Postcard from Portugal: Shawn Hamilton Takes us for a Ride in the Azores
The Wild Women Expeditions Azores Horses, Whales and Volcanos Tour was my first venture outside of Canada since the inception of Covid. I was more than eager to explore another country from the saddle with like-minded women. The first thing to catch my eye after landing in Horta on the 173 square km ( 67 square mile) island of Faial (smack dab in the North Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Portugal) was the endless array of blue, pink and white flowering hydrangeas bordering the winding road.
Arriving at PÁTIO Horse & Lodge a modern equine-focused accommodation which also houses 30 horses (primarily the Portuguese Lusitano), I met our guides, hosts and the women who would join me for the week. I had to pinch myself the next morning as I looked out the window of my second floor apartment to see both the ocean and horses.
Cantering with Calli
The week was spent on such varied terrain it was hard to believe the island was so small. After brushing and tacking our horses each day we rode to scenic locations all with their own distinct characteristics. A hillside picnic lunch at a whale watching tower was followed by an exhilarating canter on my grey Lusitano mare, Calli. I grabbed a piece of mane and held on. What a feeling, cantering on a sandy road with the blue ocean on one side and colors of flowers blowing in the breeze on the other.
Weather or Not!
An awesome first day back in the World Wide saddle! Another day on the trails took us through the jungle like “Mystery Zone of Faial” where rainforest meets Mediterranean foliage. After meandering through the black volcanic sand literally feet from the waves crashing against the rocks, we came to a seaside lighthouse partially buried by a volcanic eruption. The black sandy hill was the perfect place for an extended canter and Calli did not disappoint.
The weather attempted to thwart our hikes however with optimistic enthusiasm we hopped in vehicles and took the long, windy road up to Caldeira volcano, Faial’s largest geomorphic structure sitting 1,043m (3,421ft) above sea level. Walking through the tunnel to the rim the fog lifted for brief moments allowing us to spot the lake below. We continued to fulfill our hiking hunger with a village walk and cheese factory tour.
Unwinding on Pico
One day was spent on the Island of Pico whose spectacular display of the use of volcanic rock for growing grapes earned them a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 2004. Black volcanic rock walls surrounding small areas of grape vines cover the hillsides as far as the eye can see. A tour of the whale industry factory and visits to local artisans was followed by wine tasting at a small private vineyard.
The whale watching tour by boat from Horta was a successful one. Faial is known as the land of whales and dolphins and we spotted both. Our guide was helpful in letting us know when the tail of the large sperm whales would exit the water following the deep dive.
Our last day in the saddle took us up into the hills through small villages where a lovely picnic lunch awaited us at a canyon overlooking the sea. It was definitely the icing on the cake! It was difficult as always to dismount for the last time back at PÁTIO and say goodbye to our mounts but the smell of the traditional Portuguese Alcatra dish (a pot roast that is typically slow-cooked in a clay pot) coming from the kitchen helped ease our sorrows. The food, the people, the scenery, the sea and the horses will all be remembered and I can feel them tugging me back already. Thank you to Wild Women Expeditions for introducing me to such a diverse and wonderful part of the world.
Equine photojournalist Shawn Hamilton resides on a small farm in Ontario, Canada with her husband Joe and three horses. She enjoys trail riding, eventing and is a level 2 ski instructor.
You can visit her website here! If you want to read more about the Lusitano horses and magic of Faial Island, our in-house horse expert, Caroline Owen (Cline) has cantered there too. Here’s her story.