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  • Candace Ahlfinger

Faial Island, The Azores--The Adventure Begins with Volcanoes and Historic Bar

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

I don’t know when the Azores Islands moved up to my Top 10 Travel List, but I was very excited about finally visiting 3 of these somewhat isolated islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. My husband and I met friends at the São Miguel airport, the primary international airport in the Portuguese Archipelago. A one-hour flight later, we arrived on the island of Faial. (Note: We used Azores Getaways to book our flights, hotels, and cars. They were excellent to work with.)

We quickly got our rental car—a seeming necessity on the islands—and headed to our hotel, the Azoris Faial Garden-Resort Hotel. (You'll see multiple spellings of Azores on websites and on the islands.) The trip took just 15 minutes since the island only encompasses 67 square miles. The quietness at the time of our visit—end of October—was striking. The hustle and bustle of cities was gone. In fact, we saw very few people throughout our stay in Horta. (The population of the island is approximately 15,000.) The busiest places were the restaurants—make reservations ahead of time on weekends. Also, some restaurants close on November 1, and some are closed on certain days of the week.

Peter's Cafe Sport, Horta

Our exploration of Horta began with a walk to the historic Peter’s Café Sport. The bar has served sailors and the Horta community since 1918 when Faial was used as a major stop for cross Atlantic trips. Many famous sailors have visited this family-owned establishment, including such notable figures as Jacques Cousteau. The bar is decorated with banners from ships that have visited over the years. I’m not certain there is even a tiny spot without a sailor’s memorabilia. The welcoming atmosphere and the excellent fish stew set a great tone for our 8-day trip in the Azores.

One Beautiful Example of Scrimshaw in Peter's Scrimshaw Museum

Upstairs from Peter’s Bar is an almost hidden scrimshaw museum that opened in 1986. The intricate decorations have been carved into the teeth or bones of sperm whales. The majority of the collection highlights works from the 18th and 19th centuries, but modern pieces are also on display. (Since 1984, no new whale bones or teeth can be used—even if a whale washes ashore and is already dead.)

Horta Marina Murals

Once fortified and ready to explore more, we ventured out to the marina to find hundreds—or maybe thousands—of colorful murals created by sailors to ensure a safe trip. Wandering along the docks gave us an overview of the many types of murals—from stick figures to works of art—but all created to prevent the ship from encountering an untimely end by flaunting superstition.

Santa Cruz Fort

We crossed Horta as we zigzagged through streets hunting for beautiful views and buildings. There was no lack of fun discoveries such as the 16th century Santa Cruz Fort which captured our imaginations. We found government buildings, churches, and beautiful homes, making our walk both fun and exciting.

Dinner —again, reservations are a must—was at Restaurante Genuíno and was a definite repeat experience. The owner, Genuíno Madruga, is the only Portuguese sailor and the tenth sailor worldwide, to circumnavigate the globe solo—including going around Cape Horn. He was a gracious host and shared some of his stories with us.

Lighthouse at the Capelinho Volcano

Our only full day at Horta was filled with activities. We had decided not to plan every day in advance but instead to make a list of all we wanted to do and decide the night before where our wandering would take us. This system might not work in peak season, but it was effective at this time of year.

Capelinho Volcano Site

We left early for the site of the Capelinho Volcano which erupted violently in 1957. The 13-month eruption had a major impact on the island. The Azores lost 29% of the population as worried residents evacuated Faial and other islands in the archipelago. The huge black lava area contains a great underground museum that explains the development of this volcanic archipelago and provides insight into the Capelinho Volcano. Visitors can climb to the top of the lighthouse where the brave lighthouse keeper stayed as long as possible to keep the light on and gather data about the volcano. The lighthouse, which once sat on the edge of the island, was decommissioned after the volcano when the cone hid the lighthouse beacon from sight. The bleak landscape provides stark photo ops of the mountains and the lava rocks that landed in the nearby ocean. After hiking in the volcano’s vicinity—and becoming coated with lava dust due to high winds and black sand—we headed to the town of Varadouro for lunch. One of the challenges of being spontaneous is finding places to eat during the off season, but after several failed attempts we found an excellent little place, Monte Velho, with a view of the ocean.

View from Miradouro Ribeira das Cabras

Our afternoon featured a drive around the island with stops at two overlooks, Ribeira das Cabras and Miradouro do Cabeco das Pedras Negras. The second overlook required us to leave the major road which circles the island and climb up the increasingly rough and small gravel road, but the view of the ocean, the green mountainside, and the nearby peak of Pico Island were worth the effort. And, with another dinner at Genuino’s—we couldn’t get reservations at any other restaurant—the breathtakingly beautiful time on Faial was done.

View of Pico Island from Miradouro do Cabeco das Pedras Negras

A note: With another day or two on Faial, we would have probably taken the ferry to Pico and São Jorge for day trips.

Our trip continued with a visit to Terceira, another Azorean island.

For information about our visit to Sao Miguel, also an Azorean island, click here.

Horta's Beautiful Sidewalks and Marina

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