Pico Island, Azores

Pico Island was the third and final island visited during my recent trip to the Azores.

We went for a half day trip by ferry from Horta to Madalena, the main town of Pico. The ferry journey took about 30 minutes each way. It was quite a windy day with heavy seas and the ferry captain needed all his skill and experience to negotiate the narrow entrance to Madalena harbour with rolling waves crashing on either side of the breakwaters. You can get an idea from this video.

Pico is the second largest island in the Azores with an area of 446 sq. km. There must be a lot to see but in the limited time available we were only able to look around the town.

The main attraction on Pico Island is Mt. Pico which is a dormant volcano and Portugal’s highest mountain (2,351 m). It last erupted in 1718 producing lava flows which reached the sea. The summit is often shrouded in cloud but on this November day it revealed itself with upper slopes covered in snow.  I resisted the temptation to try and climb it.

Snow capped Mt. Pico viewed from Madalena town.

Madalena is a quiet, sleepy town where about 6,000 of the island’s 15,000 people live. At its centre stands the Church of Santa Maria Magdalena with its ornate gilded altar.

St Mary Magdalene Church in Pico.
Church of Santa Maria Magdalena
Plain bare walls accentuate the golden altar.
Madalena, Pico, Azores
Madalena High Street during the lunch time rush hour.

Pico is a wine producing island and grapes somehow thrive in the soilless but fertile volcanic landscape. The vines have to be protected from prevailing winds and sea spray and to do this a unique method has developed over 500 years whereby long stone walls divide up vineyards into small protected plots. These walls were built by collecting up the volcanic boulders in the fields and stacking them up. This distinctive viniculture landscape has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

Museu do Vinho, Pico
Low stone walls of basalt surround the vines. Black basalt absorbs and throws out heat, enhancing the sugar content of the grapes.

The Museu do Vinho at Madalena has examples of these stone walls although the actual UNESCO site is some way out of town. At the museum there are some fine dragon trees (dracaena draco, linnaeus) which are typical of the Macaronesian archipelago (the term Macaronesia refers to Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands and Cape Verde). These trees were used to produce a red dye known as dragons’ blood.

Dragon Tree at the Wine Museum on Pico Island.
A Dragon Tree at Pico’s Wine Museum.

At the sea front is a public sea water pool which must be pleasant in summer with great views looking back towards Faial Island.

Salt water pool at Madalena with Faial Island in the background.

I’d like to see more of Pico Island if I’m back that way in the future.