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Der Vulkan Pico de Fogo, Bild: Anze Furlan / shutterstock

Azores island of Pico: between whaling, wine and volcanic adventures

The Azores island of Pico was named after a 2,351-meter-high volcano. And that’s at least as exciting as it sounds. The second largest island in the Azores with a size of 448 square kilometers captivates with a magical volcanic mountain landscape, tasty locally grown wines and schnapps and a long history as a whaling culture. Several exciting museums on the island of Pico are dedicated to this tradition. When visiting Pico, you should have visited at least one of them to fully understand the way of life and values of the people here.

Explore the island’s capital, Madalena

Around 2,600 of Pico’s 14,000 inhabitants live in Madalena. This makes the island’s capital also the largest town on the island. The historic old town area is manageable and easy to cross on foot. For some years now, more and more people have been settling in the foothills of the city, which is why it is now a little more hustle and bustle there than it was a short time ago. Madalena was founded in 1542. The most impressive building in the city is the main church Igreja Santa Maria Madalena, which is also known as the city’s landmark. It dates back to the 17th century and has been rebuilt again and again since then.

In 1891, the façade of the Igreja Santa Maria Madalena was completely covered with white tiles. Inside the three-aisled church building there are numerous tile paintings and gilded carvings. During an earthquake in 1988, the Igreja Santa Maria Madalena was partially damaged, which can still be seen today. From the church, you can walk out onto the palm-lined main square, Largo D. Jose da Costa Nunes, where you will find the mighty Camara Municipal da Madalena town hall, among other things. In this square, the townspeople often meet for a short chat with neighbours and friends and, of course, to see and to be seen. North of the center, visitors can learn about the local winemaking tradition at the Museu do Vinho.

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Since 2004, Pico’s winemaking tradition has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it’s not just the interiors of the Museu do Vinho that are worth seeing, a walk outside is also a must. Here you walk past huge dragon trees and find the walls of stacked lava stones that are common everywhere on Pico.

Meet whales and explore the tradition of whaling

Whales Pico
Whale watching off Pico, Image: wildestanimal / shutterstock

On all Azores islands, people also lived from whaling in earlier times. Pico has always been the center of whale fishing on site. And even today, the port of Madalena is a great starting point to get to know the huge sea creatures. Here you will find small excursion boats from local tourism companies that invite you to whale watch. Often you will also encounter some dolphins, which are just as native here as the whales. The town of Lajes do Pico used to be the island’s whaling base.

In the meantime, whaling off Pico has been completely stopped. In 1987, the last whale was caught here. At the Museu dos Baleeiros in Lajes do Pico , tourists learn everything they need to know about the marine animals and the history of whaling in the area. There is also an election observation station here today. There is another whaling museum in São Roque, in the north of the island.

Climb the volcanic cone of Mount Pico

The Ponta do Pico, as the volcano is called in full, is not only the highest mountain in the Azores, but also the highest elevation of the entire Portuguese territory, to which the Azores belong. On its top lies a stately volcanic crater, which has a diameter of 500 meters and a depth of 30 meters. The Ponta do Pico can be climbed via several different and well-signposted hiking routes. If you want to climb to the top, you should be sure-footed and have a little alpine experience.

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Then, for example, it goes up from the small village of Casa da Montanha. Casa da Montanha is only seven kilometers from the summit. However, the demanding ascent takes around 5.5 hours. More than 1,000 meters of altitude have to be overcome. Just below the volcanic crater there is a campsite. So it is definitely worth bringing your tent, ascending during the day, spending the night in the tent and then experiencing the sunrise from the summit of Ponta do Pico. An enchanting view extends over the entire island. With a little luck, the neighboring islands of Graciosa and Terceira can also be seen on the horizon. Since it can be cold and stormy at the top, appropriate equipment and clothing should be packed to keep the mountain adventure warm and safe.

Between caves and viticulture

Pico do Papagaio
View from Pico do Papagaio, Image: vitormarigo / shutterstock

If you are looking for culinary adventures, Pico is also the right place for you. Between volcanic rock and lava remnants, vines thrive best. The grapes pressed here have a high sugar content. The white wines of the region are of particular high quality. You can taste, for example, the Verdelho wine in every restaurant and tavern. It is served with Polvo guisado com vinho de cheiro, octopus braised in white wine, and caldos de peixe, a fish soup made from fresh sea fish. Finally, all ambitious cave explorers have their turn. The Gruta das Torres is a five-kilometre-long cave made of lava rock, in which stalactites and stalagmites entwine from top to bottom and vice versa. Also worth seeing are the caves Furnas da Silveira and Furnas dos Montanheiros, which are also accessible.