The best things to do in Pico

A cradle for writers and whalers alike, Pico may be the Azores island with the most sustainable development model. And that’s also the best way to explore it
pico
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By Luís Leal Miranda |
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In truth, all islands are just mountains in the middle of the ocean. But this one seems to depict this fact in the most dramatic way possible - “you see? This is how an island is made.” But beyond geology lessons, Pico has a lot to teach us about wine and whales.

The best things to do in Pico

Museu do Vinho
Fotografia: Rui Soares

Wine Museum

Learn about the history of Pico’s wineries in this museum, housed inside the Carmelitas convent (Casa Conventual das Carmelitas). The building seems to belong to the Mediterranean version of a Wes Anderson movie and the garden has one of the largest and most beautiful collections of dragon trees in Macaronesia - some over 1,000 years old. Besides taking you through the wine’s history, the museum organises vineyard tours and wine tastings. Go up to the viewpoint to admire the old vineyards (currais).

Vinhas da criação velha
Fotografia: Rui Soares

Old vineyards

At first sight, it looks like the local inhabitants (named picarotos) spent centuries preparing a giant board of Battleship with black basalt stones. But no, you’re just looking at the imperfect squares of Pico’s vineyards, build by hand to protect the grapes from the fury of the elements. They are called “currais”, are on the UNESCO Human Heritage list, and after you’ve admired them, we guarantee the wine will taste even better. Follow the directions upon exiting Madalena towards Lajes.

Bonus tip

There’s a must-see hike, between the vines and the sea, called “trilho das Vinhas de Criação Velha”. It starts at the port of Calhau, in Candelária, and ends in a manor house called “solar of the salemas”. It’s 8km and can be done in two hours.

The best things to do in Pico

Espaço Talassa
©DR

Espaço Talassa

This is where it all started. In 1989, Serge Viallelle, a French seaman who was passing through Pico, met a former whale watcher, and together they began offering the first whale watching tours. It has been almost three decades since then, but Espaço Talassa remains a reference in the archipelago. Cetaceans are spotted on 98% of tours, and the company owns a little empire in Lajes do Pico: a shop, a restaurant and a small hotel. If you go in the summer, you need to book your whale watching trip in advance by calling this number: +351 29 267 2010.

Museu dos Baleeiros
Fotografia: Rui Soares

Whalers museum

In one of the museum’s rooms, there’s a gallery featuring pictures of old whalers, harpooners and other brave men who day after day threw themselves into the sea in the equivalent of nutshells. We looked at their wrinkled faces (and amazing mustaches), and then at our hands, with their calluses from pen-holding and keyboard-induced tendonitis. We thought “we will never be like them”. And luckily, we don’t have to be. The whalers museum (Museu dos Baleeiros) is a snapshot of the extremely difficult life, ardor and resourcefulness of the people who hunted whales because it had to be done. And something that has to be done generates a lot of strength (especially arm strength, judging from the size of those harpoons). It’s worth watching the 20-minute documentary about the whale hunting tradition in Pico, filmed in the 1970s.

The best things to do in Pico

Estrada Longitudinal
Fotografia: Rui Soares

Longitudinal, Portugal’s prettiest road

This is coming from us, and we reached that conclusion after a number of trips up and down this piece of tar in the shadow of the mountain. Longitudinal (EN3, of its real name) is the road linking Madalena to São Roque (or Lajes): a huge straight road with a constant view of Pico mountain and various lakes, including Capitão, sprinkled along the way. Go easy on the gas pedal, this is not the place to test the limits of your car rental.

 viagem a sao jorge, fotografias de sao jorge e do pico e viagem de catamaran (vista de sao jorge)
Fotografia: Rui Soares

Wanna hike up Pico mountain? This is what you need to know

Pico is the highest mountain in Portugal: 2,351 meters ready to be conquered by whoever feels like trying.

Conditions:

Any physically apt person can do this hike.
You will need appropriate gear: good trousers and something warm to wear - it was -13°C at the summit in April last year.

Prices:

Before going up, you need to register at the Casa da Montanha, at the end of the road.

It costs €10 to hike up Pico mountain, but only €2 to go up the smaller Piquinho. This price doesn’t include a guide. If Casa da Montanha advises against the hike, you can still do it. But if you need to be rescued, the bill will come to €1,400.

Ascent

There will be a briefing before you start the hike. Each hiker gets a GPS tracker that doubles up as a phone. It is mandatory to follow the trail. If you go off-trail you will be contacted by the team at Casa da Montanha. The ascent lasts three hours on average.

At the summit

Maximum stay at the top is 24 hours. There is a maximum of 15 people per group/guide. The maximum number of people allowed at the summit at any given time is 30. At the top of Piquinho there are fumaroles that release heat and steam.

Descent

The descent is the most dangerous part of the trail, and the one with the most accidents. Going down takes longer than going up: four hours on average.

TIP

Renato Goulart. That’s the name on the tip of everyone’s tongue when it comes to hiking Pico. This mountain guide has experienced the trail at all times of year, in all possible weather conditions. You can contact him by email: rgpico2351@gmail.com, or phone: +351 91 929 3471.

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