Saturday, December 1, 2007

An Island and a Mountain - Pico

Pico Island is an island of the Azores noted for its eponymous volcano, Ponta de Pico (Pico Alto), which is the highest mountain of Portugal and also the highest elevation of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The island is 17.5 km south of São Jorge (São Jorge Island) and just 7 km west of Faial (Faial Island). It is 42 km long and has a maximum width of 15 km and an area of 447 km², making it the second largest of the Azores islands. The main settlements are the capital Madalena, São Roque do Pico and Lajes do Pico, the total population is around 15,000.


Many consider Pico one of the most beautiful and underrated of the Azores islands. The island, after all, is a picture-perfect tourist destination with its first-class wines, lively religious and music festivals, rustic villas, oases of lakes, bubbling fumaroles, lava rocks and exotic vegetation, bird-watching habitats, whale and dolphin-watching spots, sandy beaches and swimming holes, scenic hiking and jogging trails, round craters and cones, mystical grottoes and caverns, and towering volcanic mountains.

Pico Island’s history stretches back to the first half of the 15th century when settlers from northern Portugal arrived on Terceira and Graciosa. Soon after, about 1460, a few of the original settlers crossed over to Pico. The early settlements of the towns of Lajes and Sao Roque in the 16th century focused on wine-growing, fishing, wheat harvesting, and the exporting of woad, a dye-yielding plant. Pico enjoyed relatively peace for much of the 16th and 17th centuries but suffered through a few major volcanic eruptions in the 18th century. An oidium fungal attack in the 19th century destroyed the vines of Pico, bringing a temporary end to the production of the Verdelho wine, which at the time had enjoyed over two hundred years of international fame, its bottles reaching even the table of the Czars. More recently, Pico has been experiencing economic development and relative prosperity, the result of newly constructed infrastructure that includes a number of new ports and an airport as well.


Visitors of Pico Island will find an island with a rich landscape that demands to be explored. The majestic mountain in Pico has been classified a Natural Reserve. Most tourists enjoy hiking up to the summit, the round crater of Pico Alto, which peaks at 2,300 feet high. The trek begins at the Furnas base, an area covered by thick forests. As the altitude increases, forests are replaced by shrubbery and then by bare lava that is covered in snow during the winter. At the Pico Alto crater, there is a volcanic cone, Pico Pequeno, whose base is filled with fumaroles. The scenic view of the island below is breathtakingly unforgettable and best enjoyed during a sunrise or sunset.

Pico Island also offers some of the best cave-exploring opportunities. The Frei Matias, Silveira, and Montanheiros are magnificent caves appreciated by even serious speleologists. And the Arcos do Cachorro is home to numerous tunnels and grottoes.

The island also has extensive fields of lava sites that can be visited. The Mistério da Prainha, Mistério das Bandeiras, and the Mistério de São João were all sites of past volcanic eruptions. The latter was the site of an eruption that occurred after settlement on the island and the catastrophe destroyed the land that the settlers had cultivated.

Festivals play an important part of island life in Pico as well, and visiting during the summer months will afford you the opportunity to embrace this cultural aspect of Pico. The music festival of Cais de Agosto, for example, takes place on the last weekend of July and the popular religious and music festival of Semana dos Baleeiros in Lajes takes place on the last week of August.

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