Located in the Azores big Island of São Miguel, the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort is a nature and ocean lover’s dream. Surrounded only by mountains and Atlantic, the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort, is stands atop a majestic cliff over the water, with direct access to its private beach with over half a mile of sand. An ideal base from where one can set off to explore the best of what the São Miguel island and the Azores have to offer.
For those of you who do not know about the Azores, they are a group of 9 volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic. Some say that they are the remains of the lost civilization of Atlantis, which was destroyed by a massive earthquake. They even found a perfect symmetrical pyramid on the bottom of the ocean between the island of Terceira and São Miguel.
About the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort
João Reis and Rodrigo Herédia are the owners of the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort. They are both in love with surfing and the raw nature of the Azores and this 14 villa eco-hotel was the best way to show to everyone in the world what the Azores are all about. The whole project costed about 2M€ with a great piece going for the prime place of the land where the hotel was built and the 100% eco materials of Portuguese origin.
The location of the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort takes advantage of the natural beauty of the volcanic cliffs, the serrated coastline and (in the owners opinion) the best surf beach in the whole of the Azores. For them was very important that the project was built in a sustainable and ecological way. The chosen materials like unprocessed wood and traditional cork balanced in pure harmony with the green and black landscape. This is why, besides the wood, dark polished cement was also largely used.
In my two bedroom villa, besides the view, the bathtub was the main highlight. Made of a dark grey, almost black varnish cement, it resembles the volcanic rock of the islands and it made me feel like I was on a rock cascade. The Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort’s villas have 1 or 2 bedrooms and are all fitted with a kitchen, perfect for families with children or to share with friends. They were built facing the sunrise in order to respect the natural curves of the land. I stayed on a two-bedroom villa, with a balcony and a hanging net to gaze and fall asleep by the ocean. The reception and restaurant are at a separate building with a privileged view of the private beach.
By the time we arrived at the hotel, João and Rodrigo were already waiting for us with some samples of traditional food from the Azores. The Azores have several gastronomic icons, like cheese from the different islands – the most famous is from São Jorge, a muffin bread named Bolo Lêvedo and lapas (limpet clams) which are grilled and topped off with a butter sauce and garlic. We had all these as starters. What a great way to kick off my discovery of the Azores. The main course consisted of a grilled local fish – Boca Negra (or Cantarilho – as we call it in mainland Portugal) accompanied by a dry white wine from Pico Island – Terras de Lava.
Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort’s guide to São Miguel
After lunch, we went to Arquipélago Contemporary art centre. Just opened a month ago, contemporary art exhibition venue is housed in an old alcohol and tobacco factory building. The architecture project preserved the old buildings and the new ones have the same colour and texture as the old ones, in a beautiful dialogue.
The day ended in the best way possible and imaginable: drinking a pink Azorean Tea infused gin while watching the equinox sunset. Pure Magic.
The morning after started with the sunrise in front of my window and after breakfast we had a surf class. I confess I wasn’t very excited about it, it’s just not my kind of activity… but surprisingly, I really enjoyed it! I loved the speed of the board and I almost stood up on it… What came next is the must do in the island- the Cozido das Furnas. A traditional one pot Portuguese stew made of various meats and vegetables cooked on the ground.
The stew has different meats, pork, beef and chicken and several traditional sausages from the island. The meat in the Azores is known for its great quality, the animals are free range and the islands have so much vegetation, that’s all they need. The vegetables are carrots, sprouts, potatoes and the typical yam from S. Miguel. Due to the Azores being live volcanic islands, you just need to dig meters into the ground to find a hot water spring. And this is where the locals make their Cozido das Furnas.
The scene is stunning, there’s steam coming out of the ground, a huge lake and green hills around you. The stew been cooking since 5 in the morning, and it is now mid-day so 7 hours of slow Azorean Portuguese food is ready to be tasted. We followed the chef to the restaurant Caldeiras e Vulcões were they prepared the stew.
After this meal, we needed some exercise to help the digestion so we walked to the Terra Nostra garden. It’s a 12,5-hectare natural wonder with an impressive variety of species like the collection of 600 different Camellias which makes this garden a botanical preciousness. For those of you who like hot water natural springs, you can take a dip in the caramel colour hot water pool. One 1h session is worth a month of skin treatments. Trust me!
The end of the second day culminated in a food discovery walk around old town centre of Ponta Delgada, São Miguel’s capital. There’s a new place in town, Louvre Michaelense, an antique hat boutique, converted into a café and gift shop. The owner Catarina Ferreira is a lovely person and full of energy and ideas. We tried a number of different island cheese and O Original white wine from Pico island. I loved this wine due to the influence of the volcanic terroir and the freshness of the ocean combined made it spectacular. It’s the best place to have a drink and buy some souvenirs, there are several Portuguese products and some Azores inspired notebooks.
Dinner was at Tasca (traditional Portuguese bistro), where the menu is in the shape of a newspaper. You can choose your meal and read a little about the activities of the restaurant. The menu is made of traditional Portuguese petiscos (small eats) with a Modern twist and made 100% out of local São Miguel produce. My absolute favourite was the breaded octopus rings with a sweet and sour onion chutney. The grilled pork sausage with pineapple, the cheese platter and lapas are also excellent choices.
As good hosts, the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort reserved the best for last. A whale watching yacht journey and a lunch picnic at the Ilhéu, a small island off the southern coast of the São Miguel island. We were lucky enough to see two sperm whales. The yacht company Azores Sub gave us some snorkelling equipment to swim and see the little fish and corals of the Ilhéu.
After this relaxing moment, we had enough time to visit the stunning Lagoa das Sete Cidades and Lagoa do Fogo. The sky was clean so we had this amazing view of the lake. What a great way to finish this trip!
One thing you must know about the Azores is that as locals say, it has the four seasons in one day. It’s never cold, but you never know how the weather it’s going to be like in that part of the island. Nature rules and you feel that the entire time, this Island is splendours, its natural beauty is overwhelming.
I travelled to the Azores as a guest of the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort and of Plataforma-A Communication agency. All opinions are my own.
Prices per night for my Retreat villa at the Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort start at 240€ per night with breakfast included.
PS: The journey was wonderful, but I would come back just to sit in this raised platform and look at the ocean for hours on end.
Text and photos by Maria Braga.