day tours. Prices range from around 35 EUR (38 USD) for a half-day tour to 45-65 EUR (50-72 USD) for a full day tour. If you decide to take a tour, you'll see all the places described below or more (we took a tour that combined Furnas and Nordeste in one day as we wanted to see as much as possible, however, if you have time, I would recommend that you spend a full day only at Furnas - it's extremely pleasant and relaxing).
Vila Franca do Campo
Vila Franca do Campo is located between Ponta Delgada and Furnas along the southern coast of Sao Miguel island. It's famous for the beautifully decorated Shrine of Senhora da Paz built on the hill bearing the same name. From there, you can admire a scenic view of the town as well as the little islet of Franca do Campo. In the middle of the islet, you'll find a natural pool - in the summer (June - September) there are boats that take visitors there from Vila Franca do Campo.
We were in Azores in the winter, so we didn't have a chance to take a swim, but if you wonder if it's worth to go to Azores in winter - it definitely is! Azores are an ideal choice for those who love something off the beaten path rather than spending 2 weeks at the hotel swimming pool. Also, the weather is very mild and it's so lush green that you'll feel like in a tropical garden. Not too mention the incredibly beautiful little Portuguese villages with the landscapes of Ireland/Scotland. So if you want to escape the winter - Azores are perfect!
The Furnas Village
The village of Furnas is very similar to other beautiful villages in Azores - white buildings, decorated churches and cozy little streets. However, what it's famous for is the hot springs and the amazing Terra Nostra gardens. Within the gardens, you can find many geothermal pools with one huge filled with pleasantly warm, orange water - the unusual hue is a result of the high iron content. The entry fee is 5 EUR (5.50 USD) but it's really worth it - not only you can see flora from all over the world mixed together (European deciduous trees next to tropical plants, date palms, cedar and fern trees) but also enjoy different pools with different water temperature. The whole experience is similar to taking a bath in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland (but, of course not as amazing).
Besides the Terra Nostra park, there are also ordinary thermal pools (called Poca da Dona Beija) which are a bit cheaper - 3 EUR (3.40 USD).
Apart from all this, you can also admire Caldeiras das Furnas: multiple boiling water and mud springs as well as mini-geysers. They are strewn all over the town. You can also drink the mineral water - but the taste and smell is not too pleasant!
Lagoa das Furnas (Furnas Crater Lake) and Cozido nas caldeiras (cooking in the hot springs)
Lagoa das Furnas is one of the three main crater lakes on Sao Miguel (I'll describe the other two later: Lagoa Azul - the most famous in Azores and Lagoa do Fogo). The main point of visiting the caldera lakes in Azores is the magnificent view, but the Furnas lake also offers a unique attraction - Portuguese stew cooked in the pots dipped into the naturally boiling water of the caldeiras (hot springs) and then buried and left for several hours. Around the noon, you can see the staff taking the pots with food out of the ground. The stew has a specific taste but it's definitely worth a try!
There are multiple geothermal springs in the area - boiling water and mud gush out of the holes in the ground. Even the lake is warm when you touch water. We've heard rumors that one of the visitors, a couple of years back, fell into one and boiled to death alive. It wasn't the most pleasant way of leaving this world, I must admit...
Miradouros - Viewing Points
If you've visited Lisbon or Porto, you know that "miradouros" - viewpoints are one of the most popular attractions. The same goes to Azores - you can find beautiful, scenic overlooks everywhere you go. If you enjoy hiking, you can hike all around the Furnas lake to the most beautiful one: Miradouro do Pisao. Also on the way, you'll see so many amazing views that you'll stop more than once!
I was also extremely lucky (the day was clear) to be able to admire the entire island of Sao Miguel from an airplane while coming back to Lisbon. The bird's eye view Lagoa das Furnas, surrounding mountains and rugged coastline was spectacular! So make sure you book a window seat!
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