Can't stop dancing
Holidaying on an island worked so well last time you decided to do it again with your +1 and +2 family members in tow. It was Mark's first big holiday to São Miguel — the biggest of the Portuguese Azores Islands — so you took an early tram to the airport while he danced around.
The connecting flight via Lisbon airport gave you some time to kill. May proceeded to ride the luggage trolleys and commandeer a donations box. The flight to Ponta Delgada was easy; you appreciated how much babies sleep when traveling, while May entertained herself drawing in her colouring book.
The rental car ladies were super helpful getting the kids seats set up, and the short drive to the farmhouse was smooth. São Miguel has one main road encircling the island with one north-south connection, so it's really easy to navigate once you're outside the city.
Your accommodation was the tiny guest quarters behind an old house surrounded by vegetable gardens. The Quinta Do Solar farmlet was beautiful, quaint and friendly. The hosts handed over the keys alongside a basket of sweet potatoes, and gave you permission to take more food directly from the garden. Good start.
Fishy bathing spot
Holidaying on an island surrounded by the water motivated you to do two things: swim in the ocean and eat seafood. Caloura hamlet was a few minutes drive away where both activities were possible. Outside peak tourist season and with drizzly weather, it wasn't at all busy. You swam in the ocean baths with May riding on your back, and ate fish at Bar Caloura (DouRado or Common Dolphin Fish apparently).
Island weather changes constantly throughout the day. Rain can pour down one moment, winds sand blast you, and then the sun burn you the next. You basically don't need to read weather reports because every day has every type of weather. Just wait another half an hour until it changes.
Anyway, the sun came out when you visited the lookout, and stayed out long enough to heat up the sand to uncomfortable temperatures. You had to play in the waves to keep your toes from baking, or alternatively just hide in the shade. Tired of the heat, you picked up some more salty butter from the shops and called it a day. Why do some countries like salty butter?
Azores is an active volcanic archipelago. The islands' terrain is rough and steep due to its relatively recent volcanic activity — including 28 registered eruptions since the 15th centaury, active geysers, vents, hot springs and bubbling mud pools. The Azores Triple Junction is an exciting place to live.
São Miguel's major ring mostly follows the coastline, but takes detours up into the mountains past particularly tricky terrain. Furnas is one such mountain area along the road which you can't miss, both in the sense it's worth visiting and unavoidable. It's a tourist hotspot and a geothermal hotspot.
You drove up the windy road and walked along the south side of Furnas lake. The path joined a hiking trail to the Salto do Rosal waterfall, lined by tall trees with bright orange bark and a canopy of overhanging ferns.
Furnas in known for food slow-cooked by burying it in volcanic mud. You ate a meaty cabbage hotpot dish at Tony's restaurant, while Mark made a mess of the bread. It was far more than you could finish, and tasted great (not at all muddy).
Furnas also has hot spring baths/pools with a surprisingly mild smell. Bright orange iron-rich mineral water was pumped into a big round chest-deep bath. You were cautioned against using white clothes or towels, since everything turned orange; it didn't stain, but would take several washes to rinse the fine mud out.
The park surrounding the hot spring bath was really pretty. It was just the right scale for kids to explore. You passed the Furnas geysers and sulphurous hot springs on the way home. It was a quick stop because everyone was tired and it smelt really bad. Back home it took several showers to get all the orange mud off your skin and out of your swimmers.
Pineapples and gardens
Not every day needs to be exciting. Psychologically, it is probably damaging to be constantly stimulated  and so what better way to bore kids than by visiting a pineapple plantation. Dry sarcasm aside, May was mildly amused to see all the little pineapple plants in rows.
You had wok fried noodles in the food court for lunch. This specific detail was memorable, because the food caused a massive allergic reaction and full-body itching for several days. It's extremely rare and has only happened twice before (Thailand and Germany), both times from an unknown food additive in Asian food. The mystery persists.
Ponta Delgada is tiny. But this tiny town includes a respectable botanical garden — Jardim Botânico José do Canto — filled with a plethora of native and non-native plants. Many of its trees were huge and over a hundred years old. The various plaques explained plants' origins and the people who brought them there. People who plant trees they'll never see grow tall in their own lifetime deserve more recognition; they're probably not seeking attention though. Who knows...
You played in the botanical gardens all afternoon climbing on the fig tree roots and spotting frogs in ponds. You grabbed some supplies at the shops — May fell asleep in the shopping trolley — and then called it a day.
Ilhéu de Vila Franca Island
When you say the word
island you immediately think of hidden treasure. Its feels like such as a natural association — probably established by children's books — that persists well into adulthood. You have no need to change that association anytime soon.
Ilhéu de Vila Franca is a tiny uninhabited islet 1 km off the coast of São Miguel. Its ring shaped cliff surrounds a shallow inner bay with one tiiiiiny patch of sand, making a perfect play place for kids to explore and splash about (and cliff diving apparently). You took the ferry there and set up your sunshade.
The island's rocky ring includes some channels connecting it to the open ocean — one large mouth at the port, and several hidden underwater tunnels around the perimeter. This causes water surge slowly back and forth making playful waves. May screamed with delight / fear / excitement, while Mark crawled about in the sand.
Ilhéu de Vila Franca's
treasure were the thousands of bright red crabs scurrying about the rocks, and the colourful fish swimming in its bay. It also had a precariously balanced rock bridge, which you were in no rush to walk across. You left it behind and had some ice cream back on the mainland. May paid.
Playing shops seems to be the default
quiet, low key kids game. You've never really understood why pretending to serve or sell food is fun, but perhaps it related to kids emulating their parents — similar to pretending to speak on the phone, driving a car or cooking. Today's menu was limited to glacé; May and Mark refused to sell anything else through the bedroom window of your holiday house.
After breakfast (and glacé) you drove to the north side of the island to visit another hot springs: Caldeira Velha. Many small stone pools of different temperature were arranged in a cascade up a steep narrow jungle valley. The top pool (24°C) was an rocky enclave covered in moss, filled by a steaming hot waterfall emerging from the forest several meters above. It was beautiful but a bit smelly.
The travel guide suggested a fancy restaurant nearby, but it was full with the lunchtime rush. You opted for a tiny coastal eatery which served a fishy soup thing. You couldn't identify everything in it but it tasted good.
Ponta da Ferraria and Mosteiros
The dirty washing had piled up in the past week (one full duffel bag) so you found a laundry place in Ponta Delgada with same-day service (40 €) and drove off towards the western end of the island.
Ponta da Ferraria at the west-most tip of São Miguel looked really interesting. It was a natural thermal bath connected directly to the sea, where hot spring and ocean water mixed. To get there you had to drive down a steep cliff road, and then hike / walk / climb over the basalt rocks to the pool where waves occasionally crashed over. It was nothing too extreme, but the place was basically deserted outside tourist season so it felt wild.
Termas da Ferraria wellness resort adjacent to the pool was closed for the season, but they still sold ice cream so everyone was happy. From there you drove a few kilometres north to Mosteiros for lunch (blood sausages and pineapple) and a dip in the ocean in a rockpool filled with seagrass.
It was at this stage the allergic reaction itchiness became unbearable, irritated by the salt water. Antihistamines didn't help. It was a pain in the... everything! While you suffered in (not quite) silence, the kids played in garden chasing lizards and butterflies.