Pico (Azores) – A unique mountain

Imagine an island with an area of 447 square kilometres, a very high mountain, fields covered with vineyards, many vineyards and much sea, the sea all around it… There is no need to imagine it! This island truly exists: it is the Pico Island, the second largest island of the Azores Archipelago. Together with the islands of Faial, São Jorge, Graciosa and Terceira, they make up what is called the central group.

The first settlers that came from the north of Portugal arrived to Pico around 1460 and were initially occupied with wheat cultivation. Some time later the first vine stocks of verdelho were brought to Pico and grapes began being cultivated.

The volcanic origin of the island – the first eruption occurred some 40.000 years ago and the last in 1720, but nowadays all the volcanoes are considered extinct – led the inhabitants to have a very hard work turning the lava fields into vineyards.

The particular characteristics of the soil, together with unique climate conditions allowed wine to become the main economic activity of the island in the 17th, 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. The quality of the wine that was produced here was so exceptional that it became famous all over the world: it was consumed in the English court and even reached the table of the Russian czars. Even Leo Tolstoi mentions it in “War and Peace”.

But the spread of powdery mildew and phylloxera in the middle of the 19th century destroyed many of the vineyards and the famous verdelho disappeared. Only small lots were left for local consumption. However, a few years ago a group of farmers decided to establish the Pico Island Wine Cooperative and, as in the past, started cultivating grapes in the small basalt walled enclosures, close to the sea, in the cracks of the rocks, producing a wine that is nowadays called Lajido, a true heir to the old verdelho.

The Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004 and you can appreciate it as soon as you start climbing the mountain.

At 2351 metres, the Pico Mountain is the highest peak of Portugal and its cone shape is an unmistakeable sign of the volcanic origin of the island. The beauty of the central crater, or Pico Grande, with around 700m of diameter, is breathtaking. On one of the sides of the crater there is the Piquinho or Pico Pequeno, a volcanic cone that rises 70m above the edge of the crater and from which columns of smoke raise. This is the highest spot in the mountain. This last climb is hard but when there are no clouds in the sky you will be rewarded with the view of the vastness of the sea and of the other islands of the central group. This is why Pico is said to be probably one of the most beautiful volcanoes in the world.

Climbing to the Pico is still one of the main goals of those who travel to the island. Therefore, if you feel fit – as ascent of “only” five but very demanding kilometres – start walking. Make sure beforehand that the weather conditions allow it and take a guide. They will make sure that your climbing is a pleasurable success.

Portuguese people recognize the beauty and the magnificence of Pico Mountain; the Volcanic Landscape of the Pico Island has been elected Natural Wonder of Portugal in the category of Mountains. Now go!

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