The Azores: the best kept secret of Europe (Pico Island)

Natacha Costa | Live the World

September 19, 2022

Pico island is one of the five islands from the Central group of the Azores archipelago - the best kept secret in Europe. As these islands are close to each other it's not complicated nor expensive to visit two or three of them in a week. Faial is only 15 minute ferry ride from Pico, but offers completely different, more cosmopolitan experiences. Terceira's trails and festivities, Graciosa's Caldeira and S. Jorge's fajãs make each of these islands well worth visiting. For me, Pico is special, because of its mountain, but not only that. Pico is a synonym for both adventure and hedonism.

While other islands are very much green, Pico is quite dark. This does not make it less beautiful, it just makes it unique. I already wrote about climbing Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal. If you are somewhat fit, don't miss doing it. It's not easy, but once you are on the top of a dormant volcano, standing high in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, you instantly forget all the pain. If you want to take your adventure to the next level, you also allowed to camp overnight inside the crater.

But Pico has more to offer. In general, food here is fresh and delicious. Sometimes you see a local man jumping into the ocean without any fishing equipment and coming out with a huge octopus in his hands. Even better, there is delicious wine from Pico to go with it. But wait. It's not as you might be imagining. There is almost no soil here, the island is all lava, and so are the vineyards. Vines grow from lava soil and flourish on the rock. Although these are high quality wines, they are quite unknown. It's not easy to ship them so they remain a local specialty. If you are an architecture enthusiast, you will love tasting this wine at the Cella Bar, famous for its design.

Pico is also a great spot for whale watching - some say the best. The Azores are currently one of the largest whale sanctuaries in the world. Among resident and migratory species, common or rare, there are more than 20 different types of cetaceans around here. This is the third of the total existing species! The presence of the majestic whales and friendly dolphins, just adds the magic to the Azores. The Archipelago was famous for whale-hunting in the second half of the 20th century, it being the main business activity on the islands (mostly Pico and Faial). People would make use of every single part of the sperm whale!

Whale hunting was prohibited by the end of the 80’s, but the whaling heritage is still alive. Today, a famous phrase: Whale in sight! does not mean anymore that the whale will be killed - they will only be observed by curious tourists.

Unlike me, still keep your expectations low when whale watching in Pico. Don't be disappointed, because although they are always there, not always we get to spot them breaching. We learnt that photographers spend weeks to snap those amazing photos of them jumping out of the water, as it does not really happen every day. However, if you get lucky, the background of the photo can the Pico Mountain itself. It's almost impossible not to see any of them moving around (even sperm whales!), and there are always dozens of friendly dolphins playing around the boats. If you decide not to go for it, you should at least visit a museum dedicated to the whales.

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