Perched on the western edge of the Iberian Peninsula, the Portuguese Republic is about a fifth the size of neighbouring Spain, yet packs in an incredible variety of landscapes. Its long Atlantic coastline is a mix of sandy beaches and jagged cliffs, while inland one finds fertile plains, diverse forests and, of course, mountains.
Portugal’s highest mountains are found almost exclusively in the north, the Tagus River acting like a line of demarcation dividing the lower elevations from the higher ones.
And there’s more. Just as Portugal is not restricted to the continent, neither are its peaks. Several of the tallest mountains in Portugal are located in the archipelagos of Madeira and Azores, both of which are also a part of its territory. In this article, we’re highlighting the very biggest of Portugal’s peaks, starting with the biggest of them all.
Pico means peak. And thus it’s fitting that the top of the list of the highest mountains in Portugal is Mount Pico, or Montanha do Pico in Portuguese. What’s more, it’s located on the second largest island in the Azores, also called Pico. There, it rises 7,713 feet above sea level, making it Portugal’s highest summit.
The island of Pico is the youngest of the Azores and the result of volcanic activity. In fact, Mount Pico is a stratovolcano, also known as a composite volcano. Mount Pico’s enormity is typical of such volcanoes, as is its symmetrical cone and vast crater, some 1,800 feet in diameter. While dormant today, it witnessed three historic eruptions, in 1562, 1718, and 1720. Today, Pico Mountain is set within Pico Nature Park, in an area of great geo- and biodiversity.
From the Azores, we travel to the continent, where the Estrela Mountains, or Serra da Estrela, lie in the north-central part of mainland Portugal, between the Tagus and Mondego rivers. Aside from Pico, this range, whose name translates as Star Mountains, is home to the tallest mountains in Portugal. But rather than volcanic, its origins are glacial, dating back some 30,000 years.
The result is a landscape that incorporates rocky terrain alongside varied forests, lagoons, springs and peat bogs. Some of its larger rock formations are even said to look like sculptures of people, while others age up to around 600 million years old. This rich geodiversity has earned it a place in the network of UNESCO geoparks.
Alto da Torre
At 6,539 feet above sea level, the highest peak of the Estrela Mountains, and of continental Portugal, is Alto da Torre. Often known simply as Torre, it’s a plateau rather than a peak and, in line with the name, there is indeed a tower, or torre, at the summit. In fact, there are several towers, some of which look like they wouldn’t be out of place in a futuristic sci-fi adventure.
Located in the municipality of Santana on the island of Madeira, Pico Ruivo is the third among the biggest mountains of Portugal. At an altitude of 6,106 feet, it’s also the highest point in the archipelago of Madeira, as well as a site of great importance for the protection of birds like the firecrest and the chaffinch. Two further peaks in Madeira achieve the rankings of fourth and fifth highest mountains in Portugal. Pico das Torres at 6,079 feet and Pico do Areeiro, at 5,965 feet high.
Pico da Esperanca
Another of Portugal’s highest mountains is Pico da Esperanca, Hope Mountain. Like Pico, it’s a volcano and, at 3,454 feet above sea level, the highest mountain on its island, which is Sao Jorge. Long, narrow and among the greenest of the Azores islands, Sao Jorge is famed for its “fajas”, small, flat areas of land formed by lava flows or landslides. They’re usually at the foots of cliffs and generally by the sea. The island’s length is marked by a series of volcanoes, which is a feature said to typify fissure volcanism.
Pico da Urze
Pico da Urze sits at around 2,950 feet high, nestled amidst the picturesque landscapes close to the centre of Pico island.
The Biggest Mountains of Portugal
And there we have it, a delightful ascent through the heights of Portugal’s landscapes. From the solid mainland to the dreamy islands, from fiery volcanic beginnings to frosty glacial origins, our journey through the tallest mountains in Portugal has been nothing short of enlightening. Each peak, whether it’s Mount Pico, Pico Ruivo, or the Estrela Mountains, stitches its unique tale into Portugal’s vast geographical tapestry. And as we descend from these towering tales, we’re left with a newfound appreciation for Portugal’s rich and diverse geological canvas.