A peaceful, tranquil and magical stay in the forest
Sao Miguel, Azores
Furnas Lake Forest Living is a 250 acre forested property located on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores Archipelago, a short 2-hour flight from the Portuguese mainland. It is a quiet and peaceful getaway with an abundance of outdoor activities including hiking, biking and kayaking along with world famous hot springs.
The 250 acre property on which the Furnas Lake Forest Living eco-resort now operates has seen generations of the Camara family’s imprint on the land. It is a family legacy that reaches further back than when Manuel Camara’s great-grandfather harvested timber from this volcanic land.
With decades of family history, coupled with his own passion for farming and the outdoors, Manuel was actively working toward the day when he would operate a full-time dairy farm.
That dream may very well have become a reality were it not for the government stepping in during the 1990’s and putting a stop to all farming near Furnas Lake. As luck would have it (in this case bad luck) Manuel’s property was directly across the road from the lake.
A decision had to be made. It was time to switch gears.
It was during the late 90’s that Manuel, and his wife Helena, were living in Ponta Delgada that the idea for an “eco-resort” was initially discussed. During that time Manuel owned and operated an adventure company catering to the growing interest among tourists for snorkeling, scuba-diving and whale watching along with dry land excursions, while Helena was working as an environmentalist with the Azore government.
As Furnas Lake Forest Living was being built it was considered by some on the island of Sao Miguel to be too ambitious and too far out conceptually. Nothing has ever been built like this before skeptics said. Much like the reverse mentality of “build it and they will come”.
Undeterred, the Camara’s forged ahead knowing that when the project was complete it would speak for itself as being in the vanguard of what is now a global trend to smaller, nature-centric resorts catering to travellers that prefer a more quiet and peaceful getaway in harmony with its surroundings.
Many years after the hope of running a dairy farm passed, Furnas Lake Forest Living is the manifestation of a more modern-day dream. Along with the well known architect Fernando Monteiro and a team of highly skilled builders and craftsmen, the Camara’s have created a truly unique getaway in the forest.
What began with a sketch and a vision in 2003 is now a reality that continues to transcend the notion of what an intimate boutique hotel can be.
Today the mantra of “build it and they will come” is alive and well at Furnas Lake Forest Living. The completed project has been widely praised for exactly what the Camara’s set out to accomplish, which was to build an environmentally sensitive, architecturally innovative, retreat in the middle of the Atlantic.
One dream may have gone unrealized yet another become a reality…and a globally recognized success.
Style & Character
From the moment that we pulled into the long driveway toward the reception area of Furnas Lake Forest Living we sensed that this place was truly something special. In all of our travels it was like nothing we had ever seen. The property itself is surrounded on all sides by forest with an enormous grassy area separating the villas from the studios and the pool.
Six south facing “Japanese Villas” clad in Cryptomeria (Japanese cedar) have floor-to-ceiling windows making for light filled rooms regardless of the weather. The six villas are lifted off the ground on concrete pillars and appear to float above the reflective pond beneath them. In the early morning fog, with the pillars hidden, it appears as though the villas are levitating. It is magical. Three long ramps that bisect the six villas and extend over the pond give the impression of boat ramps.
Two additional villas face east and gather the warmth of the morning light and all eight have a gorgeous view of the expansive lawn and the mountains beyond.
In addition to the villas there are four “Oak Studios” named after the numerous oak trees that Helena and Manuel planted decades ago. These studios are smaller than the villas yet each have a large south facing deck which provides more living space while contributing to the indoor/outdoor feel. With views toward the oaks along with dozens of hydrangeas these four studios feel quietly removed from the rest of the property.
All 12 spaces are a 21st. century adaptation of the numerous granaries that are native to Portugal and the islands of the Azores. By raising the buildings off the ground air is allowed to flow beneath them thus reducing moisture build up, which is a constant feature of the island’s climate. It is a simple, yet very elegant solution to a vexing problem and is very well executed.
Rounding out the property’s lodging is the “Chestnut House” which, in the past, was the barn that Manuel used for milking his cows. Previous lives also include it serving as the family’s vacation home prior to them moving on to the property full-time. With its 2-story layout the house can accommodate up to six people making it ideal for families. It also boasts a large covered porch for al fresco dining, even during the frequent rains that visit the area.
Rooms & Amenities
Each of the villas and studios have fully equipped kitchens allowing guests to prepare and enjoy their own meals. Dining options include indoor spaces or sheltered breezeways (villas), decks (studios). Guests can also dine by the pool or picnic on the vast expanse of lawn.
The eight Japanese villas have a separate bedroom while the four Oak studios have the bedroom integrated into the whole of the space. Either way, all rooms are thoughtfully furnished with a nod to Scandinavian design. The furnishing are a deliberate attempt to embrace a more international design ethos and serve as another example of the Camara’s forward looking approach.
King size beds, plenty of pillows and plush comforters insure a good night’s sleep, along with blackout curtains for those guests that prefer total darkness while slumbering. There is little to no artwork on the walls in order to allow the views through the large sliding doors to embrace your senses.
The bathrooms are impeccably clean and well lit without sacrificing privacy. Rainfall showerheads along with a hand-held shower wand are included in each shower and high quality bath soaps are provided along with fresh towels every day. Another nice touch in the bathrooms are the solid wood counters and shelves, set against the cool blue tiles and slate floors.
Dining & Gardens
In addition to the kitchens in each villa, studio and the Chestnut house the staff will gladly provide in-room breakfast daily, or if guests prefer they can have their morning coffee and breakfast on the deck outside the restaurant.
Until recently the resort had a full time chef and the restaurant served breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, as a result of the current global pandemic lunch and dinner service has been temporarily suspended.
If cooking at home is not your idea of “getting away from it all” there are several good restaurants in the village of Furnas serving everything from burgers, pizza and locally caught seafood to cozido, the traditional Portuguese gastronomic delight that is cooked in the ground. An after dinner stroll along the canal that runs through the village is a great way to end your day. The island is also home to many great restaurants from sushi in Ponta Delgada to oceanside dining on the north shore.
On-site and island activities
The enormous grassy area outside of the villas is perfect for a round of paddleball or some frisbee and those future Cristiano Ronaldo’s in the family will have plenty of pitch to practice on.
Hiking to the “tower” in the hills above the resort will provide guests with views of the mighty Atlantic in two directions and the Furnas Lake loop, clocking in at roughly five miles, makes for a great morning or afternoon walk as do the meadows full of cows just down the road. The resort also has several bikes available.
Family & Staff
The Camara family along with their fantastic staff are emblematic of what all boutique resorts should be. They are friendly to a fault and extremely welcoming, making their guests feel like family from the moment they arrive. During our long-term stay we have frequently observed the helpful, easy going and good natured manner in which all guests are treated.From Helena, Manuel and their two lovely daughters (Maria and Mariana) to the reception staff, housekeepers, gardeners and groundskeeper this small team of people are larger than life in their ability to make guests feel at home.
And last but certainly not least, there is Wallace…the family’s venerable pooch. Part time guard dog, full time rascal he possesses boundless energy and is a true force of nature!