PICO ISLAND – VOLCANO IN THE MIST
20 June 2018 | an enjoyable day trip to another island.
Mount Pico is absolutely stunning.
IMAGE – various images of Pico Island.
Arising before dawn on 20th June, James, Malcolm and I made the dingy ride and harbourside wall walk to the very far end of Horta harbour to catch the 7am inter-island ferry to the port harbour of Madalena on Pico Island for our OCC arranged day tour. Thankfully many of our fellow sailors had not yet arrived so we could enjoy hot coffee and croissants before the large numbers started to arrive.
It was just a short 30 minute ferry ride from Faial to Pico, with Mount Pico dominating the skyline at 7700 feet above sea level shrouded in cloud - it is truly an awesome sight.
Our two coaches and guides were ready and waiting for us. The weather for the day was not brilliant and there was some discussion as to the possibilities of driving up to the volcano to ‘Mountain House’ where the road stops and the hiking trails to the summit commence - the guides would monitor the weather throughout the day. We were all keen to get up close and personal with Mount Pico, the highest mountain in the Azores at 2351m. At the top is a 700 meter crater, 30 meters deep. It's the third largest volcano in the Atlantic.
Pico Island (generally referred to as just Pico), like all the islands in the Azores, is volcanic. The last major eruption took place in the late 1700s and much of the northern end of the island is still a savage jumble of lava rocks. Pico is the second largest of the Azores archipelago, scenery is magnificent, particularly if you enjoy the stark black volcanic scenery.
We are at anchor in Horta harbour, on the neighbouring island of Faial, and the view we have of Pico is awesome, and changes every minute of the day. All you see of the island is a whopper of a volcano: a perfectly symmetrical cone thrusting above the deep blue Atlantic, its summit often wreathed in mist and cloud. So big it threatens to swallow up the entire island, the 2351m Montanha do Pico is the first (and last) thing you see whether arriving by boat or plane. When we sailed into Faial we could clearly see the peak up to 70 miles before our arrival.
Our 1st stop of the day was a visit through the wine Lagido vineyards, apparently established by monks around the beginning of the 1800s. Due to the unique surrounding and cultivation these are Unesco-listed volcanic vineyards. Incredibly, the inhabitants have cleared the ground into tiny plots and piled the rock into walls a metre or so high to surround them.
The vineyards themselves are on rock with black volcanic rock walls very close together, with only one or two vines growing within the walls which create a micro climate very conducive to grape growing and wine production. There are acres of these fields. Here they grow grape vines, and from these vines they make both red and white wine, for which the island is famous.
Pico was also a major whaling island, where whaling was the primary source of income for a couple of centuries.
We visited the coastal village of Lajes, formerly the Azores’ principal whaling port and now, ironically, the hub of the tourism industry spotting Blue and Sperm whales and the islands main whale-watching resort. Ashore, the main attraction is a brilliant museum that documents the lives of the town’s whalers and showcases the tiny boats and hand-held harpoons with which they used to hunt the biggest animals on the planet.
The Azoreans continued to hunt whales from open boats propelled by sail and oars until whaling was banned in 1984. Their only concession to modernity was that petrol-engined launches would tow the boats from port to within a mile or so of the quarry. Most villages still to this day maintain a fleet of whale boats and these are raced in competitions through the summer months. Meanwhile whale-watching has become a significant business and brings many tourists to the islands.
We visited the village of São Jorge which is famed for its cheese. We visited the Finesterra cheese factory at the eastern end of the island. We tasted cheeses varying from mild and creamy to sharp and tangy - we have since enjoyed different types of São Jorge cheese with the odd Port for our afternoon sundowners and pre dinner snacks.
Pico, with its 18th century churches, beautiful winery manor houses, volcanic scenery, whaling history, and rich farmland - It was a really interesting, varied and enjoyable day out.
Sadly we never got to drive up high up the volcano side and the cloud and mist engulfed the mountain peak most of the day.