Pico island, named for its imposing mountain, is one of the most beautiful and underrated island of the Azores. Only second to S. Miguel in size the 'Mountain Island' stands majestically in the middle of the Azorean central group, at about 4.5 nautical miles from Faial Island and 11 miles from S. Jorge Island. It is approximately 167 square miles (433 km2).
Pico island history was built on the destiny of is whale hunting and winery traditions. The famous Pico wines and the UESCO world patrimony designated vineyards, as well as wooden boat building, are contemporary fixtures of Pico. Whale hunting, long gone, gave way to a movement of fair treatment study and observation of whales, dolphins, and other sea mammals. Whale and dolphin watching trips can be organized from Madalena or Lajes. Volcanic eruptions ended 300 years ago and Pico is considered a dormant volcano, adding to the mystique of the island, and serving as a magnet for scientists.
The Pico island landscape is a sublime mixture of lava rock and exotic vegetation in an ever changing scenery that envelopes this scarcely populated island. Pico features some of the best swimming holes in the Azores, and every so often an occasional sand beach appears. Pico is also the ideal island to trek, hike, jog, walk, bird watch, whale and dolphin watch, swim, fish, ride bikes and motto-quad bikes. Speleology is also a favorite pastime of Pico and its visitors.
Pico is an Island where calm and peace can be found around every corner, yet there's always the choice of escaping to the village and experience the bustling culture or the occasional festival. Trips to Faial and S. Jorge are one ferry trip away. While it takes no time to know the smaller Faial Island, it takes a long time to get to know Pico as it is the type of destination where one must get out of the car to explore all that it has to offer.
After cattle had been put ashore in Pico island in the first half of the 15th century, on about 1460, settlers started to arrive after natives of northern Portugal landed from Terceira and Graciosa.
Pico first Captain or Donee was Alvaro de Ornelas, who never took effective possession of the island, so that it was incorporated in the captaincy of Faial. Pico soon had its first town called Lajes followed by Sao Roque in 1542. The population initially concentrated on growing wheat and, to a limited extent, "woad" a dye-yielding plant exported to Flanders, the latter through the influence of the neighboring island of Faial. These activities were soon joined by wine-growing and fishing.
This was followed by centuries in which the island lived practically at the margin of history, a situation which was interrupted by important volcanic eruptions in the 18th century. In 1723 Madalena was raised to the status of a town, confirming its economic importance as the port ensuring connections with Faial and as the place of residence of the owners of the large vineyards in the area which by then was already producing wine for commercial purposes. By dint of hard work the lava beds were turned into orchards and vineyards.
The "verdelho" wine of Pico enjoyed international fame for over two hundred years. It was highly appreciated in a number of countries, namely, England, America and Russia, where it reached the table of the Czars. The oidium attack, in the middle of the l9th century, destroyed the vines. Recovery has been slow and based on the use of new shoots. The presence of American whalers in the waters of the Azores as from the end of the 18th century introduced a new activity in Pico - whale hunting which for years represented an important source of wealth for the island.
Stretching out from the dormant volcano, with an altitude of 7715 feet (2351 m), which gives it its name, the island of Pico (Peak) has an oblong shape, a length of 26 miles (42 km), a width of 9 miles (15.2 km) and a total area of 173 sq miles (447 km2). A plateau with secondary volcanic cones ends next to the sea in tall cliffs while the lowest area, in the west, has moderate slopes. Pico is one of the "triangulo" (triangle) islands which also include Faial and S. Jorge.
Generally, the island of Pico's tectonic structures are oriented along a west-northwest to east-southeast and a northeast to southwest axis. The main axis controls the main structures, especially the main mountain of Pico, while the secondary axis affect the radial fractures and faults along the central plain and eastern volcano.
Pico, much like the other islands, are susceptible to seismic events, although their epicenters have primarily been localized in the Faial-Pico or Pico-Sao Jorge Channels. The strongest earthquake registered in the last 30 years occurred on July 9, 1998, and had its epicenter 5 kilometers northeast of "Ponta da Ribeirinha", on the island of Faial, reaching a 6.0 magnitude. Other earthquakes which have affected the island include: the 1957-58 seismic events associated with the eruption of the "Capelinhos" volcano on Faial, the February 1964 earthquake on the island of Sao Jorge, and the 1926 earthquake, whose epicenter was registered in the Faial-Pico Channel.
The island supported a substantial whaling industry until 1980. The position of the island on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge means that deep water is very close. Active industries include tourism, shipbuilding and wine production. Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004. It has several notable wines, which are commercialized in Portugal and exported abroad.
The crystal blue ocean surrounding Pico is an invitation to fish and to practice underwater observation of rock formations and rich sea flora and fauna.
Swimming is possible in the various natural pools along the coast, and the occasional sand beach that pops up every year. Our favorite swimming holes are Madalena, Santo Antonio, Sao Roque and Prainha.
Hunting is a (albeit sad we admit) pastime on this island. Wild rabbits in large numbers (considered almost a plague) and partridges, snipe, pigeons and quail (though not in large numbers), can be found or the island.
Walking, trekking, hiking trails are abundant features in Pico. The size of the island makes it possible not to have to repeat a walk or hike. Those with endurance may want to climb up Pico Mountain a task that can be more or less difficult depending on the chosen access.
People interested in speleological studies have long caves to climb down and discover, although they should always be sure to take a guide with them. The "Gruta das Torres" is a must visit place. Being roughly 5 Km long it is the longest volcanic lava tube in Portugal, and is part of the UNESCO heritage list.
But it is the simple charms of the island of Pico, made up of green pastures, maize fields, sweet-smelling orchards and dark lava fields, that excite those who seek to discover, by walking, all the attractions of the youngest island of the Azores born from the ashes.
IRC Rally Azores
S. Miguel island is part of the IRC car rally circuit happening annually
Senhor Santo Cristo
Arguably the biggest religious festivities in Azores, happens annually on the fifth weekend after Easter
Bull Fights (bull on rope)
People waiting for bull - Typical of Terceira island it happens in many places throughout the island from May to September
Limas water battles
Ponta Delgada - Traditional battle of limas happens during carnival
Flower street carpets
Traditional flower carpets adorn the way for processions in religious festivities
Festival of lights
Convento da Esperanca - One of the highlights of religious festivals are the amazing light displays
Selling the typical tremoco (lupinus) and candy
Always a hit with young and old carousels are part of the festivities fabric
Holy Ghost Festivals in Pico have a regional twist. The tradition, started by the first settlers, was deeply rooted in the population since the aide of the Holy Ghost was requested in prayers to hold back the streams of lava that devastated houses and crops. The "Espirito Santo" festivals retain the charm of former times in Pico. The curious ceremony of the "emperors" carrying the crown and sceptre in procession, and the "function" that marks the feast day itself, are repeated in every parish on the island from Whitsun. The processions, with such delicacies as rosquilhas, bolos de vespera and pao doce which at the end of the festivities are distributed among all those present and passers-by, maintain all the color of times gone by. The "empires", which are simple constructions having the white dove of the Holy Ghost at the top of the roof, are present all over the island and are an interesting example of folk architecture.
Festival of Bom Jesus - São Mateus
The "Good Lord" festival is a popular Pico festa where the parish is colorfully decorated for the occasion and music is supplied by local traditional bands. Bom Jesus is one of the most important religious festivals in the Azores, the high point being the Ecce Home. It is held every year on August 6th.
Festivals of the Whaling Men - Lajes do Pico
This Pico festival dates back to 1883 with the arrival of an image of Our Lady of Lourdes. The whaling men gradually took part in the festival over the years with gave way nowadays to a splendid religious procession, followed by evening festivities with music and dancing. It is held in the last week of August.
Festival of Saint Mary Magdalene
This is another Pico traditional festival with a varied program including a procession and other liturgical ceremonies, festivities with music, dancing and illuminations. It is held on July 22nd.
Grape Harvest Festival
Held in the second week in September.
Traditional Holy Ghost Sopas from Santa Maria
Dill & Mint
Dill is specific of Santa Maria. Mint is used in all Sopas
Lining up for Sopas
Long lines demonstrate the popularity of Sopas feasts
Sopas a tradition shared in every Azorean community
Torresmos de porco (small browned rashers of bacon), morcela (blood sausage), linguiça com inhames (Portuguese sausage with yams) and molha de carne (a meat speciality) are the main dishes of a cuisine which, with caldo de peixe (fish soup), polvo guisado em vinho (octopus stewed in wine) and bolo-de-milho (prepared with maize), delights ail hearty eaters. Those who like shell-fish will find worthy companions for their appetite in the local lobsters, deep-water crabs and cavacos. The soft, white fresh cheese of Pico is a good start to a meal, which can end with the typical, delicious cheese of São Joao, with its yellow rind, soft interior and intense smell, produced from cow's milk.
Massa sovada (sweet bread), rosquilhas, vesperas and arroz doce are the typical sweets of the island, connected with the Holy Ghost Festivals. They are completed by the Carnival sweets, the filhoses, coscoroes and sonhos. Fig and local brandies, made in old copper stills, are digestive beverages that are much appreciated. For those who like sweet drinks, Pico can offer the typical angelica.
Pico wine, the "verdelho"
Born on the soil of lava, protected from the wind by walls of rough, dark stone, warmed by the rays of the sun, the grapes acquire the sweetness of honey. Squeezed, they produce a dry white wine with an alcoholic content of 15 to 17 degrees which, after ageing serves as an excellent appetizer. In the last century it was exported to many countries in Europe and America and even reached the tables of the Russian Court. The vineyards, which mark the landscape of the island, also produce a dry, fresh, light and fruity wine that is the ideal companion of a dish of shell-fish or fish, and also the red vinho de cheiro whose presence is compulsory on tables on feast days.
The orchard island
The ground made of lava, the sun and the dry climate make Pico the orchard of the Azores, where apple and pear trees, damson and peach trees, plum and orange trees flourish and produce sweet, juicy fruits that are taken early in the morning on the fruit boats to the town of Horta by the men and women who sell them there. But it is the figs, with an interior that is as red as rubies, a true delicacy for gourmets, that best symbolize the delicious fruit of Pico.
Clay and Wicker are art forms that span centuries in Azores
Bonecos are figurines made of straw and cloth
Wicker is used for many uses. More traditional for basket weave.
The hands of the women of Pico create fine crochet lace using traditional or more modern designs, straw hats and rush mats. The hard tooth of the sperm whale serves as the raw material for the scrimshaw techniques brought over a century ago by the American whalers who came to the waters of the Azores to hunt and recruit harpooners who were famous on the seven seas. The themes carved on these small but valuable works of art are sailing ships, scenes of combat with the great sea mammals, the feminine figures that fill mariners' dreams. But the cachalot also gives rise to other curious pieces. From its teeth, bones and jaws, skilled hands make small sculptures recalling its asymmetrical profile, tails that seem to sweep the ocean and rings, ear-rings and pendants.
Connected with whale hunting are also the delicate and complete miniatures of the elegant whaling-boats, worthy to appear in museums, produced by some of their former crew members.
Azores flowers for all tastes
Pineapple of S. Miguel
Pineapples are grown in green houses and are only a product of S. Miguel
In Terceira, for example, cows outnumber people 2:1, thus the abundance of dairy and meat
Fish, abundant and varied, is an essential ingredient in the Azorean diet
Cheese - A Specialty
Cheese from S. Miguel, S. Jorge, Faial and Pico are world renowned
A variety of vegetables can be found in the Azoes including the local inhame (yam)