Home EuropeAzores A Road Trip along Sao Miguel’s Beautiful North Coast

A Road Trip along Sao Miguel’s Beautiful North Coast

by Valerie Vanr

Enjoy the beaches, tidal pools and stunning coastal viewpoints along the north coast of Sao Miguel.

We’ve got the details on the best things to see and do on a road trip along the north coast of Sao Miguel, Azores.

Sao Miguel North Coast Road Trip

The road trip stretches along the north coast from east to west, centred on the municipality and city of Ribeira Grande. The main attractions are:

The drive along the main highway from the Natural Park to Bretanha is about 60 kilometres, easily covered in a day. We recommend a more leisurely visit. Stay in Ribeira Grande and explore the route over 2 days.

Attractions Map – Sao Miguel North Coast

Sao Miguel map North Coast points
Click on the map for an interactive version.

Begin exploring the north coast at the Ribeira dos Caldeiroes Natural Park.

Ribeira dos Caldeiroes Natural Park

This beautiful park is a must-see when visiting the Azores.

The Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões features a stunning, large waterfall just outside the gate and several other smaller cascades along its trails.  Walking paths lead visitors through gardens, past another waterfall and a working 16th-century water mill.

Val and Andy standing by waterfall cliff
This beautiful waterfall is less than 1 kilometre from the main highway. We only walked a short distance off the secondary road.
Stone buildings line middle steep valley
Several 16th-century watermills have been restored.

Another restored watermill houses a café and small museum.

Drive about 15 kilometres west, on the main highway EN1-1A, to a tea plantation in operation for more than a century.

Gorreana Tea Factory and Plantation

The family-run Chá Gorreana has been in operation, producing tea, since 1883. 

Learn about the tea-making process and machinery used on a self-guided tour through the factory. Enjoy free samples of their black and green teas, both on the tour and in the gift shop.

2 people in rows tea plants coast ocean background
The tea leaves are harvested between April and October. No pesticides, herbicides or fungicides are used as the plant’s usual pests cannot survive in the climate of the Azores.

Outside, wander leisurely through rows of tea plants.  With the Atlantic coast in the background, these green fields provide an excellent backdrop for stunning photography. For a longer walk, cross the highway and walk the PRC28SMI Cha Gorreana hiking trail. It is a 3.4-kilometre easy loop for a nice hike under 2 hours long.

Gorreana Tea is one of only two tea plantations in all of Europe.  Both are located on the island on Sao Miguel.  The smaller Porto Formoso Tea Factory is just down the road. The Port of Formosa is to the north, off the main highway.

Porto Formoso

This is a picture-perfect village on the ocean with a beautiful harbour.  The lovely Our Lady of Grace Church (Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Graça) sits high on the hill above the harbour.

Flowers on steps up to white black church
The beautiful church front and staircase of Our Lady of Grace Church can be seen from Porto Formosa’s harbour.
Sheltered harbour beach cliffs ocean distance
The main part of the village overlooks this fishing harbour.

Some visitors may also recognize this town from the 2023 TV series Turn of the Tide. The opening scenes of the series take place at the harbour and inside the Port Formoso church.

To the west, Moinhos Beach (also known as Port Formoso beach) is one of the most popular beaches in the area.  Parking, a cafe and a restaurant are all located nearby.

The beach is the home of the Azores Burning Summer Festival, held annually in late August or early September since 2015. The festival promotes ecological awareness and has several musical acts.

For a nice hike along the coast to a waterfall, enjoy the nearby municipal trail.

Miradouro de Santa Iria

This is one of my favourite viewpoints on the entire island.  From this clifftop, admire the long coastline, Santa Iria Bay and the village of Porto Formoso below.

Andy eating an ice cream cone with the Sao Miguel coastline behind him
There are often vendors in the parking lots of the viewpoints. Andy was lucky that the one at the Santa Iria Viewpoint sold ice cream. The north coast stretches out behind him.

Continue west to Sao Miguel’s second largest city.

Ribeira Grande

The city makes an excellent base to explore the north coast and the interior of the island. There are a number of interesting museums and beautiful beaches.

Things To Do in Ribeira Grande

  1. Municipal Museum of Ribeira Grande (Museu Municipal)
    The 17th-century manor house contains a museum filled with collections of tiles, pottery and cultural artifacts from the area representing the 16th century to present. The chapel in the house displays a 17th-century altarpiece.
  2. Arcane House Museum (Casa do Arcano)
    This small museum honours the life and works of Mother Margarida Isabel do Apocalipse. This nun created a regional treasure called the Arcano Místico in the 19th century. The work sits on 3 levels within a glass and wood box (about 2 metres by 2 metres). 92 scenes from the Old and New Testaments have been recreated, containing about 3900 miniature figures, all moulded by hand. Temporary exhibits are on display throughout the year.
  3. Ribeira Grande Theatre (Teatro Ribeiragrandense)
    Enjoy a quick walk to admire the beautiful architecture of this theatre and concert hall, built in the 1920s. It was renovated, expanded and upgraded in the 1990s.
  4. Church of the Holy Spirit (Igreja do Espírito Santo)
    This church, built in the 17th or 18th century, has one of the most impressive Baroque facades in the Azores.  See a special statue of Christ used in processions during Lent.
  5. Living Museum of Franciscanism (Museu Vivo do Franciscanismo)
    The Franciscans have a long history in the Azores.  Learn about the life of St. Francis of Assisi in the museum in the church of the Convent of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. Displays include altarpieces, statues and more.  See a film about the history of the convent.
  6. Church of Our Lady of the Star (Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Estrela)
    Inside this beautiful church, consecrated in 1517, see the 3 Kings Chapel and the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. A small museum displays a 16th-century Flemish triple-panel work of St. Andrew, Ste. Barbara and Ste. Catherine.
  7. The Arquipelago – Contemporary Arts Centre (Arquipélago – Centro de Artes Contemporaneas)
    This art gallery displays art of many different styles and formats.
  8. Ribeira Grande Municial pools and beach (Piscina Municipais das Pocas)
    When staying in Ribeira Grande, this is a convenient beach to visit.   There are 2 salt water pools, a smaller freshwater pool and a natural, sand beach. The area is fully serviced with change rooms, toilets, outdoor showers, a bar and a restaurant.
  9. Monte Verde Beach (Praia do Monte Verde)
    This long beach with powerful waves is loved by surfers and body-boarders.  There are toilets, changing rooms and showers available.
  10. Santa Bárbara Beach (Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara)
    This 1-kilometre-long stretch of sand is bordered by cliffs of volcanic rock. It is popular with surfers and body-boarders, often hosting international competitions. Relaxing on the beach is a favourite activity, with good beach accessibility and parking. Toilets, change rooms and showers are available.

When spending more time in the Ribeira Grande, consider a trip to these nearby sites in the interior of the island. They are definitely worth the visit:

Caldeira Velha Hot Springs

For some welcome relaxation time, head inland to Caldeira Velha.  Enjoy a soak in the hot, tranquil thermal pools at this beautiful natural area.

Be sure to check out our full article, Caldeira Velha Hot Springs, for complete details.

People swimming hole green valley

Lagoa do Fogo

Beautiful Fogo Lagoon, surrounded by dense vegetation, sits in the crater of the Fogo Volcano. Viewpoints, along the road south of Caldeira Velha, provide panoramic views of the lagoon and the surrounding countryside.  For a closer look, hike down to beach.

Be sure to check out our full article, Lagoa do Fogo, for complete details.

Lake surrounded green hills

Salto do Cabrito Waterfall

The Salto do Cabrito Waterfall is a hidden gem in the Azores.  This beautiful waterfall doesn’t get many visitors.  When Andy visited, he had the entire place to himself and enjoyed a swim in the lagoon at the base of the waterfall.

Rocks lagoon narrow waterfall cliff
The pretty Salto do Cabrito Waterfall is a stop on the Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande – Salto do Cabrito trail, one of Sao Miguel’s hiking trails.

After a swim, enjoy a short hike. Climb the large metal staircase up the hill and walk along a metal walkway, eventually reaching the power plant of Salto do Cabrito.  This short walk is part of the longer PRC29SMI Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande – Salto do Cabrito hiking trail. It is a 7.5-kilometre loop that is easily accomplished in an afternoon.

Capelas

Visit Capelas, a lovely seaside parish.  Begin at the Poços de São Vicente in the village of Sao Vicente Ferreira. This natural tidal pool is surrounded by volcanic rocks.  Experienced local swimmers enjoy the ocean waters here.  There is also a sun deck, snack bar and showers.  Parking is available nearby.

Stairs to rock-lined pool ocean opening
The São Vicente Natural Pool is a natural tidal pool. Its waters are refreshed with each ocean wave. The sun deck, change rooms and toilets are just above, beside the parking lot.

Just across the parking lot is the Old Pocos Whaling Factory (Antiga Fabrica dos Pocos).  See the smokestack and remains of the factory.  It opened in 1945, producing whale oil and meat.  The factory closed in the 1970s.

The coast at Capelas has several great viewpoints (miradouros).  Climb the hill at Miradouro do Navio for a stunning view.  Miradouro das Capelas is a beautiful stone-walled viewing platform.  Miradouro das Pedras Negras is probably the best place to see the nearby elephant rock.

Val walking down stairs and path along walls to ocean
I enjoyed the walk between the coastal viewpoints at Capelas. The walls of volcanic rock add to the stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean.

For a longer walk, continue east along the coast to Miradouro do Barreiro.  The local public beach, Alto da Pedreira, is just down the hill.  Walk a bit further to see the Pic du Manchot.  This rock is in the shape of a shoe, which was said to be the lost shoe of St. Peter.  This is part of the longer PR1SMI Vigia de Sao Pedro hiking trail. From the Poços de São Vicente natural pool to its end in Calhetas, the hike is 6.5-kilometres and among the Best Sao Miguel Hikes.

Santo António

Be sure to stop in the centre of town to admire the pretty town square and church.

The Santo Antonio Church (Igreja de Santo António) dates back to the early 16th-century.  The exterior has beautiful, azulejos-tiled scenes.  The front doors are framed with lava-stones.  Inside find beautiful woodcarvings in the high altar and chapel areas.

Black star pedestrian square church hill background
The beautiful Santo Antonio Church is in the centre of the town.
Pews church altar ornate ceiling over apse
The front of church is decorated with intricate, painted, wood carvings.

From Santo Antonio Church, the Chapel of Nossa Senhora do Rosario is less than half a kilometre to the northeast on the coast. The view from the parking lot is impressive. Walk down the hill to a natural swimming pool and an old fishing harbour.

Further north, the Miradouro da Fonte Grande is a quiet viewpoint with a picnic area.  Continue to the historic communal sinks where locals used to wash their clothes. 

Bretanha

For another visual treat, drive to the village of Bretanha.  At the Miradouro do Pico Vermelho, enjoy the coastline and see the big red windmill in the distance.  Drive into town to the Red Peak Mill (Moinho do Pico Vermelho).  This beautiful, red windmill is also a museum.  The windmill is used to make flour for a local festival held every September.  A cute little chapel, Ermida Santo Antonio, sits beside the windmill.

Val and Andy in front of white windmill red blades
The windmill is part of the area’s agricultural past. Agriculture continues to be at the centre of this area’s economy.

Be sure to check out our article, Things To Do in Sao Miguel Azores, for more places and great destinations to visit on the island.

Ocean shoreline green hills


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