Pico – adventurous mountain ascent and lava grown wine (Azores)

Every island of the Azores is different. An interesting fact about Pico is that it is famous for its wine-growing between lava stones—yes, stones, not soil. And, contrary to our expectations, the wine is delicious. The vineyards are part of the UNESCO world heritage. Pico is also home to the highest mountain in Portugal, called (surprisingly) Pico. If you can focus on its peak, you are lucky because clouds usually cover it.

Pico and Montanha de Pico from above

Montanha do Pico

2351 meters of elevation

You can walk up above the clouds to the very top. The hike starts at the Visitor Centre at Casa da Montanha at 1250 m.a.s.l. The terrain is tricky and technical; most routes do not have a given path.

The “path”

You have to get from one pole to another, which, in theory, should always be in sight. But you are often in a fog/cloud, which can be more complicated.

One of the marking poles

That is also why there is a limited number of slots for the ascent each day, and everyone gets a GPS tracker with the possibility of voice communication in case there is a problem, and they cannot continue. You also need to reserve your slot well in advance. There are 47, the last marking the previous section of the summit itself, a small stone pyramid called Picinho. It’s a climb there. For me, the panoramas cannot be seen entirely from the top. Still, at least for a while, it partially opened up. The advantage was that there are hot air vents at the top, so it was surprisingly possible to have a more extended summit picnic there 🙂 Otherwise, it was 20C down by the sea, 14C at the start and around 4-5C at the top.

Top of the world (or at least Portugal)

The vineyards of Pico are like no other in the world. That is why they earned their UNESCO listing. Each vine has a little “chamber” made from lava rocks to protect the plant from the harsh weather. On top of that, the vines grow in between lava stones. It is pretty spectacular, especially from a plane. The wine is made by small producers grouped in coops. You can taste the wine in one of the coops here in Madalena. Make a reservation a few days in advance and enjoy. It is pretty good, and the taste can detect the volcanic soil. Alternatively, some of the restaurants around offer local wine, too.

The vineyards

On the northern coast, you can walk (or run) the bucolic Ruta do Vino, marked as PR10PIC. It has various lava formations, beautiful original houses made from lava stones with colourful doors and windows, a few little local churches and a seismic interpretation centre. There, a platform simulates a few earthquakes so people can experience what they must feel like. It was quite an intense experience and highly recommended.

Life in between lava formations
Beautiful typical house
Ruta do Vino runs along the coastline

At the northern end of Madalena, one can find the Cella Bar. Its unique wooden structure that withstands harsh weather conditions makes it a must-go place. The food is pricey, but they offer local wine tastings. And there is also an excellent natural pool next to it.

Wine tasting
View from the atypical window.

South of Madalena, one can find the Gruta das Torres. It is a lava cave, which can be visited in small groups with a guide. Make a reservation here. The cave is formed by a stream of lava, and the guide points out various interesting geological and seismical facts. It is unlike any other cave I have seen. There is no life except for a few bacteria at the entrance and absolute silence.

Entrance to the cave
Bacteria forming a beautiful golden impression at the cave entrance

Something just draws us back to the little oceanside town of Lajes do Pico almost every day.  A few cafés can be found on the promenade, and their outside seating offers a perfect angle from which to observe Mount Pico. Vividly coloured little fish swim in the natural pool on the other side of the town, and there is also one of the typical old red lighthouses. There is an interesting whaling museum, too.

Typical lighthouse
Montanha do Pico, in its entire majestic beauty.

When we first landed at Pico, we had a few hours before flying to Terceira, so we decided to get lunch somewhere. After searching the map, we found Casa da Feijoca. It wasn’t far, so we walked—it was the first time I had walked from an airport on my own feet 😃. The restaurant is hidden a bit, which is a shame because the food is extraordinary, beautifully presented, and reasonably priced. We had a great time there before heading back to the airport.

Pico airport
Beautifully presented tuna steak



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