Where to Shop (and Eat) in São Miguel, Portugal

In a mirroring of Norse legends, a mid-1300s Medici atlas showed an archipelago floating in the middle of the Atlantic. More than half a century later, the Azores — nine volcanic isles about 800 miles west of Portugal — were more formally discovered, presumably by the Portuguese explorer Diogo de Silves. Some say that the islands’ name refers to the cerulean hues of the surrounding waters; others believe it has to do with the birds flying overhead (‘‘açor’’ can mean goshawk in Portuguese).

The Azores’ crater lakes and mineral-rich soil made them well suited for fishing and agriculture; during the 18th and much of the 19th centuries, the exportation of oranges generated great wealth for the islanders, who built colonial-style manors out of lava stone, many of which remain. When a blight killed the industry in the mid-1800s, oranges were replaced with pineapples and, later, cows. Today, the Azores are transforming yet again to become a model of sustainable tourism — one that, given the islands’ hot springs, surf culture and thriving ecosystems (dolphins and sperm whales are often spotted swimming just off the rocky coasts), can feel like a less-developed version of Hawaii.

The main island of São Miguel, nearly 40 miles from end to end and home to just under 138,000 people (more than half of the total Azorean population), is the best place to start (though visitors also love São Jorge and Pico, whose barren beauty seems almost prehistoric). Getting in and out of Ponta Delgada, São Miguel’s main city, has over the past couple of years been made easier with direct flights — a boon not just for tourists but also for locals, a handful of whom have recently returned after stints elsewhere to open hotels and restaurants. São Miguel is also home to a burgeoning art and music scene — the annual Tremor festival brings experimental bands and performance troupes every spring. But in a place where the ginger lilies grow taller than humans, and frequent light rains lead to almost-daily rainbows, visitors are just as likely to seek silence.


Santa Bárbara

Surfer pals João Reis and Rodrigo Herédia opened Santa Bárbara, on the island’s north coast, in 2015 — it overlooks a half-mile stretch of beach with particularly good waves. Guests often watch the action from the resort restaurant, which features floor-to-ceiling windows and carved driftwood sculptures, plus a rotating menu of sustainable sushi. This summer, another 16 two-bedroom or studio villas will be added to 14 existing units, in which hammocks hang from the natural wood ceilings, and brightly woven textiles offset the dark polished concrete floors. Surfing (and cooking) lessons are available, as is a long outdoor lap pool.

Pico do Refúgio

Perched atop a grassy hill outside the northern port city of Ribeira Grande, Pico do Refúgio consists of three whitewashed plain-style buildings that the late Portuguese sculptor Luísa Constantina de Ataíde da Costa Gomes used as her rambling studio. About a decade ago, her son took over, carving the space into eight rentable apartments filled with midcentury furniture (Hans Wegner armchairs, lacquered coffee tables) and contemporary art. The property hosts a series of art and music residencies (Thurston Moore came here to write a few songs in 2016), and it’s not uncommon for visitors to leave tokens of gratitude, such as the large-scale photograph of spiky vegetation by António Júlio Duarte and a multimedia piece that Miguel Palma intended as an abstraction of the island itself. A restaurant will open later this year.

A bedroom at Terra Nostra.CreditFrancisco Nogueira

Terra Nostra

During the late 18th century, a New Englander by the name of Thomas Hickling was a pioneer in the island’s citrus trade. Yankee Hall, his stately country home in Furnas Valley, sits on a 30-acre plot that is now a public botanical garden thick with tree ferns, bamboo and several hundred varieties of camellias. Within these fertile grounds sits the Terra Nostra hotel, set in an elegant Art Deco building with 84 recently refurbished rooms, and a natural thermal pool of iron-dense, mustard-colored waters. After a soak, guests head to the restaurant, which is helmed by a talented local chef, who makes fresh takes on traditional recipes such as cozido das furnas, a meat stew cooked with volcanic steam.

Pink House

Located just northeast of Ponta Delgada on what was once a sprawling citrus estate, this striking two-story rental property offers a window into how São Miguel has changed with the generations. Its principal architect, Joana Oliveira, now based outside Milan, spent her teen years in the main house up the driveway. Last year, she remade the family’s deteriorated stable, surrounded by aloe vera and camellias, into an airy building that sleeps eight. Oliveira opted for a modern aesthetic — you’ll find modular sofas, as well as metal tubular pendants that were designed by her firm, Mezzo Atelier — but still managed to nod to the place’s history: The facade, naturally, is painted a flamingo pink, and the kitchen walls are the color of ripe oranges.

Grilled limpets at A Tasca.CreditFrancisco Nogueira

Eat & Drink

A Tasca

Azores native Rui Ramos has run several much-loved São Miguel restaurants over the years, including O Gato Mia, where the house special was açorda de camarão, or bread stew with shrimp. But his greatest hit may be A Tasca, an always-packed Portuguese bistro that he opened in an old pub in the heart of Ponta Delgada’s old town in 2014. Guests sit beneath the original beautifully coffered ceiling, enjoying local table wines and petiscos (snacks) — try the seared sesame-coated tuna and the baked octopus with sweet-and-sour onion chutney. 011-351-296-288-880.

Casa Velha by Primos

Last year, Hugo Ferreira, an Azorean chef who trained under Alain Ducasse in Paris, took over an old-fashioned bistro on the outskirts of Ponta Delgada. From Thursday through Saturday, he hosts nightly pop-up dinners with a small menu of shared, seasonal dishes that riff on traditional Azorean fare: There’s green bean tempura, creamy soufflés and pork loin with charred cabbage and pineapple. Much of Ferreira’s produce, including the tiny sweet bananas and limão galego, an especially juicy species of lemon, come from his father’s nearby farm. 011-351-911-032-444.

Quinta dos Sabores

At this intimate restaurant located on a working permaculture farm in northern São Miguel, owners Paulo Decq and his wife, Inês Sá da Bandeira, grow, cook and serve the food (often with the help of their son and daughter-in-law). Beyond the giant blue door of the stone farmhouse, which is more than a hundred years old, lies a simple dining room appointed with nine tables. The homespun meal usually begins with a soup, whether cold cucumber or fish caldo, as well as fresh-baked flatbread and fried polenta sticks, while the mains are designed around perfectly cooked pieces of fish and meat that Decq sources from friends. For dessert, there’s pineapple carpaccio soaked in port wine and served with a limao galego ice cream. 011 351 917 003 020.

The entrance of La Bamba Bazar.CreditFrancisco Nogueira


La Bamba Bazar

In 2016, Violeta Rodriguez and Pedro Garcia left their marketing and tech jobs in Madrid to open this curiosity shop on one of Ponta Delgada’s cobbled side streets. The front space, with an arched ceiling and stone-tiled floor, is overflowing with quirky design objects (handbound notebooks, children’s masks). Upstairs, there are record players and a back room with a vast vinyl collection. The couple is active in the cultural life of the island, so it’s also a place to find out about local happenings — such as a concert at the bar-cum-alternative exhibition space Arco 8, set in a graffiti-covered warehouse building outside town. 011-351-924-490-227.

Louvre Michaelense

This 20th-century haberdashery turned gift shop and cafe in Ponta Delgada is something out of a British children’s book: The wooden shelves lining its sea-foam green walls showcase everything from floral-painted teacups and decorative ceramic swallows to handmade soaps and artisanal chocolates. After browsing, visitors can sit at one of 10 tiny tables for a house-made tart (egg, almond or pistachio). Owner Catarina Ferreira serves more savory dishes, including a hearty black-bean soup and an eggplant cannelloni, at her vegetarian sister restaurant, Rotas da Ilha Verde. 011-351-938-346-886.


Arquipélago Contemporary Art Center

Several years ago, the Porto-based firm Menos é Mais, along with architect João Mendes Ribeiro, transformed a former tobacco factory in Ribeira Grande into a sprawling cultural hub, renovating the original lava stone structures and adding two new ones — boxy, Brutalist concrete boxes. (For their efforts, they were shortlisted for the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Award.) Inside, there are light-filled galleries, a theater and a research library, as well as a number of studios reserved for visiting artists.

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