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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
From £824 per person
We can create a tailor-made holiday to suit your budget.
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.
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.
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.
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.