If you have been reading the last few days worth of my exploration of São Miguel in winter, you might have noticed how changeable the weather is here in the middle of the Atlantic.
This morning we went to look at the place where perhaps it all began for this island – up on the edge of the blown out crater of the Sete Cidades volcano. It’s a huge double crater filled with water. It must have spewed out much of the surrounding land in a vast sustained eruption many millennia ago. Now it sits in beauty and fertility, and it hasn’t blown its top for 142 years.
In the late 1980’s a group of mostly French investors built a luxury hotel here, at Miradouro Vista do Rei – The King’s Viewpoint. They called it the Monte Palace Hotel. It’s incredibly well located for beauty, the Monte Palace. It looks over the fabled twin lakes of the caldera. It is just downhill from an even more spectacular viewpoint – the Boca do Inferno. It is a wonderfully well placed building, or… well … it would be if the weather wasn’t so changeable and it was more accessible. We beat the car up the long slope in the sunshine. About an hour later this is my photo of the view from the nearby Miradouro.
Clouds coalesce around these peaks. There’s nothing else to attract the moisture of the oceans. The local joke in the eighties when the hotel was being built is that it was commissioned by somebody who had been to The Azores once, on a sunny day. Nobody ever expected it to succeed apart from perhaps some of the investors. There’s nothing up there but the view and if you’re in the clouds then you’re just stuck in an expensive bar.
Lou and I came to this island on the only direct flight from London this week. It was incredibly cheap but there were only 73 passengers of which a good 50% were returning locals who had been visiting London. There are 88 bedrooms in the hotel. Back in the late eighties it was more expensive to fly to the Azores from the UK than to North America. None of my friends have said “oh yes I’ve been there” yet. 27 years after this hotel venture collapsed, there still isn’t enough tourism to maintain it really.
The hotel was in debt when it opened. It was open for just over a year, 89 – 90 and the investors pulled strings to get it to win one of those “best whatever” awards that we all secretly know are mostly about money changing hands and just occasionally about merit – (so long as money has also changed hands). Then it closed and one local guy with dogs was employed to keep it secure. He lived there and fought the damp and the failing electrics. Slowly and steadily this huge opulent folly began to crust with squelchy mold. The elevators failed. The water crept in and what can one security guard do about lifts broken by damp? He did his best. Then they stopped paying him. It was never going to reopen. I’d love to talk to him. He was there for years before the money stopped, and he stopped, and the building became a folly full of valuable things.
First the thieves. Perhaps they told themselves they were hunting souvenirs. But they took the lifts. All the electrics. All the furniture. Everything they could take. Everything. Then the angry kids broke all the things that were left until the Azorean government mobilised to deliberately get rid of all the windows for safety. Then fires, smashing things, graffiti. The place is a total complete and utter ruin.
Somebody finally bought the place. It was supposed to reopen in 2021 after a refurb. They must have bought it sight unseen at the wrong time. Covid stopped any plan they might have had. But it was fucked before they started. The only new thing is an impotent wall of breeze blocks, to which somebody has, in no uncertain terms, taken a sledgehammer.
When we were there we saw more people than we have seen anywhere else on the island. Wandering through the gutted rooms, taking selfies on the ruined balconies, sitting on the roof looking dazedly across the caldera below. It’s a mess. It’s a total mess. It’s incredible. Humanity. Greed. Pride. Filth. Time.