The island of Faial lies in the central group of the Açores in the middle of the Atlantic ocean approximately 1000 miles west of the Portuguese mainland. The circular road around the island is 54 kilometers. The population is around 15,000 with half this number living in the main town of Horta. There are a number of European nationals living on Faial including English, German, Swiss, Belgian, French and Dutch plus South African, Canadian and USA citizens. The second language is English and is widely spoken.
There are daily TAP flights to and from Lisbon and SATA flights from Porto and between all the other islands. The facilities available on Faial have dramatically improved since Portugal joined the EU and most daily requirements are readily available via supermarkets, a fresh food market and a good fish market with locally caught stock, plus a wide selection of specialist stores.
The tourist attractions of Faial include breathtaking scenery, a caldeira (crater) a huge variety of walking routes, beaches and black sand beaches and swimming places at various points. The plant life is very varied and prolific and in the summer months blue hydrangeas abound as hedgerows all over the island (Faial is also known as Ilha Azul).
There is a cinema and theatre, restaurants and clubs and sporting facilities with a municipal indoor swimming pool. The port of Horta is a main stop for trans-Atlantic yachts and there are two marinas for local and visiting boats.
Whale and dolphin watching is a prime summertime industry plus game fishing. The variety of whale and dolphin species viewable in this part of the ocean is as good as it gets anywhere in the world.
Ferry boats make regular scheduled trips to the other islands in the group – Faial-Pico is a 15 minute trip by catamaran ferry or 30 minutes by the larger ferry boats.
The climate on Faial and the Azores generally, is temperate, with summer highs rarely exceeding 30 deg. centigrade or winter lows below 10 deg. centigrade.
Pico Island, named for its imposing mountain, is one of the most beautiful and most underrated islands of the Azores. Only second to S. Miguel in size the ‘Mountain Island’ stands majestically in the middle of the Azorean central group, at about 4.5 nautical miles from Faial Island and 11 miles from S. Jorge Island.
Pico Island history was built on the legacy of it’s whale hunting and winery traditions. The famous Pico wines and the UNESCO world patrimony designated vineyards, as well as wooden boat building, are contemporary fixtures of Pico. Whale hunting, long gone, gave way to a movement of fair treatment study and observation of whales, dolphins, and other sea mammals. Whale and dolphin watching trips can be organized from Madalena or Lajes. Volcanic eruptions ended 300 years ago. Pico is considered a dormant volcano adding to the mystique of the island and serving as a magnet for scientists.
The Pico Island landscape is a sublime mixture of lava rock and exotic vegetation in an ever changing scenery that envelopes this scarcely populated island. Pico features the best swimming holes in the Azores, and every so often an occasional sand beach appears. In 2006 was Prainha’s turn to offer a beach to the delight of the locals and the tourists. Pico is also the ideal island to trek, hike, jog, walk, bird watch, whale and dolphin watch, swim, fish, ride bikes and moto-quad bikes. Speleology is also a favorite pastime of Pico and its visitors.
Pico has great roads and trails and is not crowded. It is an island where calm and peace can be found around every corner, yet there’s always the choice of escaping to the village and experience the bustling culture of the occasional festival. Trips to Faial and Sao Jorge are one ferry trip away. As one local governor puts it, Pico is the California of the Azores Islands (well at least until the gold rush), offering the sun, the ocean, the plains and the mountain. Pico Island is best from June to January. However as any island in the Azores the weather can be unpredictable and February through June can also be delightful.
The 60 kilometer long island of Sao Jorge provides some of the most beautiful walking on the Azores. The island comprises a long spine of volcanoes of different ages; it varies in width between 4 and 8 kilometers and is characterised by steep vegetated cliffs rising, sometimes almost 600 metres, steeply out of the surrounding ocean. Flat areas called faja are sometimes found at the base of these vegetated walls, here small villages or hamlets are often located that can only be reached by very steep, narrow trails.
The faja are almost unique to Sao Jorge and many of the most beautiful walks involve walking along the old paths that used to be the main access routes to the faja before the more modern roads were constructed. Some of the faja to this very day cannot be reached by a good road. The old paths are often quite steep and pass through spectacular cliff scenery, however most were designed to be passable to mules carrying loads.