Faial Island - Azores

Nicknamed the Blue Island due to its abundance of hydrangeas, Faial in the Azores is like a floating garden of orchards, wild exotic flowers and fertile pastures right in the middle of the Atlantic.

Gently ascending from the ocean’s depths, it is the westernmost island in the central group and rises almost symmetrically on all sides, measuring just 21 kilometres long and 14 kilometres wide.

One of the most glittering jewels in the Azores’ nine-island crown, Faial (which means ‘beech wood’) is a place of exceptional natural beauty that is still distinguished by the early Flemish settlers (mostly farmers and herdsmen) who first arrived there in the 15th century. Much of their community resided in a fertile valley known as Vale dos Flemengos and a few of their striking windmills are still intact.

A regular port of call for whalers until the 19th century, the island has an agricultural history stretching back to those first inhabitants, whose endeavours to cultivate the island were greatly aided by the constant flow of sea traffic traversing between Europe and the USA.

Nestling in a wide, sheltered bay on the island’s south-eastern shoreline, the island’s pleasant capital, Horta is a bright, airy, cosmopolitan town with a large port bustling with seafaring activity throughout the whole year.

It is a popular stopover with the international yachting community and many crews commemorate their arrival by painting a picture on the famous harbour mole – indeed, it is considered bad luck not to do so.

Facing Madalena across the channel on Pico Island, a highlight for visitors docking at the town’s modern marina is the chance to spend time at the iconic Café Sport (often called Peter Café Sport after the founder) located right on the waterfront where the excellent Scrimshaw Museum is also located.

Where to go in the Azores

Horta boasts many other fascinating museums, most notably the Museum of Sacred Art housed inside the 17th-century Convent of São Francisco and the Horta Museum which features many rare paintings and a unique collection of miniatures made of fig-tree pith.

In the streets off the town centre visitors with an eye for a bargain can still find small family-run establishments selling all manner of handmade products, such as high-quality baskets, fine lace items and delicate ornaments worthy of being placed on any mantlepiece back home.

The moon-like land and seascape of Capelinhos on the island’s rugged west coast is a stark reminder of the force of nature simmering just below the surface of the Azores. This rather eerie-looking headland was created by a series of volcanic events that took place in the second half of the 1950s, forcing a large percentage of the population to flee the island in the process.

Today’s visitors can immerse themselves in that awesome seismic experience by dropping in at the stylish Capelinhos Volcano Interpretation Centre (CIVC), culminating with a walk up to the nearby lighthouse partly engulfed by lava during the eruptions.

Hikers visiting Faial (indicated on the Google map below) have many wonderful trails to follow, chief amongst them the path up to and view from the top of Caldeira do Cabeço Gordo (the island’s highest point) whose near-circular crater is filled with streams and lush vegetation. The basin of the crater has a depth of some 300 metres (1,000 feet) and a diameter of about 2 kilometres (1.25 miles).

A walking path around the crater takes about two hours at a moderate pace. For the more experienced hiker, a second path leads right down into the bottom of the crater, offering an exhilarating round-trip of around 5 hours.

Wherever you go in Faial, you’ll most likely be treated to head-spinning views of neighbouring Pico Island whose imposing dormant volcano reaches an altitude of 2,351 metres (7,714 feet), making it the highest point in the whole of Portugal.

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