The Azores: the best kept secret in Europe (Faial Island)

Natacha Costa | Live the World

September 19, 2022

Faial belongs to the central group of the** Azores archipelago, along with Pico, S. Jorge, Graciosa & Terceira. Making a perfect itinerary for the Azores is quite a challenge, but make sure you find a day for Faial**. For example, if you are spending a week exploring and climbing Pico, coming here is a perfect day trip option, as the island is quite small.

Start from the cosmopolitan "capital" Horta, where the ferry arrives. For a small town such as Horta, the place is quite lively. Locals are used to meeting tourists as, according to them, Horta's marina is the fourth most visited in the world! Legends about the sailing adventures are constantly being told, as many sea wolves have found their shelter against the winds in its colourful harbour. It seems like Horta is (although seemingly isolated) almost a compulsory stop for all the yachts en route from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean sea. Horta is also the venue of many international regattas. What makes the marina special are hundreds of drawings and paintings made by yachtsmen. They draw their flags, names, routes or a good luck messages. This tradition has made Horta’s marina an open air gallery.

Once you are there, a glass of gin at Peter is a must; it's a house drink and they say they have served gin long before it became fashionable in Europe and the USA! In one word, Peter Café Sport is - a café, but I won't be wrong if I call it the most famous bar of the Atlantic ocean. It all started with Ernesto Azevedo, at the end of the 19th century. Initially, he owned a handicrafts store and after acquiring another building (today part of the space known as Peter), naming it Azorean House he also started selling drinks. In 1918, his son, passionate about sports, changes the name to Café Sport, and added his nickname, Peter. To best describe this unique place, I will use what Jacinto Vilaomier said in Azul profundo in 1990: Café Sport is a symbol of free men moving around this beautiful world with no borders related to the race, nor to the traditions. Peter's also hosts a Scrimshaw Museum (opened in 1986), with the most beautiful collection of scrimshaw in the world.

Once you are done with your gin and listening to the sailors around you, it's time to explore the rest of Faial. For the fit and curious ones there is a 37km long *grand trail *called Faial Coast to Coast, that takes you to the time of the island’s formation, passing by volcanic cones and chimneys, craters and caves, mysterious and characteristic places within the volcanic landscapes. If you don't have time or energy, there are some shorter options that allow you to check out the most important volcano, Capelinhos, like for example Cabeço do Canto walking trail (PRC1FAI).

Last year, 60 years since the last big eruption of this volcano was commemorated. It destroyed 300 houses and caused the evacuation of approx. 2000 people. The volcanic event, which lasted 13 months, ended on 24 October 1958. It was a year of earthquakes, of boiling ocean waters, bursting eruptions. Some of the eruptive columns reached more than 1000 meters at the time.

Today, the volcano is sleeping, but the stories of the eruptions are still being told. There is the Interpretation Center, inaugurated in August 2008, a truly unique project created by a local architect. It was built in concrete, partially sunken, and buried by the ashes, not to be seen on the surface. Here you can learn about the volcanic formation of the Azores, leading to the Capelinhos Volcano eruption in the context of world volcanic activity. In addition there is a permanent exhibit of the history of Azorean lighthouses and displays of samples of rocks and various minerals.

Clearly, there is a beach too. I suggest you go to the beach of Porto Pim. In the heart-shaped bay you will find dunes, clear water and fine sand. There is also the factory of Porto Pim nearby, an important testimony of the times of the whaling and an aquarium that you should not miss.

When I think about the size of Faial (only 173.06 km2), it's quite packed with impressive landmarks. However, one of its most interesting features are people. So, before catching your ferry to go away, go meet some, for example Sr. Genuíno. Right there, in Porto Pim, you can have dinner in his Restaurante Genuíno (yummy tuna!), and if you are lucky to meet him, hear stories about how he (twice) made around the world tour, all alone on a boat, obviously. And then, who knows, maybe he will inspire you to make one on your own.

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