The Azores’ infinite blue

By: Chris Graeme

Photo: Paulo Goulart

At Sul Villas & Spa, on the island of São Miguel, there is one word that sums up the experience: contemplation

This small boutique hotel is the place to plan, the place to dream or simply the ideal spot to rest the mind and escape the worries of a busy European metropolitan life.

You do not come to Sul Villas & Spa for a hectic action holiday — although you can, and the Island of São Miguel offers a vast array of radical sports such as canyoning, body-boarding, surfing, canoeing, scuba diving, volcanic walks through prehistoric forests and trips to the ocean to view majestic sperm whales that will truly humble one’s spirit. You come to this little spot of paradise to get in touch with your soul, recharge your batteries and contemplate what is really important in life, and these are usually the small but precious things: family, children, friends, good food and wine, and nature.

The first thing you notice from the balcony of your self-contained villa is endless ocean preceded by a swathe of lush green, a small white church and a few fishing cottages. The calm is overwhelming and washes over you like the sounds of the waves crashing on the dark volcanic cliffs to the right. At night you hear nothing apart form the sound of crickets, waves and the solitary intermittent bell softly sounding from the steeple. If you happen to be there during a full moon, as I was, you see the moonlight literally scintillate on the black, heaving ocean.

Sul Villas & Spa opened its doors around a year ago, immediately making the list of indispensable luxury getaways on São Miguel, the largest island of the Azores archipelago. The luxury is best defined as discreet simplicity, because it offers the luxury of space, time, peace, fine regional cuisine and the kind of intimacy that can only be found with few people.

Located on the south side of the island, close to the picturesque town of Lagoa, the Atlantic Ocean is the main star at Sul Villas & Spa. All of the villas offer an unimpeded view over Santa Cruz Bay with the ocean as the stage. A salt-water infinity pool on the terrace below the main building with panoramic windows, which houses the reception and joint breakfast/dining room, adds a splash of blue to offset the green, earthen browns and volcanic greys in the surrounding landscape. The architecture is white and contemporary and the project was designed by Rui Sabino de Sousa, from the SAL Works studio in the capital of São Miguel, Ponta Delgada.

The 12 villas are divided into three types — Junior Suites, Junior Suites with Pool and Prime Suites — and all of them have one thing in common: space (with areas between 38 and 64sqm), offering total privacy and maximum comfort. All boast a fully equipped kitchenette, air conditioning and heating, o Bluetooth sound system and free Wi-Fi, to make this an even more complete experience.

Defined as studio villas, the Junior Suites feature wide and spacious terraces from which you can soak up the magnificent view in total privacy. The Junior Suites with Pool can only be described as natural, minimalist and organic. Clean lines offset by noble woods and materials from the region dominate and each with a terrace and small heated pool, private garden and outdoor shower. The larger elegant Prime Suites offer 64sqm divided between an ample room with a double bed, a dressing room with sofa-bed and the terrace with Jacuzzi with unspoilt ocean views.

We got up early to enjoy a yoga session under the pergola with its comfortable sofas. The crisp morning air whets the appetite for a continental breakfast, although scrambled eggs and bacon or pancakes are also on a menu with traditional Azores breads including the famous pão lêvedo which are soft, sweet and kind of like crumpets without the holes. I was more frugal with my early morning intake than usual, as the often-rough seas off the south coast of the island beckoned for a spot of whale watching.

Setting out mid-morning with local company Terra Azul, we managed to spot no less than five different species of whales, two female sperm whales and a young male who courteously displayed his fabulous tail fin before disappearing beneath the blue. We were also guided on either side of our orange inflatable speedboat by pods of curious Atlantic spotted dolphins on their way back to Miami, and a rare kind of beaked whale that is very shy. The sea air had fired up a healthy appetite, and of course you cannot go to the Azores without sampling its fresh fish and seafood caught daily from the surrounding seas. It was what we did at a simple local restaurant off the beaten tourist track.

Back to our little piece of paradise, I was awarded with an Ayurvedic massage. The spa and small gym fitted with exercise equipment features massage rooms, a Vichy shower room, with aromatherapy and chromotherapy, and a whole host of treatments with Azores brand products Essentia Azorica made from local plants and evergreen trees.

Still, apart from such horizontally relaxing moments, there was a more uplifting one on the last afternoon, when we headed up into the volcanic heights of São Miguel to look down over the two volcanic craters of Sete Cidades and marvel at one of the wonders of the natural world: Two lakes, one turquoise, the other sapphire blue, separated by a narrow winding road which snakes between them and the result of collapsed caldeiras from volcanic activity millions of years ago.

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