Faial Island, the Azores.
Once an oasis stumbled upon by seafaring adventurers and
whalers but now popular among
yacht owners around the world, nature is well and truly in
charge on this small Atlantic island. It may be by-product of
vigorous tectonic plate shifts but it isn’t all black sand beaches
and dusty vistas – you’ll find plenty to entertain on this
lesser-visited haven. Luscious vegetation blankets rolling hills,
while an abundance of blue hydrangeas have earned it the nickname
“ilha azul” (blue island). To the west, the eerie remnants of
Faial’s last active volcano, Capelinhos, loll out into the sea like
a parched tongue, dramatically contrasting the rich colours that
flourish around it. The
lunar-esque terrain now lies like a graveyard, home only to a
lighthouse which has been renovated and turned into a museum to
mark the location’s eruptive history.
The south-easterly tip is the island’s cultural and commercial
hub where you’ll find the marina town of Horta. Minimalist houses appear as white dots in the
lap of Faial’s hilly jade vista, while a flotilla of yachts bob in
the bay – boats flock here from all over the world to break up
their Atlantic crossing, making it a hive of activity. In the last
century the port walls have become an open-air gallery as
superstitious sailors daub them with paint for good luck before
embarking on a voyage.
With many whales and dolphins residing in this part of the world
and a national park covering the majority of the island, Faial is
one for outdoors types looking for something a bit different.
When to go?
Faial is a
year-round destination with largely stable temperatures thanks
to seas warmed by the Gulf Stream, but locals say that you can
experience four seasons in one day here, so pack layers just in
Who to take with you?
Anyone who thinks “geology rocks”.
Most likely to bump into…
Yachties, nature lovers and locals looking to keep this place a
Take a two-and-a-half-hour hike around the cavernous edge of
Caldeira – an extinct volcano that formed the island itself – then
unwind with a dip in a salt-water pool. At Varadouro Bay,
fossilised lava has shaped a natural
spa retreat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike
Iceland‘s Blue Lagoon, Faial’s thermal pools are still largely
undiscovered by tourists; spend an afternoon bathing in cobalt
waters which gleam against charcoal walls.
Essentials to bring with you
Walking shoes, a Portuguese phrase book and your paintbrushes to
leave your mark on that wall.