Overview

It’s always a memorable experience when you visit any of the Azores’ islands – but if you’re looking for a real family adventure, Pico would be the island to choose.

Here’s our friend and island guide Joao talking about the beauty and landscape of his Pico, his island home.

At its heart, Pico is a working island where the residents have struggled with (and often against) Mother Nature for survival: from the first settlers and farmers trying to tame the volcanic landscapes, via the whalers of the 18th & 19th Centuries, right up to the present-day vintners working the UNESCO-protected vineyards. I sometimes hesitate from referring to Pico a more ‘authentic’ experience of the Azores, (as though there’s something wrong with visiting the larger islands like Sao Miguel or Terceira), but looking around the island today you’ll see Pico’s rural heritage of subsisting off the land and sea is all still there – particularly in the architecture of the traditional lavastone farm cottages.

Your home for the week is one of our favourite examples: Casa Flor da Ribeira on the outskirts of the peaceful fishing village of Prainha. You’ll also be heading to sea yourselves during your stay, for a whale and dolphin watching trip – whale ‘tourism-for-conservation’ in the Azores began right here on Pico and you’ll be out at sea with the oldest (and one of the best) whale watching crews on the islands. You’ll also head over to the neighbouring island of Faial for a guided jeep tour with our resident guide – for a visit to the beautifully-barren volcanic landscapes of Capelinhos.

Itinerary

You'll begin by flying from the UK, via Lisbon, to Pico. You'll collect a hire car on arrival before driving to your cottage in Prainha (around thirty-minutes away).
You’ll have plenty of freetime to allow you to explore Pico at your leisure.

You could begin with a visit to the bay at Arcos do Cachorro - home to some of the most interesting and unusual lava formations in the Azores. The coastline is perforated with grottoes, tunnels and arches which have been carved out by the sea; (‘Arcos do Cachorro’ translates as ‘Arches of the Puppy’, named after the famous rock which resembles the head of a dog).

Pico's geological history is best explored with a visit to the lava cave at Gruta das Torres. The caves were formed by a pāhoehoe lava flow, where the outside of the flow cools and formed a solid crust, whilst liquid lava continues to flow underneath, forming a hollow tube. The total length of the cave system is still not 100% confirmed but it’s thought to be in the region of 5km.
Today you'll drive to the town of Lajes, for a three-hour whale and dolphin watching trip from the local marina. Afternoon trips begin at 14:00 with a short briefing before heading out to sea. We normally recommend heading out to sea on a small Rigid Inflatable Boat – we find it’s a better experience as you’re close to the water (and the wildlife).

Once you're back on dry land, you might like to learn more about the island’s Whale Hunting history, and its successful transition from Whale hunting to Whale tourism with a visit to Lajes' whalers museum,
You could spend today in Madalena - the island's capital and the largest town on Pico. Unlike many of the other islands of the Azores, it took a while for the settlements to really become established on Pico - beginning in Lajes in the 15th Century. The original 'Captain' of Pico (and of Faial) was a Flemish settler by the name of Josse van Huerter. He encouraged many of his fellow countrymen to follow in his footsteps, and they brought with them technological know-how to build the windmills that you can still see dotted around the island.

By the 17th Century, Pico's vineyards were flourishing, particularly around the village of Criação Velha on the outskirts of Madalena, and the town quickly became the import & export hub for the island. In the afternoon, you might like to explore the UNESCO-protected vineyards – where drystone-walled square pens (know as Currais) are used to protect the vines from the elements.
Pico has some great walks, and they’re well way-marked and easy to navigate.

One of our favourites takes you around the eastern tip of the island, walking the coast trail at Piedade (approximate walking time: 3 hours, length: 9km. grading: easy). It’s a circular walk begins in the village of Piedade itself, and follows the rocky coastline from the Baia do Calhau to the lighthouse at Ponta Ilha.
You’ll spend today exploring the neighbouring island of Faial.

Faial is just a short, thirty-minute ferry ride away from Pico. You’ll be collected from the ferry terminal by our resident guide before heading into Horta; the main harbour town on the island. Horta was an important communications hub through the late 1800s and early 1900s – the transatlantic telegraph cables between the UK, Portugal and Germany, and the west coasts of the US and Canada all terminated in Horta. Nowadays Horta is a stop-over point for trans-Atlantic yachts, which gives the town a friendly, cosmopolitan atmosphere.

A ten-minute drive north of the town brings you to the Faial Botantical Gardens. There are open-air spaces contain examples of endemic plants, trees and herbaceous species, as well as medicinal plants traditionally used across the islands, and a herbarium and orchard garden with examples of thirty different species of orchids (collected by Faial-islander Henrique Peixoto).

Next, you’ll head up to the pretty caldera at the centre of the island. The Cabeço Gordo caldeira is 1043m above sea level, 637m in diameter and 400m deep. It was formed around 410,000 years ago by a relatively gentle Strombolian eruption (the type of eruptions that are commonly seen on Hawaii). After lunch, you’ll visit Capelinhos, the site of the last major volcanic eruption which lasted 13 months from September 1957 to October 1958. Over 2km² of land were created during the eruption – however, more than 300 homes were also destroyed, and the eruption led to the emigration of 4000 residents (mainly to North America).

Your day will end back in Horta, where you can catch the ferry home to Pico.
For your final full day on the island, and if you’re feeling energetic, you might like to include a guided ascent of Mount Pico (walk length: 10km, average height: 1800m (1150m ascent), grading: difficult, approximate walking time: 5/7 hours).

Technically, it's not a difficult ascent if you're a regular hiker, but the long walk up does require a good level of fitness (and as always, it's hard your on legs on the way back down). However, the reward on a clear day is well-worth the effort - the view of all the five islands of the central group from the summit is stunning.
You'll return your hire car to the airport, before flying home (via Lisbon).

Price Per Person

We can create a tailor-made holiday to suit your budget.

Jan

£NA

Feb

£NA

Mar

£824

Apr

£824

May

£871

Jun

£1034

Jul

£1070

Aug

£1070

Sep

£1008

Oct

£824

Nov

£NA

Dec

£NA

What's included ? Self-catering accommodation for four (two adults and two children under 18) in a two bedroom cottage, airport transfers on Faial, seven days Model F car hire, a full-day jeep tour on Faial, a half-day whale and dolphin watching trip on Pico, and return flights. With regards to the flight price, there are a few different ways of travelling to the islands - we try to include a realistic guide price and once we've had a chat regarding your holiday, we'll send you a detailed itinerary which includes an exact price based on your preferred flight option. What's not included ? Lunch is included on your jeep tour of Faial, but we don't include any other meals. We’ll send you a free copy of our mini-guide to the Azores which includes our favourite restaurants recommendations on Faial and Pico.

Accommodation

Perhaps in sympathy with the 18th Century production techniques still employed in the island’s vineyards, Pico’s never been over-developed beyond its rural roots and the landscape is peppered with beautiful lavastone cottages and farmhouses. You’ll be staying in one of our favourite examples: Casa Flor da Ribeira above the pretty fishing village of Prainha de Baixo.

The cottage has a gorgeous view out across the Atlantic towards Pico’s long, thin neighbour - the island of São Jorge. You’re also just on the border of the Prainha nature reserve – a protected forest filled with endemic plantlife. The forest sits on the site of a major volcanic eruption which began September 1562 and lasted around two years; creating the fertile faja which is now home to one of the island’s largest forests.

Activities

We'll include a whale and dolphin watching trip from Lajes during your stay. You’ll spend the day on the island of Faial, where our resident guide will take you on a tour of Pico's closest neighbour.

Location

Pico first appears in the 14th Century Italian ‘Medici Atlas’ under the name ‘Li Columbi’, or Island of Pigeons’. The Portuguese renamed her as they began settling on the islands through the 15th Century, moving from east to west - with Pico being settled shortly after Terceira and Graciosa (in around 1460). Lajes (the town where your whale and dolphin watching trips will depart from) was the first town to appear by name in official records, with Sao Roque following shortly afterwards. Pico has always had close ties with it’s closest neighbours Sao Jorge and Faial – they're known collectively as ‘o Triangulo’ (the Triangle), and Pico is the largest of the three. The island’s perhaps best known for it’s mountain, Ponta do Pico: an immense stratovolcano which, at 2351m, is the highest peak in Portugal.

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