Faial is a 50-minute flight westwards from São Miguel. It’s a small island with an area of around 170 sq km and a population of just 15,000.
Faial is a lovely, picturesque island with rolling green pastures, lots of cows, and hedgerows filled with hydrangeas and other colourful blooms. It is reminiscent of the English county of Devon in parts except that the hills and coastal cliffs are higher. Oh, and there are volcanoes!
The charming main town of Horta is as pretty as a postcard with a surprising number of significant buildings and churches considering that it only has 10,000 inhabitants.
The historic Pousada Forte da Horta hotel is housed in the 16th century Fort of Santa Cruz on the harbour front with spectacular views of neighbouring Pico Island.
Café Sport, also known as Peter Café, is famed among the transatlantic yachting community as the best place in mid-Atlantic to eat, drink and be merry.
Actually in November it is one of only half a dozen places open in Horta which pretty much shuts down for the winter.
Above the bar is the Scrimshaw Museum, scrimshaw being the art of engraving pictures on ivory or bone, formerly popular among sailors.
In the Azores, scrimshaw is traditionally carved on whales’ teeth which used to be common in the days when Faial was a commercial whaling centre. Since whaling was banned in 1986, whales’ teeth have become as rare as hens’ teeth.
After a bracing walk you can return to Horta town via Porto Pim beach and perhaps enjoy a very fine sangria on the terrace of the Taberna Pim restaurant while watching the waves break against the harbour wall.
Visitors to Horta don’t have to go far to see a volcanic caldera as there is the remnant of one jutting out into the ocean just on the edge of town.
There is a nice trail skirting the caldera, known as Monte da Guia, providing great views of the town. There is an aquarium here where rare fish are bred for supply to major aquaria around the world.
There is also a former whaling station and a small museum called Casa dos Dabney which was the beach house of a prominent American family who lived in the Azores during the 16th and 17th centuries.
In the town there is the Horta Museum and a number of grand churches and civic buildings to admire and a handful of restaurants and cafes.
Shopping is limited with only one medium-sized supermarket and a number of small family-owned shops. There are none of the international high street brands and almost no tourist tat which, adds to the charm of the place.
In the centre of Faial is the island’s highest point, Cabeço Gordo, at just over 1,000 metres. Here too is a massive caldera, two kilometres wide and 400 metres deep.
You can drive right up to the rim from where there is a hiking trail all the way round the rim of the crater. Descent into the caldera is not permitted.
For the super keen hiker there is a coast to coast east/west hike of 36 km which cuts right across the centre of the island and includes the caldera rim hike. According to the information board this hike should take 12 hours.
A shorter and easier hike covers some of the volcanic cones of the Capelo area on the west of the island. It starts at Cabeço Verde from where there is a spectacular view over the entire western half of the island.
At the westernmost point of Faial is the Ponta Dos Capelinhos Lighthouse which used to stand on the shoreline until 1957 when a volcano suddenly rose from the ocean, spewing rocks and ash over the area and effectively adding a couple of square kilometres of new land to the island.
The lighthouse still stands surrounded by volcanic ash. An underground museum known as the Interpretation Centre of the Capelinhos Volcano has been built here with EU money.
At the eastern extreme of Faial are the remains of another lighthouse, Ponta da Ribeirinha, which was ruined by an earthquake in 1998. As you can gather, Faial is a hotspot of seismic and volcanic activity which is worth bearing in mind if you are planning to buy a retirement home here.
There are a couple of good beaches on the island, the best of which is probably Praia do Almoxarife (black sand) but there are also a number of rocky inlets where pools, naturally replenished and washed by crashing waves, provide sheltered bathing during the summer months.
Back in town, Horta Marina is a pleasant place for an amble. The breakwater is covered in graffiti – nautical murals painted mainly by long distance yachtsmen.
It has become tradition for cross-Atlantic mariners to leave their mark here as a commemoration and for good luck in the remainder of their voyage.
This article first appeared on thriftytraveller.wordpress.com