Pico was settled around 1460, with most residents rooting down near Lajes, the island's first town. Other villages are mostly located along Pico’s coastline. Homes are often made of black stone, a trademark piece of history from past volcanoes. Those volcanoes are also responsible for the islands' wild landscape, where the old lava flows are frozen in time in areas called mistérios.
Pico is best known for its excellent wine, a unique vintage that carries just a hint of lava. In the 19th century, even the czars of Russia sent ships to bring back Pico’s wines. All along the coast, two-foot walls shield the vineyards producing the wine’s grapes from the sea and the elements. And if that’s not enough to impress you, this wine-producing region has been given for recognition as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Pico wine Museum offers a glimpse of the past, and the future – not to mention tastings. There are charming seaside towns here to carved between black rocks and the sea. Inland there is a great series of caves that can be explored with a guide, lit by flashlight and nothing more.
But it’s the sea-faring culture – first whaling and now tuna –that clearly defines Pico. The island once had a thriving whaling trade recalled in two local museums. In Lajes, an excellent historic museum traces how the people of Pico took to the seas in tiny boats to land huge whales (often inspired by ships from New England). In São Roque, a former whale processing plant shows how industrial whaling happened from beginning to end. Today, tuna is the fish of choice for trade and export. By the 1980s Portugal had banned all whaling – and declared it hundred of miles of ocean to be a marine mammal sanctuary. Whalers were converted to whale watch outfitters, and some of the oldest and most respected whale watch companies operate out of Lajes. They still use former whaling lookouts on the mountainside to radio to whale watch boats the location of pods of whales and dolphins.
Pico is only a 20-minute ferry ride from Horta on the island of Faial, and 45 minutes to Velas, São Jorge.