Furnas is a parish in the district of Povoação on the southeastern coast of São Miguel in the Azores. The town itself consists of only a primary school, a church, and a square, and is home to only about 1,600 people. But each year, Furnas welcomes a host of tourists because it is not just another parish but a spa resort destination, famous for its springs, geysers, crater lakes, ornamental plants, aquatic tanks, and botanical gardens.
Furnas has been settled since São Miguel was colonized in the 15th century. Furnas’ surrounding area is a stratovolcano with two caldeiras that date back some 20,000 or 30,000 years ago. The volcanoes average about 10 sub-plinian eruptions every 5,000 years, which means they are very active. The first known eruption occurred in 1440 around the time the first colonists settled on São Miguel. A second eruption took place just 200 years later in 1630, causing the deaths of hundreds of residents. This second eruption created many caverns that can now be explored by visitors.
The Furnas spa resort features the world’s only naturally warm pool of ferruginous waters as well as a total of 22 different mineral waters. The therapeutic mud and the mineral waters used by the resort in the “thermal baths” come from the many caldeiras, steaming geysers, and hot bubbling springs known as fumaroles found in and around Furnas. These thermal baths can treat various ailments and disorders.
Furnas is Europe’s richest hydrologic region. Its vicinity is home to some thirty springs, each with different chemicals, minerals, and temperatures. Streaming through the village are two rivers: a hot river full of iron and a cold river. The geysers are located in the valley’s several basins producing waters that flow of fluorine, boron, sodium bicarbonate, and carbon dioxide.
The largest and noisiest of the hot springs in Furnas is Pêro Botelho. Also, at the northern end of the crater lake of Lake Lagoa das Furnas about a few miles southwest of Furnas, you’ll find an area with numerous caldeiras, fumaroles and mud sands. This area is a natural kitchen. Many residents and restaurants in Furnas are known to bury pots of food in the earth to cook meals and specialty dishes like the “cozido” (a mix of meats and vegetables) or the “caldeiradas de peixe” (fish bouillabaisse).
The Terra Nostra Park is another famous attraction of Furnas. It is one of the most beautiful parks in the Azores, created in the style of an English botanical garden. It was designed and constructed in the 18th century by Thomas Hickling to serve as his summer home. The park consists of several small trails that weave through groomed lakes, river streams, and myriad exotic flowers and old-growth trees. Terra Nostra is also home to a lake pool of thermal iron water that is open to the public to swim in as well as the “Casa do Park”, the former house of Thomas Hickling. There is a three-star hotel at this park for those who want to experience living in a botanical haven like Terra Nostra.
Also of interest are the look-out points of Pico do Ferro and Salto do Cavalo. Both provide panoramic views of Furnas with its lakes and valleys. The small fishing village of Ribeira Quente is also near Furnas, about 4 miles away. The village has a great beach area, “Praia do Fogo” (Fire Beach), whose waters are warm to swim in because of the heating effect of the underwater volcanoes.