This article about Pico Island could well be a report about my climb to the highest mountain in Portugal. But although that was the plan when I stepped on that Azores island, that was the only activity I ended up not doing. I’ll explain why below.
The fact is that, without the climb to Pico’s peak, a range of places to visit was opened, and it is about them that I want to tell you about. After all, this incredible Portuguese destination has a lot to see and do.
- The history of Pico Island
- What to visit on Pico Island
- Other travel notes
The history of Pico Island
To better understand the second-largest island in the Azores archipelago, you must take a step back and appreciate its history.
Pico Island was settled in the 15th century, with the arrival of the first Portuguese in the southern part of the island, giving birth to the first municipality, Lajes do Pico.
The settlement of Pico’s population was initially complex since the island was wild and hard work was needed to make the land suitable for cultivation. Agriculture, especially vine growing, was and still is one of the leading local economic activities.
Also, in the 18th century, the first whalers arrived in Pico, coming from the United States. Then, as in other islands in the Azores, the population started to engage in this fishing activity until it became extinct in the late 1980s.
The 18th-century volcanic eruptions and the diseases that affected the vineyards a century after also make the stories of Pico.
Today, Pico Island is known abroad through the vineyards and the wines that come out of them. That, and its volcanic beauty, attracts tourists from all over.
What to visit on Pico Island
Having done the introductions, I’ll show you the best things to see and do on this Azorean island.
But let me tell you that it’s enough to see some of the main sights. Even if you have to save one day for the climb to Pico.
Visit Madalena do Pico
Let’s start in Madalena. This is the main town on the island, and that’s where you’ll begin your trip.
Facing Faial, it’s from Madalena that you will have – weather permitting – one of the most fantastic views over Pico Mountain.
Go to the historic center to stroll the streets, appreciate the architecture of the buildings, and see the emblematic Church of Santa Maria Madalena.
Another attraction is the islets of Madalena, near the town’s port, and, a little further on, the bathing area where you can go for a swim if the weather is good.
Known for its proximity to the vineyards, Madalena do Pico is in a wine region classified by UNESCO as World Heritage. But nothing like a visit to the Wine Museum to get to know it better.
Tours to take from Madalena:
Go to the Museu do Vinho da Ilha do Pico (Wine Museum of Pico Island)
Occupying an old Carmelite Conventual House, the Wine Museum presents the memories and the technologies associated with the production of wine in Pico, highlighting the role that this activity had and has for the island.
This history is portrayed in the permanent exhibition, by a warehouse of stills and an old wine press.
Of course, the museum also includes a part of a vineyard, seen from a red wooden structure.
Curious is the dragon tree forest that we can also find here, which comes from the time of the old convent. This includes incredible elements of dragon trees, the oldest dating back almost a thousand years.
Stroll through the Protected Landscape of Vine Culture on Pico Island
After visiting the Wine Museum, there’s nothing like seeing one of the island’s most amazing vineyards landscapes with your own eyes.
In Criação Velha, one of Pico’s most important wine regions, thousands of meters of vines are planted. Here you can get an insight into the unique characteristics of this type of plantation.
It’s incredible to see how the vines grow in such harsh conditions, among volcanic rocks and winds that bring salt from the sea.
Not for nothing is this landscape considered a World Heritage Site.
A visit to the Interpretation Center of the Vine Culture Landscape of Pico Island, in Santa Luzia, São Roque, can help you better understand this place.
But, before you leave, walk the path between the vineyards to closely appreciate the Moinho do Frade (Frade Windmill), one of the most photogenic on the island, given its state of conservation and the contrast of its red color with the grey and green of the vineyards.
Explore Lajes do Pico
From Criação Velha head to Lajes do Pico. As I said at the beginning of this article, it’s the oldest town on the island since it was the first place to be populated.
The village is charming and is an excellent place to spend a few hours or even, who knows, a few days. Take your time to go to the natural pools or to walk by the sea.
This was once the center of whale fishing activity. Today, the boats leave here to observe and study this incredible animal.
Whale and Dolphin Watching
Without a doubt, this was one of the highlights of my visit to Pico Island, but I will leave for another article a detailed description of this whale and dolphin watching experience.
For now, Lajes do Pico is where you will find the best companies to do this activity. I opted for Espaço Talassa and was lucky enough to spot both animals. It wasn’t easy (many times, you might not even get to see whales), but the team was tireless in finding the whales in the area.
The payment for this tour also included an entrance ticket to the Whalers Museum.
Other tours options:
Visit the Museu dos Baleeiros (Whalers Museum)
A few meters away from Espaço Talassa is the Whalers Museum. Together with the Whaling Industry Museum in São Roque do Pico, this museum occupies three whaling boat houses dating from the 19th century and explains how fishing the sea giants was done.
This practice, currently forbidden, marks the past of the people of Pico and is part of their history as a resilient people who faced all adversities.
From the techniques used to the tools or boats, a visit to this museum is a trip back in time.
Climb Pico Mountain
As I started by saying in this article, this was an activity I didn’t do. And it was entirely my fault.
When I started planning the trip to the Azores and the stop in Pico Island, a climb to the summit was definitely in the plans. So much so that I even bought equipment for it.
However, I made a mistake, and that was to leave the climb for the last day of the trip. Never do that.
When the time came, I had almost two weeks of travel on top of me, miles and miles on my legs, and hours and hours in the water. I didn’t feel physically able to do the climb, and on top of that, the day I had set aside for it, the weather was miserable. So I ended up not going.
Despite this, I went to 1230 meters of altitude to visit the Casa da Montanha, the starting point for those going up.
This is where visitors are checked in, and fees are paid. But it’s also a great place to have a coffee and chat with those coming or going on the expedition.
If you want to climb Pico, you should know that there are three points of reach (each with its own value when you pay the entrance fee): Furna Abrigo, a short distance from Casa da Montanha, but which already gives you a taste of this adventure; Cratera do Pico (Pico Crater), at 2250 meters; and Piquinho, the last stage of a long climb, which, at 2351 meters, represents the highest point in Portugal.
You can also have the whole adventure and sleep in the Pico Crater. Weather permitting, it’s a unique experience and will give you a daybreak like no other.
If you still have time…
If you have more days to spend on your trip to Pico Island, there are other places you can visit. Make a note!
- Gruta das Torres, the biggest lava tube in Portugal;
- Furna do Frei Matias;
- Lagoons of Planalto da Achada: Capitão, Caiado, Seca, do Paúl, da Rosada and do Peixinho;
- Prainha do Norte Forest Park;
- Casa dos Vulcões (Volcanoes House).
Other travel notes
When to visit Pico Island
Between June and September is the best time to make a trip to Pico Island. Although these are the busiest months, they are the ones when you can catch better weather. Though in Pico, there are always grey days. The main local festivals also take place during the summer, which can further enrich your trip in terms of local culture.
How to get there
You can get to Pico by plane, through SATA, departing from Lisbon, São Miguel, or Terceira. You can also arrive by ferry, using the Atlântico Line, departing from Faial, São Jorge, Terceira or Graciosa.
Where to sleep
This nature hotel comprises a series of rustic little houses inserted into a hillside with stunning gardens. The pool overlooks the sea, and you can even visit a small whale and dolphin lookout tower.
I also stayed one night at the Apartamentos Basalto in Madalena do Pico because I arrived pretty late on the island and needed to stay close to where I was going to pick up the car the following day. The apartment was quite spacious, modern, and clean and is an excellent option if you want to stay on the island’s west side.
Where to eat
There are several good restaurants to try in Pico, but these are the ones that filled my measurements and are worth trying.
Magma, in Santo Amaro, São Roque do Pico district, is one of the island’s must-try restaurants. For its decoration, the view, the service, the wine list and, of course, some of the dishes that arrive at the table.
If you are looking for local fish or seafood in Madalena, the place to go is Ancoradouro. Because this is one of the most popular restaurants in the region, it’s quite normal that it’s always packed. So, go early or try to reserve.
The restaurant at Aldeia da Fonte, the hotel where I stayed in Lajes do Pico, it’s also a great choice. Even if you are not staying in the hotel, it’s worth going to Fonte Cuisine, which is more dedicated to signature cuisine today.
Another must-visit place in Pico Island is the Cella Bar.
Although they also operate with a menu that includes some meat and fish dishes, the Cella Bar is the ideal place to drink wine while trying local cheeses and sausages while watching a fantastic sunset.
The architecture of the building is extraordinary and has already become a symbol of the island.
A trip to Pico Island has a little bit of everything. Extraordinary landscapes, where the volcanic meets the green. Marine life that thrills us and altitudes that challenge us. We have past and present traditions and wines that reach the table to awaken the palate.
It’s definitely a destination I want to return to. Besides, I’ve missed the climb to Pico!
Now, you! What did you think about this article? Are you curious about visiting Pico Island? Say your piece in the comments box below. Let’s talk!
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