Lovers, things might get steamy at Azorean spa retreat Octant Furnas… And we don’t mean what happens when the ‘do not disturb’ sign goes up – although that might be part of it. No, we mean smoke billowing from holes in the ground, bubbling thermal pools so mineral rich they run red, and the centuries-in-the-crafting landscape of an ancient volcano that has some life in it yet (don’t worry, it’s still fairly sleepy). It fosters a frisson for running wild on the Azores’ largest island; but when you need to dial down the drama, romantic locally inspired meals, leafy picnics and pineapple-laced cocktails in the garden up the heat, no sweat.
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A selection of Portuguese delicacies; GoldSmiths also get a session on the flotation bed
12 noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £153.79 (€180), including tax at 4 per cent.
Rates usually include a breakfast with regional delicacies and eggs à la carte, and access to the spa’s thermal circuit (€30 a person for non-guests).
Guests with mobility issues may find some of the rough terrain tricky to navigate, but there are some accessible rooms.
At the hotel
Hot springs and gardens; spa with a sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and hydrotherapy circuit; gym; kayaks and bikes to borrow; small boutique; lobby lounge with workspaces and a market; 24-hour laundry service, free WiFi. In rooms: Smart TV, Marshall Bluetooth speaker, minibar, Nespresso coffee machine, teas and a kettle, bathrobes, umbrellas, one free bottle of water a day, air-conditioning, free WiFi.
Our favourite rooms
In styling the rooms, Madeiran designer Nini Andrade Silva has pulled in a palette from the natural surrounds with palm greens, sulfuric yellows, and lavastone grey, plus accent walls featuring blown-up pictures of the rocky terrain or cascading waterfalls. The Master Suite is a bit more of a party-pad with its private bar and swing chairs, but we also like the Terrace Pool Double Room for its restful outdoor space.
The spa has two warming thermal pools – one indoors, one out, both big enough for lengthy laps and open around the clock. One is housed in a sultrily stylish black-painted barn-style building with a cathedral-esque glass roof; it has a waterfall massage jet to stand under and loungers around the side. And, there’ s greenery all around the outdoor pool, plus a wooden deck to relax on.
You’re actively encouraged to get into hot water in the spa (open 9am to 9pm, except for the 24-hour pools) – in fact, you’ll feel all your troubles float away after a lap of the hydrotherapy circuit’s natural thermal springs, sauna, laconium, Turkish bath, aromatic showers and indoor-outdoor pools. The iron-rich ‘quente das quenturas’ (literally ‘hottest of the hot’) springs reach temperatures of up to 40 degrees and have been a source of healing since ancient times and prove equally effective on modern stressors. And there are 10 treatment rooms for a menu of scrubs, massages and facials, which read like a list of petiscos, using olive oil rosemary, salt, lemon, green tea, seaweed, cocoa and coffee – and the delicious Pineapple Breeze, a scrub and rub of brown sugar and crushed pineapple that leaves you smelling like a piña colada. Plus, there are Ayurvedic therapies, shiatsu, reflexology and flotation beds for those who want the lulling motion of the ocean without getting wet. For a workout, hit the gym’s treadmills, bikes, ellipticals and weights.
Bring clothing that can take some rough and tumble, shoes tough enough for volcanic hikes and swimwear that can take the heat. Plus a waterproof camera.
The hotel has a small market selling bits and bobs of active gear, local delicacies and spa products.
As long as you keep your little ones away from the steaming craters in the surroundings, they’ll have a great time – older kids who can swim will make the most of the hotel’s activities.Please note, kids can only use the pools from 9am to 1pm.
The hotel makes an effort to stay Earth-kind, reducing plastics, taking recycling very seriously, conserving energy and water where possible and using eco-friendly products. Heating is provided by thermal waters, and staying local is key – the restaurant makes abundant use of the fertile and farmed surrounds.
The hotel’s interiors pay homage to the island’s natural beauty with accent walls showing off waterfalls and calderas, plant pots aplenty and natural colourways – but the real thing is all around you in the gardens, so take a seat out there.
Whatever you wear, finish off with a smoky eye.
The cuisine here is very much a product of its environment – after all, the restaurant is called À Terra, and in a land where the earth belches out smoke from the ground, that's an intriguing prospect indeed. A wood-fired oven, josper grill and boiler bring the requisite smokiness to dishes, largely steaks (there are more cows than people on the island) and freshly caught fish, but also pizzas, breads, veggies and lasagna. And food is culturally influenced too; this is hearty rustic fare of the ‘gather round a steaming pot’ sort. The signature stew has beef breast, sausage from Santa Maria island made to a traditional recipe, yams and sweet potatoes and Bio Kairos vegetables. It’s a bear hug in a bowl, as is the fish stew with shrimp, saffron and mint; vegetarian chilli; and the creamed sweet potato with chorizo chips. Save space for the apple fritters or platter of fine local cheeses. You can also dine in the Lounge which has a more alfresco feel than the jazzily painted dining room. And if you’d like an even leafier setting, the kitchen will pack a hamper with pork-belly flatbreads, octopus salad, croquettes, filled croissants, fresh bread and Ilha cheese, cakes, pineapple juice, wine and more (from €15 a person).
The greenhouse-style lounge invites the outdoors in, with open walls, hanging greenery, a glazed ceiling and warm woods – including a stash of firewood behind the bar. It’s a laidback spot with tufted leather sofas and bistro-style seating (you can dine out here if you wish), and drinks tend towards the fruity, even the beers, which are mixed with tropical juices. Order a pitcher of sangria (they have all colours), or try a pineapple caipirinha – São Miguel is the only place in the world where the fruit’s grown in greenhouses, and there are 6,000 plantations, so it’s kind of a big deal. Or try the local pineapple liqueur, Portuguese almond liqueur Amarguinha, the hotel’s signature drink with peach and apple, or a slug of potent aguardiente.
Breakfast runs from 7.30am till 11am, lunch from 12.30pm till 6pm and dinner from 7pm till 10pm. The bars both serve till 11.30pm.
Octant Furnas sits inland in São Miguel, the Azores’ archipelago’s largest isle, with fresh, bright green all around and steamy thermal springs adding drama to an already striking landscape.
João Paulo II Airport at capital Ponte Delgada is around 45 minutes away by car. Direct flights from all over Europe, and some major cities on North America’s east coast land here. The hotel can arrange transfers from €60 one-way.
São Miguel’s a considerable size, and its pockets of immense prettiness are evenly spread over the island, so wheels will come in handy (there’s plentiful free parking at the hotel), although the hotel’s activities all include pick-ups and drop-offs if you want to go without. Roads are good, and the pace is relaxed, so you could also go green and bike your way about.
Ferries sail between the islands, but there are none to Portugal, so your best bet is to hop on a flight.
Worth getting out of bed for
São Miguel – the largest and most populous island of the remote and only recently attention-nabbing Azores archipelago – has the nickname the ‘green isle’, and this is no lie. But, it doesn’t quite capture just how ravishingly verdant it is, especially in the Furnas Valley where the hotel rests, nor how alive it is, with its prehistoric smoking pits, hydrangea-strewn hills, lakes in volcanic craters and waterfalls dramatically cascading into deep-blue waters. It’s an adventure waiting to happen, starting in the hotel’s spa, or perhaps the 10-minute walk to Terra Nostra Gardens, famous for its restorative springs (they may look a little murky, but don’t be afraid to dip in) and its coating of ruby-red camellias. And all this uninterrupted wildness welcomes furred and feathered creatures, plus pods of whales and dolphins who breach close to the shore. Luckily, this corresponds with high season on the island (April through to June), and the hotel will sail you out with a guide and snacks to learn about the 27 cetacean species and try to spy them in their hangout spots. Twitchers will be thrilled too, with around 400 recorded species of birds across the archipelago to tick off. And watching is at its best from September to April, when the Azores become a sort of meeting point for migrating birds from Europe and the Americas, and the Indian and Pacific oceans. To the northwest, the Ribeira dos Caldeirões natural park is a spectacular leafy expanse with brilliant sprinklings of wildflowers and waterfalls spilling forth over rocky outcrops. The brave can be strapped into a harness to rappel down the naturally sculpted rock faces on a canyoning expedition. And, for another panoramic perspective, kayak along the coast, and out to islet Vila Franca do Campo, stopping for a picnic at a secret bay, beach or grotto; or drift along on a stand-up paddleboard. Resident skipper Pedro will take you out to sea to learn a little about his hometown and try some regional treats – sausage, cheeses, pé de Torresmo (a local pork pâté), tuna and wines – or head out later to watch Caribbean-calibre sunsets. You can try your hand at fishing for native grouper too, with some help from those who’ve been doing it for generations. Tour around Ponte Delgada, the island’s capital, by bike – with its whitewashed buildings and terracotta roof tiles it feels very cosmopolitan and has restaurants and bars where you can pause for a break. Document your wanderings – and give your Insta-boyfriend a rest – by having a professional follow you round and candidly snapping away on a photo tour. And, there are some more unique culinary customs to explore while you’re here, such as making traditional cozido stew in boilers placed in a volcanic lagoon, or diving toboil an egg underwater using thermal currents. Or you could simmer yourself in the hotel spa’s hot springs, which are rich in iron (hence the ox-blood hue). But if things get a bit too steamy, you can always time out on Ribeira Quente, a sandy curve with emerald mountains aft and aquamarine waters to the fore.
The Azores islands share the mainland’s affection for buttery cheeses, rugged hunks of cured meats and fresh-as-can-be seafood, but being more than 1,000 kilometres offshore, they’ve picked up their own culinary peccadillos. For one, the wines on the island are largely white, pineapples (first grown for decoration until the residents realised they could eat them) pop up more than you think, and that queijo platter will come with muffin-like bolo levedo breads and tangy pepper or almond jam. Plus, meaty stews go down a storm. Close to the hotel is A Quinta, an airy open-to-the-elements spot where you can enjoy a bowl of hot-spring-warmed cozido (stew), which steams away for six hours before being served. In Ponte Delgada, you can taste the traditional at A Tasca restaurant: collard greens soup, pork and steak bifanas, breads and cheeses, followed by yam pudding or pineapple cake. And for coastal dining, head north to Tuká Tulá on Praia do Areal de Santa Bárbara – a very laidback, alfresco dining spot where the limpets (another Azorean specialty) are delicious. Fish takes precedence, but there are plenty of vegan options too and fruity cocktails to knock back.
Octant Furnas is liveliest when it comes to its landscape, so you’ll need to head into Ponte Delgada for drinks and dancing. Book a session at the Gin Library, which has the largest collection of gins in Europe, and be sure to get enthusiastic owner Ali to mix you something with the local fixings. And Raiz’s shabby-chic dressing sets it apart from the beachfront bars, come on Friday or Saturday for cocktails, live blues and a convivial atmosphere. You’ll need some stamina – the party kicks off at 11pm and finishes around 5am.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this wellspring for wellness on the Azores’ largest isle and shown off their mineral-enriched lustre, a full account of their ‘it’s getting hot in here’ break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Octant Furnas…
Some might say, taking a spa break on top of an active volcano might not be all that relaxing; after all, Octant Furnas Boutique Hotel sits on an Azorean caldera that’s been known to blow its top. But we like its natural feistiness: the steaming craters, simmering springs running red with iron, bolshy waterfalls and ‘I grow where I want’ greenery. And, well, the volcano’s been as dormant as a guest on the hotel spa’s flotation bed for centuries now, so the view from your window – all hydrangea-strewn hills, spreading palms, and vividly verdant expanses – will be all the drama you’re likely to experience. And you can wash any extant concerns away on the hydrotherapy circuit: a mind- and spirit-cleansing journey through natural thermal springs, a sauna, laconium, Turkish bath and aromatic showers. The hotel – dressed with nature-inspired colours and murals by Madeiran designer Nini Andrade Silva – remains a restful bastion of calm, which you’ll be grateful for after days spent rambling through the hills, kayaking along the palm-fringed coast, scuba-ing in sapphire waters, manning a boat while secret-beach seeking, paddleboarding over volcanic lakes, skipping by cairns and testing the thermal waters. So, yes, Furnas is hot-headed, but also very cool; and indeed, quite lava-ly.