A peaceful lake lies among green slopes, but on its shore springs boil and bubble. Yellow crusts of sulphur coat the ground and steam issues from small holes. Nearby, cooking pots are buried in the ground, simmering until lunchtime when cooks from the local hotel in the village of Furnas will dig them up ready to serve to guests.
The lake is in the crater of Furnas volcano, which created of the island of Sao Miguel. The volcano has been dormant since 1630 but the ground is still hot. In the village of Furnas, a hot spring flows into a free open air swimming pool so it’s worth packing a swimsuit for the visit. Also free is sampling mineral water. There are over twenty drinking fountains, each supplying water with a subtly different taste.
Local shops sell sweetcorn and chestnuts cooked by tying them into sacks, throwing them into a hot spring, and pulling them out when they are done. More upmarket is the dining room of the nearby Terra Nostra hotel. Here you can enjoy the casserole, slow-cooked in the ground by the lake. It’s a very tasty mix of meat, vegetables and locally made sausage.
The Terra Nostra hotel garden was laid out in the19th century. Subtropical ferns and trees flourish in the mild climate and the volcano’s warmth. Paths wind between streams and pools to a large outdoor swimming pool of warm mineral water. There’s a small charge to enter the garden if you are not a hotel guest, but the swimming pool is included. The whole garden has a dream-like, other-worldly feel.
If you are driving, stop at one of the viewpoints on the road as you leave the area and look back to appreciate the size of the crater. From inside, it’s hard to realise that it is a crater at all as it is so big, but from the edge it is an impressive view.