It was a mere chance that we started in the direction of Furnas from the detour that appears after the Fábrica de Chá Gorreana, in the vicinity of Barreiros.
All of a sudden, the road imposes itself on the slope that pointed us to the crest of São Miguel. We come face to face with a herd of Frisian cows, rocked by the descent. In front of him, a lone cowboy is anxious to control two or three heads in trammel and to slow down the cars.
Instead of despairing, that black and white bovine transit throws us a new challenge. We pull the car to the curb, get out of prepared chambers and face the cows.
Dozens of photographic shots later, with the cowboy stunned by the speed of the operation, we see the tail of the herd enter a gate with access to a pasture.
Reformed, we return to the car. We resume driving.
On a sinuous diagonal, the EN2-1A approaches the top of the island, there, sometimes exposed, sometimes half-veiled by successive dense hedges. One of them hides a golf course already announced and the indication of a viewpoint, Pico do Ferro.
The Inevitable Dazzle Generated by Vale das Furnas
At that time, we were more than aware of the added value that these observation points have in the Azores. We dodged without hesitation. We walked along a dark, damp lane, almost drenched in the northern mist that condensed there. When the grove opens to the light, we find ourselves on an unlikely threshold.
At a glance, onwards, especially downwards, a whole side of São Miguel is revealed. Close and insinuating, a large lagoon, even greener than the surrounding São Miguel.
In its extension, to the southeast, a patchwork of pastures, woods, bollards, old craters covered with vegetation and a white village nestled in the vastness.
The blue sky of Estio, sprinkled with a few skeins that ventured to the unfavorable slope, allowed us to still see a forested edge of a caldera that did not contain only a short fringe of Atlantic and the ethereal firmament.
Em São Miguel (Azores), who comes from Sete Cidades, is tempted to think that he won't see the same anytime soon.
Well, just a few dozen kilometers to the east of the island, there it was. A scenario that no one in their right mind would dare to fault.
Surrendered, we appreciate it and photograph it in a silence broken by clicks, almost ceremonial.
Not to mention, with so much contemplation, we lose track of time.
Furnas stew. An Old Geothermal Ritual
If there is a sacred time in Vale das Furnas, it is lunch. Not so much for the almost ready regional delicacy in each home. More because it smokes and bakes in the open-air kitchen between the boilers and Lagoa das Furnas.
We have lunch scheduled at Hotel Terra Nostra which serves the famous local stew. The plan held, before we devoured it, we see it coming out of the ground.
To ours and others, also to be buried, that the quantity of orders, those from restaurants and private toilets, and the five hours of underground cooking recommended, require several shifts. We had to fly low.
Now, what we lacked of way was not exactly given in a hurry.
The road runs along the edge of the Caldeira. A flurry of meanders entertains us with new perspectives, less panoramic as we approached the background.
Soon, an open straight line, flanked by white houses with classic Portuguese tile, points us to the predominant houses.
Finally, we entered Furnas. We navigate the route from one side of the village to the other and head for the lagoon.
When we parked next to the fumaroles, two employees from Povoação, Rui Pareço and Eduardo Bettencourt, were already working their hoes.
Afraid that those pots would be the last of the day, we ran towards them.
"Calm down, calm down, there's still a lot to see, there's no need for all this affliction!" Rui Pareço reassures us, who then authorizes us to follow in their footsteps.
Gradually, the two colleagues remove more and more pots with the already boiling contents from the holes. They pass them to the box of the van they were driving.
In a flash, they re-occupy the vacant holes with uncooked meals and cover the wooden lids with the blessed volcanic soil of the Terra.
The Potentially Destructive Volcanism of Vale das Furnas
While the stews boiled, we walked along the walkways that revealed the boilers and fumaroles next door, more steaming and sulphurous than any uncovered pot.
Despite its idyllic appearance, Vale das Furnas is real volcanic.
When we say serious, we mean eruptive, potentially disruptive and catastrophic, taking into account that almost two thousand people live in the 7km diameter of the caldera.
The authorities themselves classify the Furnas stratovolcano (located west of Povoação) as one of the three potentially most active on the island of São Miguel.
The discovery of São Miguel took place between 1426 and 1439. The island began to be populated around 1444. It is estimated that, just four years earlier, there was a significant eruption, starting at a Pico do Gaspar.
There is also the certainty that, in 1630, another even more damaging occurred, with an eruptive center in the south of the great caldera, the caldera, in turn, generated by a massive volcanic event about thirty thousand years ago.
The eruption of 1630 has been worthily described. By hermits who had settled in Vale das Furnas, first in a room provided by the grantee Manuel da Câmara.
Later, in improvised mud huts next to a chapel they founded, that of Nª Srª da Consolação. And yet, in a real convent.
For, the eruption of 1630 destroyed everything that the hermits had built.
This unexpected destruction forced them to settle elsewhere, while the inhabitants of the east of São Miguel cultivated a mystical fear of the valley.
Not even the shepherds there wanted to return with their cattle.
Over the years and the soil re-fertilized by the eruption, the vegetation recovered at an unprecedented rate. Without noticing new volcanic activity, the religious returned.
From Abandonment to the Uninterrupted and Prolific Settlement of Furnas
Thus, they blessed the definitive village of Furnas, as we saw from the top of Pico do Ferro, still spiritually validated today by a church with two towers, that of Nª Srª da Alegria.
Gradually, residents arrived from Ponta Garça, Maia, Povoação, Vila Franca and other places.
As much as we put it off, it was time to follow his example.
We inspected another hidden smoker at the edge of the pond, next to a trailer of food and drink that we found surrounded by an army of ducks fighting for bread.
Chapel of Our Lady of Victories. A Tribute to Faith
We also take a walk around the lake in order to admire the chapel of Nª Srª das Vitórias, built in neo-Gothic style by José do Canto (1820-1898), a great owner and intellectual from São Miguel, as I vote for having afflicted him with a disease. wife's grave.
The chapel stands out from the shore of the lagoon and the vegetation above. It has the company of José do Canto's holiday home where the couple is buried.
They form an unlikely architectural duo that, especially on foggy days, reinforces the aura of mystery of the lagoon and the Furnas valley.
Finally, we reversed course towards the heart of the village.
We landed, rested, in the dining room of the Terra Nostra hotel, eager to taste the stew we had seen buried and deserved, a stew different from those on the mainland, mainly due to the slight sulfur flavor and the presence of two Azorean ingredients: sweet potato and the yam.
Terra Nostra Park: Botanical and Architectural Exuberance in the Already Exuberant Furnas
The Terra Nostra hotel that welcomed us is part of the homonymous Furnas historical park, a luxuriant haven, in certain parts, with a more tropical than temperate look.
With time until late afternoon, we walk through its landscaped woods, blooming with the passion of a wealthy Boston merchant, Thomas Hicking, for Furnas.
Aware of the beauty and therapeutic value of the valley's hydropolis, in 1755, Hicking had a house built with a huge water tank with an islet in the center and surrounded by trees.
He named it Yankee Hall. Seventy-three years later, the influential Viscount of the Beach, Terceira island, acquired the property and erected the current mansion in place of Yankee Hall.
His wife, the viscountess, was adept at gardening. Accordingly, the Viscount added two hectares to the property.
He and his descendants ordered them to be filled with the lush and graceful garden that fills the air of Furnas with chlorophyll, one of the most exuberant gardens in the Azores and, dare we say it, in the Atlantic islands.
These days, the Hicking tank is the main attraction of Terra Nostra Park.
It is filled with a warm thermal water so ironic that, instead of translucent, it is ocher, when hit by the sun, almost saffron.
It attracts a multitude of visitors who splash around and swim in it in absolute delight. Our day of exploration of São Miguel was approaching sunset.
It was time to bathe in the geothermal affability of Vale das Furnas.