The largest of the nine islands in Portugal’s secret, mid-Atlantic Azores, São Miguel is a temperate forest garden woven with volcanic energy sourced from the nearby mid-Atlantic ridge. A hotspot of thermal springs, São Miguel’s Furnas parish is the island’s largest, and is as much alive with bubbling, healing waters as with the emergence of more and more strikingly cool architecture to contain them.
São Miguel’s Poça da Dona Beija thermal spring is one of the Azores’ favourite ‘hot’ spots, (pardon the pun), and was re-designed by local Azores architecture firm, M-Arquitectos into a natural canvas of cool. Poça da Dona Beija’s iron-rich thermal spring emerges from a deep underground cave, cascading as mini waterfalls into the series of orange-bricked pools in which you lounge and rejuvenate, each set against a steep and densely verdant bank, before flowing out and over your basalt-lined bath into the gentle river below.
The architects at M-Arquitectos, Fernando Monteiro, Marco Resendes and Miguel Sousa, focused on blending their project with surrounding nature, intending to keep it “in total harmony with the environment”. Settled riverside and engulfed in a tropical Eden of ferns and Juniper trees, the team integrated nature with architecture by using the native Japanese cedar wood, or cryptomeria, throughout their build.
From the visitor’s centre with its gently sloping roof, to the two wooden walkways that take you to the springs, and then the little wooden bridges that cross you over the river, everything here is brushed with zen vibes of simplicity and ease - and is also built from Japanese cedar wood.
Floodlights hidden in the undergrowth and mounted on tall poles illuminate the walkways and pools at night, filling this special mid-Atlantic haven of healing and serious Azores magic with fluid notes of natural design, and further highlighting the conscious and un-obstructive nature of this architecture. The iron-rich warm water flows out the cave, into the river, and on – as it has for millennia.
Just a 40-minute drive from remote, hilltop artist’s abode of slow-lane living and luxe authentic vibes, Pico do Refugio, this thermal spring and its seamless architecture is a must-do when exploring São Miguel and the wider Azores.
If something a little less rural and more on the urban side is what you fancy next, then peek in our Travel Journal at Portugal's Lisbon, and another revered moment of architecture, the MAAT culture hub. Take a note from us and our Lisbon Design Guide, and be sure to stay in a kitschy house of classic Lisboa cool, the hidden Casa Amora in arty Amoreiras. For another shot of exclusive waterside design, you can also have a look at Lake Lucerne's luxe bathing house, Strandbad Seeburg, something for you cool cats.