It can be tricky deciding which of the nine Azores islands to visit – I often find that if you focus on the things you’d like to see and do during your holiday, you’ll naturally be steered towards the right islands.
With the island of Pico, the two biggest draws for me are always are her whales and her wines. You can whale watch from most of the Azores’ larger islands of course, but on Pico you’re heading out to sea with the originals – with Espaco Talassa: the first company to offer whale watching trips in the Azores. When whale hunting ended in the late eighties, Espaco founder Serge Viallelle saw a new future for the island’s spotters; the men who (for generations) had manned the island’s ‘Vigia’ whaling lookouts, directing the boats and hunters out at sea. Combining their skills and experience with his own passion for marine conservation, Serge demonstrated that whale tourism was the sustainable way forwards, and that it was time for whale hunting to be confined to the history books.
You’ll also have a chance to explore Pico’s long history of wine production, dating back to the 15th Century. The Adegas vineyards on the island are a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site – based around rectangular plots with drystone basalt walls, it’s a unique method of protecting the vines from the elements which was once quite common across the islands, until a pan-European blight wiped out most of the vines in the 1850s. Family-owned vineyards and small-holdings still exist on Terceira, Sao Miguel and Santa Maria – Pico has some of the best remaining examples, where wines are produced in sufficient quantities to be commercially available across the whole archipelago. You’ll also have the opportunity to spend some time with our friend and resident guide Joao Xavier, tasting his family’s own wines.
Your holiday also includes a short stay on the island of Faial – flight-wise, Faial’s better connected to the outside world so it’s easier to begin and end your stay on Pico’s closest neighbour, (with a short thirty-minute ferry connecting the two islands). If you’re considering a ten night or two week trip, we can extend your stay on Faial – giving you time to explore some of the Azores’ most spectacular volcanic landscapes.
Our driver will collect you from your flight, for the short transfer into the island's capital Horta, where you’ll catch the ferry to Pico. The crossing normally takes thirty minutes – you’ll collect your hire car from the ferry terminal in Pico’s capital Madalena, before driving to the south-eastern tip of the island for a six night stay at O Zimbreiro.
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.
Ever since the original settlers made Pico their home in the 15th Century, vines have been cultivated on the island - as they were on Pico’s neighbour Faial. In the late 1800s, the vines on both islands were blighted: first by mildew and oidium in 1850, followed shortly after by phylloxera in 1872.
Many residents still continued to produce wines on the side – for their own consumption during family events and religious festivals, planting more phylloxera-resistant American vines to replace those that had been lost. Over time, the Adegas were gradually brought back to life – particularly around the village of Criação Velha on the outskirts of Madalena.
Following a series of local protections laws, UNESCO granted the vineyards World Heritage status ensuring the landscape is now protected for future generations.
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.
After lunch, our local guide will take you on a half-day tour of Faial. Tours normally include a visit to Capelinhos; the site of the last major volcanic eruption on the island, lasting 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). The Capelinhos Interpretation Centre houses images, newspaper reports and film taken at the time of the eruption.
From £1195 per person
We can create a tailor-made holiday to suit your budget.
What's included ? Your accommodation on B&B basis in a shared twin/double room (if you'd prefer a single room, just let us know and we'll confirm the small additional cost), airport transfers on Faial, six days Model C car hire, a half-day jeep tour on Faial, a half-day whale and dolphin watching trip on Pico, a full day island tour with our resident driver guide, 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 ? Other than breakfasts, 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.
Your home for the week is O Zimbreiro down on the south-eastern tip of Pico. Owners Anne-Lise and Jeremy will do just that: make you feel immediately at home - they're two of the most welcoming hosts you could wish for.
We'll include a whale and dolphin watching trip and a guided wine tour with our resident guide Joao. Having a hire car allows you to explore Pico's volcanic landscapes under your own steam, and we'll a few of our favourite things to see and do on the island during your stay. As we specialise in tailor-made holidays, you might like to extend your stay to ten nights, allowing you spend more time on Pico's closest neighbour: the island of Faial.
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.