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A 2-hour flight from Lisbon, Ponta Delgada is the regional capital of the Azores Archipelago that is a nest of 9 islands in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 1,300 km off Portugal's mainland. Sitting on São Miguel, the largest of the islands, it is a remote adventurous destination full of local character, charm and flavor. Think about cobbled squares, monuments and whitewashed with black basalt touches in the architecture. In the early 18th and 19th Centuries, Ponta Delgada was an important trading port and the ancient maritime influences are everywhere you look. The water is clear and brilliant, there are dramatic volcanic backdrops where mammoth crater lakes and bubbling hot springs wait to be explored, away from the ocean's edge.
The historical harbor area with its ancient promenade for afternoon strolls overlooks the 16th Century Forte de São Brás, which is still in use today by the Portuguese Navy and home to the Azores Military Museum. The original city gates from the 18th Century is an iconic sight that most tourists can't help but take that stunning photograph home. You can take a whale-watching cruise from the marina or laze in the sun having an espresso at one of the many cute cafes. The Convent and Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Esperança from 1541 is still occupied by the St Francis nuns. It is a treasure trove of religious artifacts and the gilded altar will make your jaw drop. If you happen to be around on the 5th Sunday after Easter, you will get to see the amazing Festa do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres, when the statue of Ecce Homo - brought to the island in 16th Century - is paraded around the town and thousands of firefly lights illuminate the convent at night.
Once you have done the religious highlights head to the middle of the island and Lagoa das Furnas (aka Lake of Fire) where you will actually find a sandy beach on the crater lake at the end of a leg muscle testing 14 km uphill climb. Or, you can be lazy and go by car! If doing it the easy way, make a detour to Caldeira Grande where there is a natural Jacuzzi used by the locals, as the waterfall is warm. There are bubbling springs and shooting geysers to soothe away those aching muscles. If you are so inclined to do it the right way, head to the real spa located here, that has been in operation since the 19th Century.
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