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My VIP Night at the Hot Springs - Azores Islands

Updated: 4 days ago

Lisa of Tis Travels is taking a year to explore different areas of Portugal. Currently, she is spending a month in Ponta Delgada in the Azores Islands.


As my month in Ponta Delgada was coming to an end, I realized it was time to rent a car and get myself out to the famous hot springs. 


The Yellowish Iron-Rich Waters of the Hot Springs in Parque Terre Nostra
The Iron Rich Waters of the Hot Springs (photo by author)

 

Planning My VIP Night at the Hot Springs Escape

Of the many hot springs that were recommended on the volcanic island of Sao Miguel, I chose those in Parque Terra Nostra which was described as "a unique garden with rare species of flora and a volcanic thermal pool". In addition to the top-rated springs, there is a hotel on the grounds of the park that receives great reviews for customer service. The staff that are described as always nearby, eager to make your stay the best it can be. After my busy two months, I could use a little award-winning hospitality. 


Excited for a city break, I booked a night in the hotel and packed my overnight bag. On the drive out of Ponta Delgada, it struck me how ironic it was that after my short time here, I described it as a “city break” from a town of 15,000 residents. Life has a funny way of changing your perceptions when you least expect it.


After the short drive from Ponta Delgada, I was greeted at the hotel by a very welcoming staff member, who did not question my early arrival. I’ve grown eye-rolling weary of the new trend with hotels, that despite it being the off-season when they are almost giving rooms away, the surly staff love to send you to the corner to wait 15-minutes until your exact check-in time.


No problem at Terra Nostra Garden Hotel!  Get on in here girl, let your hair down and enjoy yourself!!


Chaos in the Hot Springs

After settling into my room and having lunch at a nearby restaurant, I wanted to check out the gardens before hitting the hot springs. While walking towards the gardens, I was greeted by a horrifying site: the springs were packed with school kids screaming and splashing. This was more of a spring-break party scene waiting for the wet T-shirt contest to begin than a relaxing thermal bath located on the grounds of a highly rated spa hotel. 


On top of the spring break party, there was a local shouting into her phone, oblivious as to how much of a perfect candidate she was for “Real Housewives of the Azores Islands”. I continued past her towards the gardens, wondering if the person on the other end of the line had hung up long ago. 


Avenida das Ginkgo Biloba in Parque Terra Nostra
Lost on the Avenida das Ginkgo Biloba (photo by author)

Lost on the Ginkgo Biloba Highway

As I walked into the gardens, the chaos of the hot springs faded in the distance and a lush, green oasis enveloped me. I wandered through the camellia garden, snapping photos of the perfect blossoms. As I tried to decide where on the map to go next, I decided to put it away and just let myself follow random paths through this oasis full of fifty shades of green.


I stumbled upon a sign that indicated I was approaching the “Avenida das Ginkgo Biloba''. My experience with gingko biloba was extremely limited so I expected to stumble upon an herb garden. As I rounded the corner, I was suddenly surrounded by tall trees that made me feel as tiny as the majestic redwoods in Northern California did. Still clueless to the fact that these trees were what I was looking for, I finally saw a sign tacked to one of them that indicated it was in fact, ginkgo biloba. Later, some googling informed me that taking ginkgo biloba can keep your mind sharp. Perhaps I should investigate this further...



VIP Tis in the Hot Springs

After a wonderfully peaceful experience, I knew it was time to brave the Spring Break wanna-bes and take a dip in the hot springs. As I approached the springs, I listened for the noise which was far more muted than before. I saw a half-empty pool as the guards were instructing the spring-break wanna-bes to head back to their buses. A couple informed me that it was now time for “locals only”. My first thought was, “I don’t live in this town” but was delighted to learn that “locals” are residents of the hotel.


What a delightful surprise! While I knew hotel guests had after-hours access to the springs, I thought that meant late evening. I went back to my room and quickly changed into my bathing suit. Back at the hot springs, a handful of “locals” were calmly enjoying a peaceful dip. I joined them and slowly floated around the pool, finding the spots where the water was warmer than others and lingering there as they washed any worries away. It was a completely wonderful experience and well worth spending a night in the hotel that is usually over the budget I look to spend.



Steak and red onion and sauce on a plate
My VIP Steak Dinner (photo by author)

Extending the VIP Tis Experience at Dinner 

My VIP experience did not end at the springs. After about an hour, I headed back to my room to shower and change for dinner as the pool was slowly emptying. After weeks of wearing my carry-on bag wardrobe, I ditched the t-shirts and leggings, and broke out the one dress I'd brought along. I arrived all dolled-up at the hostess desk, gave my name, and was taken to a lovely table. Another fabulous surprise! Usually, the solo diners get thrown into dark corners as if to give us a private place to hide our scarlet letter of singletons. Tonight, VIP Tis was eating at a lovely table with a view of the gardens on a comfortable sofa-like bench.


Dinner at my VIP table was delightful and slow. The staff continued to be just as wonderful as described in the reviews, graciously taking care of my every need. I started by ordering a glass of Portuguese red wine while choosing my dinner of a beetroot salad with gorgonzola, steak with some delightful soy-like sauce and fries, and finally a lemon pastry for dessert. I took my sweet time as I enjoyed every course, savoring the food, the wine and the VIP-service.



Night Dip in the Hot Springs 

After my VIP Dinner, I went back to my room, quickly changed back into my bathing suit and headed back to the hot springs to enjoy my 24-7 local's access. As I passed the front desk, I asked the staff if the thermal pool would be full of kissy couples at that time of night. They all indicated no, which surprised and delighted me. As I approached the pool area, I looked out into the darkness, as the pool was only illuminated by faint globes of light that seemed to serve more of a decorative purpose than a functional one. My eyes scanned the area for other bathers, but it was empty. 


I realized I had the most famous hot springs of São Miguel Island all to my VIP self!


I lowered myself into the warm water and soaked up the surreal moment. A few moments after I began my solo evening dip, a guard with a flashlight arrived near the entrance, as if standing watch over my late-night adventures. I was thankful for the protective detail as I soaked in the warmest part of the springs, completely undisturbed. These moments are rare in life and it’s important to notice them and appreciate them; so, I sent grateful thoughts to the universe for my good fortune as I floated my cares away.


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