Thursday, November 6, 2014

You're Going Where?: Part I

In September 2014, Jon and I got married. Not to sound cliche, but it was perfect and the best day of our lives (so far.) But before that perfect day, we had another important decision to make: where to honeymoon.

This was one of the top questions people asked us about the wedding, right after "did you pick a date yet?" We definitely wanted to take a honeymoon and bask in the newly-wed glow. We thought picking a destination would be easy, but it ended up taking us awhile. We debated between wine country and Hawaii. Then Greece and France. Then Italy. But for whatever reason, neither of us could get excited about any of those. Don't get me wrong, those are all destinations we have on our bucket list and are dying to go to. However between the money, the time away, the fact that we wanted to relax and not feel pressured to SEE EVERYTHING... we just couldn't commit.

Then one day we were scrolling back from Europe to the US on Google maps and saw a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. In came the Azores. We didn't know anything about the islands, other than they were owned by Portugal and the pictures looked really pretty. We learned that it is a very popular destination for many Europeans, not just the Portuguese. We also learned that its a 4.5 hour flight direct from Boston and many Bostonian's have roots in the Azores. All these things combined with the reasonable cost and excitement of going somewhere not many people have been... we had made our decision. Flights were booked, and off to Sao Miguel we went.

We stayed at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel for the majority of our trip. Since it was our honeymoon, we wanted someplace relaxing and a little secluded and this hotel was perfect for that. It had recently been renovated so everything was clean and new. You have free access to the natural hot springs pool in the botanical gardens (a must-do while on Sao Miguel.) The breakfast every morning was delicious, and the bar downstairs had some beautiful and fun cocktails which we truly enjoyed. The only thing I would say is there are not a ton of restaurants around Furnas, so a night out was sometimes difficult. Luckily it was our honeymoon so dinner in the room was no inconvenience ;)

Our flight arrived around 7am, so we picked up our rental car and headed to our hotel to see if we could check in early. The first thing we noticed were the roads-- they were narrow and SUPER curvy (perfect for Jon.) When we finally reached Furnas, the streets were still quiet except for a man driving around with fruits, vegetables, and fish in the back of his truck, honking his horn so people could buy the fresh produce right from their front door.

After we checked in and got settled we walked around town and ended up at Tony's for lunch. We got the traditional cozido de furnas, which was pretty much a Portuguese boiled dinner that is cooked in the hot volcanic ground. Its a local delicacy, and it was definitely worth the try.

Our plan was to drive along the entire coast of the island while we were there, so the next morning we took of and started towards Nordeste. The landscape of Sao Miguel was unbelievable, which made this one the most scenic drives we have ever been on. There were farms to one side of you, cliffs and ocean for miles on the other. The next turn of the road would lead you into the mountains, and you'd have rain forest-like vegetation all around with waterfalls. It was truly amazing.

The coast was full of miradouros (look out points) which had picnic tables, well manicured gardens, and stunning views of the ocean. We parked and took a long, very steep downhill walk to a lighthouse. Then took the long, very steep uphill walk back. We explored the town a little more, then went back to the hotel and our bartender, Alex, made us some amazing cocktails with the fresh herbs from the Terra Nostra garden outside. He became "our" bartender because we ended up seeing him every night of our honeymoon and by the end he was making us drinks he thought we'd like before we even looked at the menu (aka, he was awesome.)

The third day we continued our coastal drive and went from Nordeste to Ribeira Grande. The driving was much of the same: narrow roads, tight turns, holding onto the door for your life, etc. This was the only day where it steadily rained, so we ended up spending most of it indoors at two different tea plantations: Cha Porto Formoso and Cha Gorreana. We LOVED Cha Porto Formoso. When we went it was quiet so we got a private tour of the tea making process. After the tour you get a free cup of tea and can explore the grounds as you wish. There is a covered outlook where we stayed for awhile and enjoyed the gorgeous views. Cha Gorreana was very lovely as well, but more busy. After that we stopped at a few more miradouros, then headed back to the hotel where Alex made us more fancy cocktails (are you seeing a pattern?)

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