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Adventures in the Azores, pt. 2: Faial and Pico

View over Horta, the main port on the island of Faial; Azores Islands, Portugal

After a fun few days on the island of São Miguel (see pt. 1 of the Azores adventure here) it was time to head to Faial, where my friend Jen lives. São Miguel is quite far from the other islands so there aren't any ferries, and there wasn't a direct flight to Faial on the day I needed, so I did a quick hop to Terceira island for an overnight before flying again the next morning. Each flight was 30 mins on a prop plane so it was easy going (see SATA/Azores Airlines for flight info).

After the bustling nightlife of Ponta Delgada I found the center of Praia da Vitória to be oddly deserted!

Praia da Vitória, on Terceira Island, Azores


The next morning I flew to Horta, the main port on Faial Island.

It was a bustling town in the 16th - 18th centuries when Portuguese galleons traversed the Atlantic en route to the Americas and needed a safe port to harbor in. Today it's popular with yachts and sailboats making the same journey.

The marina is also famous for the many painted images left by people who have moored there over the years. Legend has it that you have to leave your mark to ensure a safe onward journey.

[Click on the individual photos to see each one in full if you're viewing this on a computer; on a phone they open one by one anyway:]

Faial, Pico and São Jorge make up the island group known as "the triangle."

Left to right: Faial, Pico, São Jorge islands, Azores (photo from Wikipedia)

And of course, they're all volcanic! The main crater on Faial was socked in by clouds almost the whole time I was there, but I managed to get a view down into it. The crater rim is wide, ~2 km (1.2 mi) around, and it rises to 1,043 m (3,400 ft). The caldera (which I don't think you can hike down into) is 400 m (1,300 ft) deep.

The main caldera on Faial, Azores islands

It's a beautiful place, with cows grazing and sweeping views over to the volcano on Pico, which is even higher at 2,351 m (7,713 ft)‎. There are so many wild hydrangeas (they were imported years ago and have now taken over) the island is dubbed "the blue island."

Farther down the slopes you enter into a gorgeous forest of Japanese Cedar (cryptomeria), which was imported in the 1960s and has thrived. You can read more about the trees on the island here.

All of that volcanic activity has created some amazing black-sand beaches (which were WAY too rough for swimming when I was there):

With scenery like this, they say the Azores are what you'd get if Hawaii and Ireland had a baby. 😉

If you can't find a sandy beach, seek out one of these rocky coves that protect you from the pounding surf. They're not thermal-hot like on São Miguel but they're beautiful!

The island's newest volcano is only a few decades old, when an underwater eruption added 2.4 km² (~1 m²) of ash to the western coast in 1958.

There's a little museum in the base of the lighthouse (which you can climb) and it makes a dramatic hike:

My American friend Jen moved to the Azores about 2 years ago and bought a cute little cottage on the west side of the island, so I stayed with her and her friendly animals. Her story caught the eye of the show "House Hunters International" and they even did an episode about her, but I haven't been able to watch it (here's a link to it in the IMDB). You can follow Jen on Instagram at @jenintheazores and you can see more beautiful images of Faial in this lovely video.

And last thing about Faial before I move on to Pico... I couldn't leave without visiting the small but interesting City of Horta museum. The first rooms had some fascinating religious pieces, mostly painted wooden statuary. So odd to see the little heads poking out of the flames!

Saint Francis from Madeira island, 17th c.

And here's an amazing Deposition from the Cross:

Deposition from the Cross, Madeira Island, 17th c.

"While you were sleeping..."😄

Untitled painting, 18th c.

Here's a Saint Benedict I'm not used to seeing: this is "Benedict the Moor" and he was born in Sicily in the 16th century to African slave parents. He was freed at birth and became a Franciscan friar known for his charitable works.

Saint Benedict, 17th c., from Madeira island

Then there's this! It's called a "capote" and it's of unclear origin and function. Was it so women could protect their elaborate hairstyles? Or so they could go out incognito?? The hood had whalebone stays to keep its shape. Looks like something from a horror movie!

There were a few more interesting objects in the museum, like this copy of an airplane that made a stop in Horta during the first Trans-Atlantic flight in stages, in 1919:

And a Morse Code station that relayed messages sent via undersea pipes across the Atlantic. Amazing! Makes me want to read more about Morse Code!

And after all that culture I was thirsty, so I headed over to Peter Café Sport, a must-visit watering hole for anyone sailing to the island. Read more about the café's history here.

They're famous for their Gin & Tonics, so who am I to buck tradition? ;-)

* * * * * * * *


Pico is only a 30-min ferry ride from Horta so we hopped over for a day. There wasn't room for our car and all rental scooters were sold out, so we just explored on foot. Pico is unique for its tradition of growing grapes within a maze of low volcanic walls and is now a protected UNESCO World Heritage site.

There were lots of trail signs along the way so I know there's good hiking!

Below you see an old stone farmhouse/winery, some of the massive volcanic terrain along the coast, and a traditional windmill (this one had a woman inside knitting and selling souvenirs 🙂). Again, click on the image to see it in full format if you're on a computer.

The island has many small houses called adegas, and many have been made into holiday homes that you can rent (see here). I love the colors on these, and the little lava-rock table and stools is so Flintstones! 😄

There were "swimmin' holes" here too...

Pico is also known for its cheese (in fact, I saw almost exclusively cows on the islands, not the usual goats and sheep I'm used to around the Mediterranean). I tried some at lunch:

Salad with local cheese on Pico Island, the Azores

There's a wine cooperative on the island that would make a fun visit:

And of course, we had a tasting. 😋

There's an amazing place right on the water near the port town of Madalena that serves flights (white, rosé, red, and a sweet wine) as well as dinner. Head to the Cella Bar to watch the sun go down over Faial island across the water, or have a dip in the pools there.

Ferry from Madalena (Pico) to Horta (Faial), Azores

We took the ferry back after dinner and headed back to our cottage in the Atlantic jungle. A good time was had by all!

I only spent a week in the Azores but it was a first taste. Trips like these are like teaser trailers where you just get an idea of a place so you can better plan the next visit -- and there will be one! or many! Wild off-the-beaten-track destinations with hiking, swimming and wine have my name all over them. 😉

Thanks for joining me in the Azores. If you want to contribute to my continued explorations you can stuff a few bills into the tip jar. If not, just enjoy the tour and come see me when the world returns to normal. I'm sure to be somewhere fun!

Obrigada, grazie, merci, see you next time!

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