Travelling to Sao Miguel with our 9 month old daughter
At the beginning of July Jake, Fay and Henrietta Cardigan enjoyed their first family holiday to the Azores. Travelling for the first time with a young baby can be a bit of a daunting thought but in reality it is quite easy and well worth it. Here is Fay’s account of their experiences during a weeks holiday to Sao Miguel along with some top baby travel tips…
I’ve just returned from a wonderful week on the beautiful Azorean island of Sao Miguel. This was my third trip to these incredible Portuguese islands but my first time travelling abroad with a baby. Our daughter Henrietta is almost 9 months old and I was very apprehensive about travelling with her for the first time. I thought it might be helpful to share some of my experience for anyone embarking on a trip to the Azores with a baby – which is 110% worth doing!
Firstly, Azoreans are very baby-friendly. The locals all absolutely love babies and we were made to feel very welcome everywhere we went. They all fussed over Hetty and made us feel very at ease, and at times it was like travelling with a mini celebrity. It always felt very safe though which is reassuring when travelling with a baby.
We stayed with some of our friends on Sao Miguel in one of their self-catering properties, a fabulous farmhouse called Casa Lareira which is on the north coast of the island just outside the town of Capelas. There was a well-equipped kitchen with highchair and a suitable travel cot in which Hetty slept comfortably. There was also a lovely swimming pool. The pool wasn’t heated but the morning sun warmed it up enough for a pleasant afternoon swim, and she enjoyed lots of pool time! Palm trees and parasols meant that shade was never far away should the sun get too much. We took a swim aid which was useful, and a small anti-UV tent, the latter of which we could have managed without but was still handy for creating a shaded play area.
The inside floor spaces of most houses and apartments in the Azores are tiled so I would advise taking a play mat if you want somewhere softer for your child to chill out. Being a big old building, the rooms at Lareira were lovely and cool so it was never too warm inside. But plenty of sun cream and a sun hat are a must when you are out and about, especially during the summer months when temperatures get up well into the mid-20s We took a small clip-on fan for the pram which doubled as baby entertainment! We also made good use of a baby carrier which is particularly recommended if you want to do any hiking – we enjoyed a walk up to the viewpoint at Boca do Inferno to see the stunning Sete Cidades crater and then drove down into the village for a dip in Lagoa Azul.
To explore Sao Miguel we chose to hire a car with car seat and this worked well. The hire company fitted the seat for us when we collected the car at the airport and showed us how to adjust it. There is also the option to take your own car seat with you (most airlines allow this without any additional cost) or to have transfers and tours arranged (including baby/child seats on request) if you’d rather not drive whilst you are on holiday.
There is plenty to do on Sao Miguel for babies and children. The various traditional towns are worth exploring and bursting with colour and character with lots to entertain curious young ones. The pavements are narrow but manageable with a buggy and, for the most part, the roads are quiet. Festivals are a common sight in the Azores and are an important part of island culture. It is wonderful to stumble upon a small village during festival time but just a small warning – Azoreans love fireworks and during festivals you can expect the occasional loud bang (day and night)!
If your accommodation does not have a swimming pool, there is a lido in Ponta Delgada and there are lots of natural swimming pools dotted along the coast, often with BBQ and picnic areas alongside. There are also several nice beaches, and who doesn’t like a trip to the beach whilst on holiday? We enjoyed a nice little paddle and explore at Praia de Agua d’Alto on the south coast. Beware of the sand though as it gets very hot! As well as the pools and beaches there are lots of little play parks dotted around so a quick go on the swings is never far away.
One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to Furnas – I highly recommend the experience of buying a Caldeira-cooked sweet corn and sharing it with the ducks and geese on the shores of Lagoa das Furnas. Hetty thought this was hilarious! For lunch that day we headed to Tony’s which is a good, family-friendly restaurant in the town centre (with highchair, baby change facilities and a decent children’s menu for older kids). There are plenty of cafés and restaurants on Sao Miguel and many have both inside and outside seating available (with shade). Not everywhere has highchairs but most of the larger restaurants do and it is always worth asking (cadeirinha de bebé). Baby change facilities are also available in the bigger restaurants as well as in supermarkets and shopping malls.
Nappies and wipes are easy to find at most supermarkets. We used Dodot nappies (Pampers equivalent) and found alcohol-free wipes. You will also find most places stock powdered formula, a recognisable make was Aptamil and also the Portuguese equivalent of Cow & Gate which is called Nutrilon. I didn’t see any ready made bottles but it is easy to do a Boots order before you travel that can be collected airside once you have cleared airport security. Jars and pouches of baby food are also easy to source (look for the brand Milupa) as well as baby rice and cereal, and I didn’t encounter any problems breastfeeding whilst I was there.
Hetty ate a mixture of pouches that we had brought with us and local food such as bread, cheese, yoghurt, melon, pineapple, strawberries, potatoes and vegetables. I had been searching for baby-friendly bottled water for her to drink but found the tap water was drinkable (best to check locally as this differs in some areas). Of course you can choose to boil the tap water if you prefer and to make up bottles this way. I found some information on what to look for if choosing to use bottled water – the Portuguese for salt is “sal” and for “sodium” it is “sódio”. When buying bottled mineral water, check the label to make sure that it does not contain more than 200mg of sodium (Na) a litre. We took Milton sterilising tablets and our own washing powder and having a washing machine in the house proved invaluable!
Jake had arranged direct flights for us from Manchester to the Azores and, thankfully, the journey was smooth and stress-free. Hetty stayed in her buggy all the way to the boarding gate at which point it went in the hold and we carried her on board in the sling. The buggy was available as soon as we landed at the other end. We booked priority boarding and because we were travelling with a child we got whisked through security and passport control quite quickly. We chose seats at the front of the plane with a little extra room which helped, although the baby changing facilities were at the back of the plane so you may prefer to sit there for convenience. Onboard I suggest taking plenty of toys and snacks for entertaining and also to feed baby during take-off and landing as the sucking and swallowing helps equalise the pressure in babies’ ears, hopefully avoiding any unnecessary discomfort. I also recommend some Milton wipes for onboard the plane because, if your baby is anything like my daughter, a lot of toys will end up on the floor and then need a wipe!
To be honest the journey there and back was the bit about which I was most worried but everyone was very friendly and relaxed which really helped. We flew direct from Manchester with Ryanair and I found this information very useful whilst preparing for the trip (most airlines give similar advice).
TOP TIP: I learned on the way out that, going through security, it was easier to have her in the carrier until everything was loaded into the trays and then put the pram through the security scanners first so it was ready and waiting at the other side. You then have somewhere to place baby whilst gathering your belongings together.
I was worried about routine and sleep whilst on holiday but we just decided to go with the flow and see what happened. The sun helped to ensure that Hetty slept because it tired her out. She tended to have longer naps than usual during the day and then she was awake a bit later into the evenings, usually settling around 10ish. This meant we were able to enjoy being out and about for dinners whilst still having some baby free evening time after she’d gone to bed.
Overall it was a very smooth and enjoyable holiday experience and my only complaint is that it was over too quickly! We enjoyed making many amazing memories on our first family holiday to the Azores with Archipelago and I highly rate the islands as an extremely baby-friendly destination. Hetty can’t wait to get back there and see some of the other islands!