Disappointingly, the first morning was overcast and foggy, but the clouds broke up enough for us to get a stunning view of the Lagoa do Fogo - a lake in one of the larger craters on the island of São Miguel. Then we walked around the beautiful, tranquil gardens of Terra Nostra where the frogs were croaking loudly near bathers in the steaming thermal pools.
Lunch was one of the highlights of this tour. The eleven guests watched our lunch pail being drawn up from an underground oven cooked for 8 hours by geothermal energy. The parents of our host, Cristina, welcomed us into their lovely home to eat this Cozido das Caldeiras - pork knuckle, chorizo, blood pudding, cabbage, potatoes, preceded by some wonderful cheeses. We finished with two desserts made in-house - a pudim flan (a local milk pudding) and a cake made with the local pineapples. Some interesting wines from Pico accompanied the meal, and homemade liqueurs, including one made from milk completed this wonderful gastronomic experience.
A gentle snooze in the bus, preceded our arrival, in full sunshine, at Lagoa das Sete Cidades, a lake in a very steep-sided, wooded, dramatic caldera.
Bruno Kosm, an internationally-experienced local chef, hosted our dinner at Casa Nostra restaurant. He offered a beautifully presented 6-course tasting menu accompanied by local wines, including some from Pico, grown on volcanic soil. They were minerally, smoky and slightly salty - interesting and enjoyable.
The next morning we woke to torrential rain, but by the time we arrived at the Gorreana Tea Plantation the sun was shining. A short tour and a tasting and then off to the caldeiras and hot springs of Furnas. This is the iconic Açores landscape - lush green, steep sided craters with lakes, spectacular waterfalls (accentuated by the earlier heavy rain), bubbling hot springs and steaming geysers. It was reminiscent of Jurassic Park. Some of us bathed in the orange, ferrous water of the thermal bath, whilst other roamed the luxuriant park.
Lunch at Restaurant Garajau in Ribeira Quente was our introduction to local seafood, and, for many of us, our first acquaintance with the local delicacy lapas grelhadas, or grilled limpets (very good!), followed by delicious polvo al forno and fried mackerel. Local wines and desserts completed this very convivial meal.
Another quick sleep on the bus and we were at the bubbling steaming fumaroles of Furnas, where we tasted and compared, the warm, sulphureous waters emanating from the hillside.
None of us were really hungry for dinner a few hours later, but we had been assured that Restaurante Associação Agrícola served up the best steak on the island. And it did! And we all ate it! Wonderfully tender, tasty and individually cooked to perfection! They serve 800 covers per day and it is difficult to book as it is so popular. Despite this, the service was both pleasant and efficient. None of us could manage dessert! A wonderful end to our gastronomic weekend!
A big thank you to our Azores hosts, Cristina and her mother, and to Marie-Anne, the Algarve Bailli, and to our Confrère Salvador de Lucena for organising such an interesting and enjoyable trip. And thanks to my fellow voyageurs for their convivial company - a sure trademark of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.
Text by Dr. Jane Mott, Dame de la Chaîne