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Situated in the west of Portugal’s Azores archipelago, Horta is a city on the island of Faial, popular with visitors because of its beautiful bay, naturally volcanic landscape and choice of sea-based excursions, including boat trips and the opportunity for whale-watching.
Settled by the Flemish nobleman Josse van Huerter in 1468, the island attracted many Portuguese settlers from the mainland, such as farmers eager for new land to cultivate. Huerter was instrumental to the town’s trade development and by 1498, Horta was granted town status and continued to grow thanks to its prosperous wheat and woad trade. In 1597 it suffered its greatest catastrophe to date, when a force lead by Sir Walter Raleigh destroyed its religious buildings. It recovered however and though not a major trade port, survived throughout the centuries thanks to its convenient location on the trade route between Europe and the new world. In 1919, it became part of history when Captain Albert C Read completed the first Atlantic leg of the first transatlantic flight by plane by landing in the Bay of Horta. Its most recent piece of history concerns it being a site of one of the more modern volcanic incidents, when the Capelinhos volcano erupted in 1957.
Horta is the gateway to Faial’s natural splendour and it’s this splendour which forms the focus of most sightseeing excursions from the port. A whale-watching boat trip is a popular experience for many visitors to the island and cruise ship passengers are no exception. Bottlenose, Sperm and Pilot whales are all regular visitors and of course, playful and inquisitive dolphins are never far away either. The place from which your trip will depart is Horta Marina and even if you’ve not quite got your sea legs back or don’t have enough time to book a trip, this charming coastal hub is an attraction in itself. As well as being a great place to relax and watch island life go by, it offers a fun distraction in the form of the paintings and signatures to be found all-over, left by the many sailors who pass through each year. Another must-do when in Horta is a trip to its famous fiery denizen, Capelinhos – the huge volcano which famously erupted in 1957 and created so much volcanic rock that it added a kilometre to the Faial.
Horta is not a place in which to indulge in a shopping spree as the local economy is very much centred around the island’s natural appeal, though there are a number of shops in which to pick up a souvenir or two.
There’s a decent choice of bars and restaurants in Horta offering a good mix of contemporary and traditional cuisine. However, the most popular place to eat and drink in Horta is Peter’s Café, which is an attraction in itself, thanks to its upstairs museum of scrimshaw art. Offering good food, good drink and good views, the café has a prestigious history and has become something of a mecca for passing sailors.
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