Lagoa das Sete Cidades is most likely the Azores' most iconic and recognized natural monument. In a region with so many striking vistas, the view of Sete Cidades is repeatedly elected to represent or promote São Miguel island and the archipelago. Named one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal and classified as a Rede Natura 2000 Protected Vista, Sete Cidades are a unique location in the world, which any traveler coming through the islands has the duty of visiting. In this article, we'll introduce you to a bit more about the Azorean ex libris and unveil a few hints and tips about viewpoints, lodging and activities to be aware of in the area.
Lagoa das Sete Cidades which, at first glance, seems to be divided in two - the blue lagoon and the green lagoon - is instead one single natural surface fresh whater reservoir, and the largest one of its kind in the Azores, occupying a large part of the floor of one of the largest abatement calderas in the world. A true natural phenomenon. The lagoon, just as the parish at its shore, owe their name - Seven Cities Lagoon - to the Sete Cidades island, also known as Antília. A ghostly tract of land, seen by many sailors in the North Atlantic, which inspired several kingdoms' maritime explorations for centuries without ever being located.
On a fantastic and mystic note - Azorean oral tradition is prodigal in grand tales - legend has it that the Sete Cidades lagoon owes its colors to the tears of a princess and a shepherd. Daughter of the king of this enchanted land, the young princess met a shepherd during her stroll through a field with whom she began spending each of her days speaking to. They fell madly in love. Having discovered this, the father, who had already planned his daughter's marriage with a prince from a neighboring kingdom, forbade the princess from seeing the shepherd again, conceding her one final encounter. That was when the princess, whose eyes were blue, and the shepherd, whose eyes were green, cried so much that they gave origin to the blue and green lagoons, respectively. In truth, the smaller, green lagoon simply reflects the color of the dense vegetation that surrounds it, and the blue lagoon, on fair weather days, reflects the blue skies.
Quite close to the Vista do Rei viewpoint is the famous abandoned Monte Palace hotel. Inaugurated in 1989, it was the first five-star hotel in the region, and it even won the title of Portuguese Hotel of the Year on the year following its opening. The employees received news that the hotel would close while the director was receiving the prize in Lisbon. The building, which counted with 88 rooms, 3 conference rooms, a hairdresser, a bank, a café, a bar and a nightclub, was open for a mere year and a half.
Without any hotels operating at the moment in Sete Cidades, the small rural tourism units and local lodging are at the forefront. At the center of the parish, surrounded by the welcoming local neighbors, are the houses of the Grandparents, Parents, and Sons, three housings of different types, fully prepared for family vacations or with your better half. The houses, which can be reserved here https://www.livingazores.com/en/houses/ , are a few hundred meters away from the lagoon and are very close to supermarkets and restaurants. Of these, the regional food restaurant "Lagoa Azul" and the new location "O Poejo", which besides serving meals, is also a tea house, are to be highlighted.
Sete Cidades are an excellent location for the practice of various activities. Enthusiasts of water sports such as canoeing and stand-up padelling, foot trekking, horse and BTT trails and even bird watching can find the ideal places to practice their hobbies within the crater's inner rim.
Of the 80 official trails in the Azores - 29 of which in São Miguel alone - two of them run the cliffs of this dormant crater. One is trek "PR03-SMI Vista do Rei - Sete Cidades," which allows visitors to walk the southwest edge of the summit, then making a descent to the center of the parish. This easy trek, appropriate for people of all ages, so long as in reasonable physical condition, has a linear profile (not returning to its starting point), and is 7.7km long, which can be concluded in roughly two hours. Another trek is "PPR4-SMI Mata do Canário - Sete Cidades," somewhat longer and more demanding than the first, however also being classified as easy. The walk along the eastern summit, which descends to the parish at its end, is 11.8km long, is also linear, and takes roughly 3 hours to complete.
As for water sports, one can rent kayaks and stand-up paddle boards right on the shore during the summer months. It's also possible to reserve this gear through prior scheduling at any time of the year through the Garoupa, Futurismo or Picos de Aventura firms, which provide services in the area. With the latter two it's also possible to rent bikes and reserve bird watching treks. As for horse trails, it's possible to reserve them through Quinta do Freio, Equiaçor, and Quinta de Terça.
Although oftentimes the location is covered with thick clouds, the view from the various viewpoints on clear days is simply breathtaking. The Vista do Rei viewpoint, known as such - "King's View" - for having received a visit from the king D. Carlos I and queen D. Amélia in 1901, is the most well-known and frequented of Sete Cidades. With a not so easy access, but by many considered the most beautiful of the region, the Boca o Inferno viewpoint has a privileged over foir lagoons and a large part of the surrounding hill. Also known as Grota do Inferno, this viewpoint has been repeatedly chosen as the image to promote the Azores in blogs, magazines and billboards. Beyond these two, there are also the viewpoints of Cerrado das Freiras and Lagoa de Santiago.
It's true, in Sete Cidades there is more than just the Sete Cidades lagoon. In this enormous dormant volcano there are also the lagoons of Santiago, Canário, Rasa, and Empadas. They're smaller lagoons, some of them even hidden, but they're worth the detour to explore. The Nove Janelas aqueduct, which in the past was tasked with taking water from the Empadas lagoon to Ponta Delgada's fountains, is also deserving of a visit.