Fragrant cedars, stately oaks and ancient tree ferns reach up toward the sky… Gentle creeks trickle into swan-filled lily ponds… Meandering footpaths wind along serpentine canals to mysterious grottoes… The exotic botanical gardens of Parque Terra Nostra seem almost primeval. Secluded in the heart of the Azores’ São Miguel Island, Terra Nostra will leave you wondering if you’re lost in a dream.
Founded in 1780, Terra Nostra was the former estate and summer residence of Thomas Hickling, an American businessman and Vice Consul to the Azores. Colloquially known as “Yankee Hall,” the property expanded as it changed hands over the centuries—first to the Viscondes da Praia and later to the Bensaúde family, which still owns it today.
The lush grounds feature hillsides covered in hydrangeas, as well as manicured gardens of azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons and countless varieties of brightly colored flowers. There’s even a collection of cycads that were planted over the years, some dating back two centuries. Within the park there are numerous lily ponds stocked with koi, their bright orange color contrasting with the greenery all around.
Terra Nostra is renowned for an enormous pool that’s fed by thermal hot springs. Visitors can float languorously in the warm water, gazing up at the dense foliage and rugged peaks encircling the Furnas Valley. The murky amber-colored water is loaded with soothing minerals that are believed to bring therapeutic relief to those who swim in it.
This secret garden of Terra Nostra is really an unexpected treat.
Here’s a slideshow of some of my favorite photos:
Getting There: The capital of São Miguel Island, Ponta Delgada, can be reached from the U.S.A. via Boston, or from Europe via Lisbon. You can either rent a car or take one of the many popular tours to reach the park.
Where: Terra Nostra Park – Rua Padre Jose Jacinto Botelho, 5 Furnas, São Miguel 9675-061, Portugal
Hours: April to July — 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.; August — 10 a.m. – 7.30 p.m. September and October — 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.; November to March — 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.