Faial is known as the Blue Island. Every year, from mid-June to August, the island is a riot of blue as the hedges of hydrangeas, originally imported from China and Japan, burst into bloom.
This island is only a 30-minute ferry ride from Pico over a submerged crater, which one day might join Pico and Faial. There are also flights back to Lisbon and onwards from there to the UK from Horta, its main town.
Faial’s safe harbour offers sanctuary to yachts from the Atlantic waves. Leisure and business have thrived on this constant stream of global visitors, and legends have grown up such as the mural paintings around the harbour to ensure safe onward passage. These works of primitive art tell the story of families who have sold up everything and taken to the seas.
Still evident is the power of volcanic activity to both destroy and create. Today the population is almost half what it was in the early 60s following the last major eruption in 1957-58, which covered the island with thick dust and put a temporary end to agriculture and all associated activities. Locals fled in their droves to the States and Canada where special dispensation from the tight immigration laws was given. Today’s population of 15,000 is just about sustainable. The Centro Interpretativo, set in the former living quarters of a lighthouse which now lies below the ash, makes one aware how active the planet really is, and reminds us that the Azores Archipelago is sitting on a very hot spot in the Atlantic Ocean. The concrete and steel walls of this research centre, with sounds of eruptions echoing through the chambers and corridors beneath the desert-like landscape, would make this a perfect setting for a James Bond villain’s lair.