It is Pumpkin who first peers out over the yacht-studded marina, the boats bobbing like origami ornaments in the late afternoon lull.
This time, it is the balcony of our new abode where he surrenders, a welcome change from the corner of the bathroom, where he and his Instagram husband comrades have been imprisoned many a time before, whilst their often self-absorbed blogging wives photograph the room from all angles. The “it’s for the blog” drone fails to inspire him, the “I need to tweet this” challenges his core beliefs on human needs.
Quietly, he has the last laugh. He recalls why we have really come here, the depth of his sentiment swelling in comparison to the paucity of his conversation.
He tells me time and again that to explore this beautiful planet, our hands interlocked, is all he yearns for from life, his statement of affection so profound that it will sound wholly foreign if not fictional, to those who know him. But patience is not just a virtue; it is very much his virtue and so he waits silently on the sidelines, soaking up the Portuguese sun, oddly most potent as the day advances whilst I narrate a live update about the contents of the minibar at the Azor Hotel.
Where To Stay in Ponta Delgada
That we have found ourselves in a shiny new 5 star hotel with a room boasting quite the exotic harbour view is the first hint as to how well priced Sao Miguel island will prove to be in comparison to its mainland European counterparts but for now, the dedicated cheese counter in the hotel lobby is all I can focus on, that and the homemade chocolate and ice cream bar that stands beside it.
I fail to know which seduces me more, the array of experimental flavours or the temptingly low prices here in Ponta Delgada.
We refrain from testing our theory at this stage for the rooftop pool is the only appropriate location to sleep off the custard tarts that weigh me down. My presence in Portugal has barely exceeded two hours yet somehow my tummy, already plump with two custard tarts Pastel de Nata, could give any pregnant bump a run for its money.
I take ownership for the first tart, a product of a hunger pang during our brief layover in Lisbon Airport. The second, however, arrived at my fold away table unexpectedly on board my Tap Air flight (and if that is not reason enough to fly this airline again, then I do not know what is.)
The hotel breakfast buffet, however, presents me with a third round of sin with its platter of unlimited freshly baked custard tarts. I stare around in paranoia, wondering if I am being filmed for the newest series of Greedy Girls on Tour.
The pool water is a little chilly to immerse my body in and the energy within it is emanating from the over-enthused yelps of a 7-year-old egging on her younger sister. I leave them to splash through their front crawl whilst I allow only my legs the rinse, focusing my own gaze on the views of the island from this aerial viewpoint.
We walk over to snoop at the pool bar menu but soon find that the laid-back yet sassy interiors of the bar offer stiff competition to our double, perfect-for-couples sun lounger that we had made a bee line for.
The bar’s sleek style, high ceilings and chill-out soundtrack should come as no surprise since Azor Hotel, beyond its somewhat mundane external façade, hosts a wealth of design goals.
And why wouldn’t it, as one of the newest additions to the international Design Hotels collection, a collection we had become acquainted with almost exactly a year earlier, when staying at a theatre-themed hotel in Porto for our anniversary getaway.
What to do in Ponta Delgada
In any walk of life, “Day 1” is for acclimatising and establishing one’s bearings. I recall this from the excited feeling on that maiden voyage to school, 5 years old and ready to conquer the world. I recall the exhilaration of the day I left home and moved to the Big Smoke to start university, a smoke that engulfed me passionately and kept me in London to the present day. I recall the more daunting Day 1 of my first day on the wards. Ever seen the TV show, “Junior Doctors, Your Life in their Hands?”
That was my reality, an overwhelming day for a group of novices, who 24 hours earlier sought asylum under the guise of student status.
I am reassured to find that on our first day in Ponta Delgada (the sleepy capital of the Azores based on Sao Miguel island) those extremes are spared and I feel quite simply at ease here, as we walk through the tranquil town. I soon learn that this destination remains relatively crowd-free, despite its cruise ship frequenters.
The pastel-fronted buildings in the Old Town, which in most mainstream tourist cities are obstructed by repetitive selfie sticks, are decorated here only by the locals, sipping coffee al fresco with just a sprinkling of softly spoken tourists sitting alongside them.
The civilised paths lead us through sweeping white arches of the Portas da Cidade City Gates back in the direction of the marina but not before we pause to playfully pose inside the white telephone booth book exchange that brought back the same child-like glee I found the very first time I spotted phone box library in South East London.
We cross the street to find a charming independent florist on a corner, boasting blooms that call out to my inner nurturer. Time has told a tale, though, of my woeful attempts at preserving the life potential of plants and so we walk past, allowing these petals to flourish in more capable hands.
We have a better record, however, of inadvertent discoveries from impulsive travels. Our Japanese adventure last year saw our visit coinciding, unintentionally, with cherry blossom season in Japan. Here in the Azores, once again, it seems fortune favours the disorganised.
We speculate about the rows of empty seats laid out in front of an outdoor stage but our intrigue is appeased when we spot a sign for a festival of music, running for several days with free shows each night open to the public. Tiredness wins out on our first night but we compensate with the two thereafter.
A local teenager takes centre stage in the finale one evening, belting out a heart wrenching rendition of “You Raise Me Up” with such purity that I am brought to tears right there in the centre of the square, the Azorean moonlight only illuminating the crystalline dew drops falling from my eyes. Something in her harmony speaks to me, something in Sao Miguel exposes my vulnerabilities.
Then, in a statement that has the entire audience in a fit of giggles, the host of the evening stands on stage, thanking everyone for coming, wishing everyone a good evening and patriotically shouting “Portugal is great. Cristiano Ronaldo forever!”
Uncharacteristically, we have done very little research about the sights to explore in Ponta Delgada. With plans made to capture the majestic scenery that the remainder of Sao Miguel is renowned for, our preference in the capital is simply to pause from daily life and absorb our surroundings slowly but those wanting to top up their historical know-how are bound to stumble upon the Military Museum of Ponta Delgada during a browse around the town.
One activity we have prepared for is the dolphin and whale watching experience, departing from Ponta Delgada. We have been reliably informed that this is an experience we must not allow ourselves to miss, by a friend to whom we owe our visit after it was her own honeymoon that inspired it. We book online with Moby Dick Tours after the multitude of positive reviews align with our friend’s experience but we arrive a little unprepared for the slivers of icy wind that the Atlantic throws our way. One look at the dolphins in mid air arcs above us, however, and we are too awe-struck to care about Centigrade and Farenheit.
Where to Eat in Ponta Delgaa
Like so many other fish/seafood lovers and pescatarians, we are spoiled for choice in Ponta Delgada but we find a goldmine for vegetarians as well. After repeated proclamations of how “stuffed” we feel, we learn quickly that either the Azoreans love a feast or they are catering their portion sizes towards the US market.
We made advanced bookings for almost all our dinners, one by email whilst still in England and the others were all booked on our first night, as we walked around the old town.
I smile at the nostalgic charm of making reservations in person and reading menus, for the very first time, at the restaurant itself, the déjà vu of which would be lost on so many of my fellow but younger blogging peers. The popular restaurants fill up quickly in high season so it is worth doing a bit of planning if you want a cut of these.
Boca de Cena
Up a tiny staircase on an unassuming side street, we walked into the dimly lit Boca de Cena to embark on one of the most innovative dining experiences we have had to date.
The niche here is that the waiting staff, Maitre D and chef all happen to be the same person and so whilst the service may be a little slow off the mark at times, the wait is more than understandable when you see the effort and love with which this one-man band operates.
And don’t for one second imagine that the food quality falters as a result. The crispy octopus is mentioned time and again in reviews and just like two sheep, it stands out in our minds as the highlight of the night as well.
With diners being turned away time and again, we sit smugly at a tiny wooden table against a wall in this heaving but iconic family-run restaurant on the island.
When faced with a choice of tasting plates and tapas versus main dishes, we follow in the grain of our recent tapas experience at Taste of London and cast our eyes only to the small plates.
Not one disappoints and the flaming chorizo is served to us, quite literally, flaming with a blow torch. If there is one restaurant I recommend slotting into your Ponta Delgada plans, above all others that we tried, this is it.
Azorean pineapples are a specialty of the island and so, despite temptation from an array of other desserts on offer, I only have eyes for the local pineapple cake, a slab oozing a moist, juicy flavour that hugely exceeds its humble aesthetics.
And if your tongue needs more sweetening still, Gelateria Abracadabra has got you covered till the end of the night.
From the more conservative single scoops to the all out waffles loaded with spheres of decadence, this is a must visit for all those who firmly believe that ice cream is always a good idea.
Rotas da Ilha Verde
For a nation in which vegetarian cuisine is far from mainstream, we are surprised to find how utterly mouth-watering the vegetarian cuisine is at the delightful Rotas da Ilha Verde that wins the heart of even my more carnivorous Pumpkin.
My salad looks more beautiful than several botanical gardens we have been to and those who visit, must without fail, ensure they save space for a door-stop homemade chocolate cake. The “small” size is all you need, even for two of you and it is worth every calorie.
Satiated, sleepy and utterly relaxed, we hobble back to the hotel at a pace that would be socially unacceptable in our own city of London, already flirtatiously fond of the pretty island we have just laid eyes on and with flutters of butterflies whirring round about the promise of what else lies in store over the coming few days in this newfound love affair.
More from the Azores coming soon….
Have you ever explored Ponta Delgada? What are your tips?