Lajes do Pico - Azores

One of the tourist highlights for visitors to Pico Island is Lajes do Pico, a very charming seaside town located midway along the island’s spectacular south coast in the heart of the Azores archipelago.

The settlement of Pico started in the year 1460 right here in Lajes do Pico, and besides several impressive 17th and 18th century buildings the town is best known for its large whale processing factory which closed down in 1981.

Pico’s first church, the Ermida de São Pedro, dates back to the 15th century and is typical of the stark black and white-edged buildings that predominate the island.

Installed in a terrace of old boathouses on Rua dos Baleeiros, the Museu dos Baleeiros (Whaling Museum) documents the history of the local whaling industry with a fine collection of scrimshaw (the process of carving and engraving whalebone for artistic purposes) and a magnificent assortment of restored whaling vessels.

Owing to the island’s former whaling industry, which came to an end in the early 1980s, the best-organised whale-watching excursions in the Azores depart from the shores around Lajes do Pico. Operated in small boats for fast and easy manoeuvrability, the trips are guided by messages sent by men scanning the sea from well-positioned lookout posts.

Some 20 different species of whale and dolphin can be found in the local waters, including the mighty sperm whale, whose existence has long-been in jeopardy. Pico also has more volcanic caves to explore than any of the other eight islands in the Azores, with numerous local cruise companies operating when the conditions are favourable.

Where to go in the Azores

Dominating the scenery, Pico Mountain (which peaks at 2,319 metres, 7,713 feet) is in fact the top of the world’s biggest mountain range known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, measuring 16,100 km long and 805 km wide. Pico’s summit can be reached in a few hours but it’s not an easy climb and the services of a local guide are strongly recommended.

Located midway along the island’s idyllic southern shoreline, Lajes do Pico (indicated on the Google map below) is very well placed for visitors looking to tour the island from a very convenient base. The town connects with two of Pico’s main thoroughfares – the orbital ER1 and the EN2 – the latter of which gives direct access to the northern coastline and all its added attractions.

A major highlight of Pico’s enchanting north coast are the ancient vineyards established by the island’s earliest settlers in the 15th century which are still producing high-quality red and white Verdelho wines to this day. This amazing patchwork of volcanic-based wine-making terrain is so rare and precious that UNESCO classified the area as a World Heritage Site in 2004.

Madalena, the island’s capital, is a bright, airy town with fine views of neighbouring Faial Island (and its capital, Horta) just a short ferry journey away. Its star attraction is the popular Pico Wine Museum (Museu do Vinho) installed in the old convent of the Carmelites.

Other attractions to see and visit on the island include a guided visit down the Gruta das Torres (Portugal’s longest lava tube) to the south of Madalena and the Moinho do Frade, a lovingly restored windmill close to the vineyards near the village of Lajido east of the capital.

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