FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Terra Nostra Garden Hotel

by Richard Newton

Jul 1, 2019
July 2019

AT THE CREST OF THE ROAD we see what we are getting ourselves into: an active volcanic caldera.

We only understand what we are seeing because, earlier, we’d tilted the map in Google Earth and saw the steep sides plunging down in a rough circle. Now, in true scale, despite the lush blanketing of greenery, we can interpret the contours. There below us, huddled in the heart of the caldera, lies the town of Furnas and our hotel.

What we are getting into is rest and relaxation. Unimaginable violence created this landscape, and in the geological future it will erupt again. But for now, Furnas remains one of the most idyllic and peaceful towns on Earth.

Precisely where are we on Earth? Zooming out in Google Earth gives context. We are on the island of São Miguel in the Azores, in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately a third of the way between mainland Portugal and the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. These Portuguese islands straddle the divide between the European and North American plates. The fissure between the two plates is one of the drivers of the volcanic activity that created the islands.

That volcanic activity was the making of Furnas. Here, volcanically heated water wells up from underground, forming streams and pools. Mud springs and geysers bubble and spurt. The rottenegg whiff of sulfur infuses the air, but it’s a healthy smell. It’s the smell of natural spas and, for us, a weekend of pampering.

We are staying at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, a venerable property set within 31 acres of botanical gardens originally planted in 1775 by Thomas Hickling, U.S. Consul to the island. After a succession of make-overs, the hotel is now an Art Deco palace resembling a Golden Age trans-Atlantic liner.

Our first treatments are formal, in the Wellness Place, the hotel’s elegant spa. It offers an extensive menu of options, but the staff will also tailor the program to the needs of each guest. Mindful of our location, we opt for the volcanic hot stone massage. The scent of therapeutic oils in the treatment room masks Furnas’s pervading aroma of rotten eggs, but the hot roughness of rock on skin reconnects us with the underlying geology. Such moments will be repeated throughout our time here.

The Wellness Place

The Wellness Place © TERRA NOSTRA GARDEN HOTEL

Beyond the hotel and its gardens there is much to explore. We spend our days hiking the marked trails. We keep our swimwear with us at all times; we never know when we’ll need it. Turn a corner, and there’s a hot spring. Poça da Dona Beija soon becomes our favorite: a complex of five pools of differing temperatures. Connected by bridges and paths, the pools offer changing facilities at the entrance. One lesson we soon learn: Don’t wear white. The white stripes on the sides of my trunks and the patterns of my wife’s bikini soon take on a permanent orange tinge from the minerals in the water.

Periodically on our hikes we see men lowering pots into steaming volcanic vents. Hours later they return to lift them out. The pots contain cozido, a meat and vegetable casserole. Most famously served at Restaurante Tony’s in town, if you want to try cozido, be sure to place your order a day in advance.

The excursions are fun, but Terra Nostra remains our center of gravity. Our beautiful room, with its porthole mirror and its canopy-level view of the gardens, is the epitome of luxury. The restaurant serves some of the best food we’ve had anywhere. In the refined spa, our only regret is we don’t have specific requests to break the therapists from their routine.

A large, shallow, natural thermal pool sits in the sumptuous gardens, open to the public during the day but not first thing in the morning. On our final day we take advantage of one of the hotel’s special services: breakfast for two beside the thermal pool.

It is the perfect morning for it: cool and drizzly. We pad down from our room in our bathrobes and out along the path to the pool, where our table has been laid under a canopy under the trees. A chef and waiter stand in attendance.

The waiter shepherds us poolside under an umbrella and takes our robes. In our swimwear, we each dip into the placid, steamy water. We have it entirely to ourselves. With rain pattering gently on our heads, we wade through the pool’s swirling currents: sometimes warm, sometimes hot.

When we finally step out, the waiter shelters us back to the table. Within a couple of hours, the pool will erupt with visitors. But for now, over a cooked breakfast, we savor peace and tranquility.

Terra Nostra Garden Hotel

Rua Padre José Jacinto
Botelho, 5 9675-061 Furnas
São Miguel, Azores
Portugal
tel 351 296 549 090
terranostra-gardenhotel.com

Introducing

FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

News
Feb 17, 2020

Alaska Airlines, American Airlines Expand Partnership, with Alaska Planning to Join oneworld

Alaska Airlines and American Airlines announced intentions to create an alliance. Benefits to passengers include access to more international destinations after Alaska joins the oneworld alliance in 2021, new service on American between Seattle (SEA) and Bangalore (BLR), new service on American between Seattle and London (LHR), a domestic codeshare expansion to include international routes from Los Angeles (LAX) and Seattle, and loyalty member benefits across both airlines. Loyalty members with additional lounge membership enjoy access to nearly 50 American Admirals Club lounges worldwide and seven Alaska lounges in the United States for same-day travel on American or Alaska flights.

A Lighter Footprint

United Airlines’ environmentally friendly efforts lessen the impact on local U.S. communities.

Feature
Feb 17, 2020

Ethiopian Airlines Wants to Build New Airport in Addis Ababa

Ethiopian Airlines announced plans to build a $5 billion airport south of Addis Ababa. The airline’s CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said the airport would be able to handle 100 million passengers a year.

Daily
Feb 17, 2020

Four Seasons Seattle Unveils New Plant-Based Dining Option

Four Seasons Hotel Seattle recently unveiled a new stand-alone menu designed for travelers living a plant-based lifestyle. The wellness-focused, wholesome and altogether appetizing menu includes 10 new dishes.

Earn and Redeem with oneworld

oneworld is an alliance of 13 world-leading airlines committed to providing the highest level of service and connecting you to more than 1,100 destinations around the world.

Feature
Feb 16, 2020

Dr. Segal’s Compression Socks: A Must for Travelers

As every avid traveler knows, you may need to get up and stretch your legs at some point during a long segment of travel. Your legs might still get stiff, but these socks from Dr. Segal will keep the blood pumping back to your heart.

Daily
Feb 15, 2020

New Luxury Cruise Line, Atlas Ocean Voyages, Rounds Out Fleet

New luxury adventure cruise line Atlas Ocean Voyages continues to add ships to its fleet. The line’s first ship, World Navigator, is currently under construction and Atlas Ocean Voyages just purchased four additional ships — World Traveller, World Seeker, World Adventurer and World Discoverer — to follow. World Navigator is schedule to sail in 2021, with two more ships following in 2022, and the last two following in 2023.

Adventure of a Lifetime with Volvo

Looking for a truly unique travel experience and considering a new vehicle? The Volvo Overseas Delivery Program is the perfect solution to create your own adventure of a lifetime. Volvo allows you to custom order your new automobile tailored to fit your needs and desires. They will fly you to Sweden to pick up your Volvo so you can drive and explore Scandinavia and Europe on your terms for up to two weeks.