Monday, November 23, 2015

Before the void

Go west
It seems my quest to seek those natural and naturally soakable hot springs in Europe leads me to the very fringes of what constitutes the European continent. It's simply that the closer to the edge the more natural conditions are (still) available.
And it's no doubt that the Azorean islands of Portugal are yet again on this very fringe of the Euro continent. 

Geologists may even argue that the Azores are not (wholly) part of this Euro continent, as they lie on the point of where the European, African and American tectonic plates meet with some of the islands lying on different plates than other islands (source).

However, geographically and more notably socio-culturally they are distinctly European.

The offshore Termas da Ferraria are themselves just on the fringe (or even beyond thiss) as they lie off the most densely inhabited Azorean island of São Miguel, at it's most western point. 
So the western most soak of Europe? 
Alas. More searching on internet has revealed that there are still two other hot springs further westwards: Carapacho on the Azorean island of Graciosa (source) and Aqua Quente on the western coast of the Flores. And thus this must be Europe's most western most soak (source).

One would believe that a hot spring that feeds in to the sea just offshore may well be an extraordinary natural phenomena; again a disappointment
Even on the Sao Miguel, decidedly eastwards, the beach waters of Ribeira Quente (Praia de Fogo: Fire Beach) are rumored to be more mild. Here offshore heat vents manage to warm the sea temperature with a degree or two.
Elsewhere in Europe I have had an experience on the island of Vulcano, there's one on the southern Italian island of Pantelleria, Iceland has at least a couple near the shoreline, while in Greece there are also a couple in existence (Santorini for instance). 
On global scale there are even more of course. Off the top of my head, there's Stinson beach in California, Hot water beach in New Zealand (as well as a hot water beach near Kawhia), Japan has a few, as does Indonesia. 
Probably quite common thus.


On the edge
However the location of Termas da Ferraria does it's best to literally suggest you are on the verge of infinity. 

The Termas da Ferraria arejust a few kilometers from the village of Ginetes. Ginetes lies between verdant rolling hills and where these stop (at a lighthouse, see photo above) there's a sudden drop 100-150m down to sea level where there's a small promontory jutting out westwards into the Atlantic. 
Look further west: there's only ocean (even though there are still a few Azorean islands just beyond the horizon). 
Such are the views from above that local authorities have gone out of their way to construct a parking space to enable viewing of this infinity.

Having been forewarned, we're not willing to find out whether or not our rental car will make the return uphill (it should have), so we park the car at the parking space here (did I mention that it's named Miradouro da Ilha Sabrina?) and walk down the four or five switchbacks, 100m lower. 

Below is a another car park; this is nearly deserted. 
The two cars must belong to Termas maintenance staff. From the viewpoint above I could see that beyond the main building, there were two men cleaning the empty pool. 
The termas building, next to the car park, is itself in lock up: Monday and Tuesdays are no soaking days apparently.

Grab the day
Battling the winds we take the path to the south of the promontory. This path continues slightly over a rise between lava rocks and a pseudo crater
Beyond the rise there are a few buildings off to the left: a reception of sorts and some changing rooms I suspect. 
I didn't think the distance upcoming (100m?), combined with the prevalent weather condition would be conducive to encouraging a soak by continuing the path towardss a soak half naked. That's if a soak was to be had.  So I skipped the changing rooms / amenities. Let's see.

Waves are crashing on the edge of the rocks and in and over the inlet which supposes to contain the hot spring. 
Stated temperatures (below) should promise a nice to rather nice soaking experience. Note the waves?

Spring temperature: ~61.8°C
Sea water temperature ~18.0°C (high tide)*,
Sea water temperature ~28.1°C (low tide)* 
(*): May 2006
As I hadn't stripped yet, there was still a moment to contemplate the consequences of my upcoming actions. 
I had thought that it was low tide, but maybe I was mistaken. Waves were chunneling through, it looked decidedly rocky. What to do? 

Then again it looked like an experience to be had. There was no way able to discern whether or not the temps might be hospitable. The only one way to find out was to brave it!

As no one is around, I skipped the changing part, rather jumping in au naturel (only now do I realize that I may well be one of the few who have done this, all photo's available on internet are of suited soakers! Portugal is a little more conservative !?). 

I descend the stairs and let myself get dragged around by the waves. Something reminds me of a washing machine.

Immediately I am catching my breath as the temperature has not warmed since I had an early morning dip in the more placid ocean in front of our apartment elders on the island. Waves come crashing in, 1-2 meters high and then it makes sense to hold on to the wires which have been drawn across the inlet. 
I nudge back to the end of the inlet and yes there I do feel the odd hot flash or two. 

Well, this was a not a soak meant for proving longevity, at least not now. So after a couple of minutes I time the waves and numbly clamber back onto dry land. 

I dress and then we retrace our steps, noting that despite the maintenance men on site, there's an eerily sense of end-of-the-worldness here. And a personal sense of achievement.

Despite the lack of other soakers on our visit, the Termas da Ferraria (sometimes referred to as Ponte da Ferraria) does see quite a few visitors. Evidenced by tripadvisor
Based on no less than 147 reviews it ranks the Termas as number 15 (out of a possible 75) in it's list of outdoor attractions on the island of São Miguel, with many a reviewer giving it high marks. 
Wade through these reviews though and it's obvious that the natural experience is what makes it attractive. 
Not too many reviewers are happy with the restaurant / paid hot pool, though most also have no experience of these to share: they are there for the free inlet fun. 

The official website of Termas da Ferraria has a little more info on the natural surroundings and mentions that it has been used / discovered since a number of centuries ago:
'Termas da Ferraria started in the mid XX century, but the qualities of its waters were quote four centuries ago by Gaspar Frutuoso in its [his] book “Saudades da Terra”(“Homesick of the land”)'. 
The current structure is built largely on the foundations already existing (1950's, above?) and the reconstruction was finished in 2010. 
A photo of the previous building can be found here
More on the re-construction events can be found here.

The Termas also maintains a well-updated Facebook page.

Basically the Termas has a wellness program (besides outdoor bath there's also an indoor bath and a sauna), which currently has a price structure of 35€, plus for any massage treatments. 
Simple use of the outdoor pool (below) is 5€.

Funny is that their guestbook is a bit short, contrasts with the findings of tripadvisor and it also has no dates of reference.

The official website also fails to note the opportunity to use the thermal inlet for free ....

Continuing, it missed the following from Acoriano Oriental (July 7, 2015) as well. The newspaper article notes recent complaints of neglect access places to the natural features as worded by a local counciler ... I couldn't agree with this, maybe since improved?

There's little additional to mention in regards to the experience itself, seemingly there's less and less about sharing while using words. We all need photo's as our imagination is lacking?

Here's a youtube experience.

A drop in the ocean?

If coming all this way on the island, try to consider a visit to the village of Mosteiros with it's natural rock pools. 
The cliffs below the nearby hamlet of João Bom are home to fresh water springs and provide a good excuse for a banter through the countryside and along the cliffs high above the Atlantic.
And then there are crater lakes of Lagoa Azul / Lagoa Verde which can all be had in a visit to this part of São Miguel.

Euro soaks visited