PICO AZORES, PORTUGAL
Almost halfway between Lisbon and New York, with virtually nothing directly to the north or south except Greenland and Antarctica, the nine islands of the Azores, 1,300km west of the coast of Portugal, are about as remote as one can get in Europe.
Little wonder that this is where the ghostly Mary Celeste washed up and its crew vanished into the dark waters of the Atlantic. That very isolation has resulted in a distinctive food scene that, while displaying a strong Portuguese accent, is just as much influenced by an extraordinary landscape of lush farmland, where tea, bananas and small, intensely flavoured pineapples grow in lava-rich soil. Fish and seafood are provided by the hardy souls who brave the churning ocean waves that crash constantly against the black basalt shore.
The central island of Pico, whose pint-sized capital, Madelena, lies along the west coast, is dominated by the volcano of Mount Pico which, at 2,350m, is not only the tallest peak in the Azores but in all of Portugal. Mountain guides will take the energetic to the top in a day – the perfect way to work up an appetite for Azorean specialities such as limpets, salt cod, stewed octopus and the wines that were a favourite tipple of the Russian tsars. What you definitely won’t see on any menus is whale. The Azores outlawed whaling in 1984 and now whale watching, not hunting, is what gets boats up close and personal with the 25 or so species of whales and dolphins who call the Azores home. They come to feast on what is known as the ‘Gulp Stream’ of krill, squid and schools of fish and, like two-legged mammals, are drawn to the islands for the bounty of natural produce.
WHERE TO EAT
Cella Bar As much restaurant as bar, this groovy wooden building has moody sea views from its curving dining room inside and an open-air roof terrace. Hearty local fare includes baked octopus with veg and potatoes and there are decent
vegetarian options too. Three-course meal from £25. Rua Da Barca, Madalena, 00 351 292 623 654
O Ancoradouro Expect simple treatments of Azorean ingredients that show off the quality of the local produce: spicy sausage with yam, tuna steak with sweet potatoes, parrotfish with bread and tomato stew, say. Three-course meal from £30. Rua Rodrigo Guerra, 7, Madalena, 00 351 292 623 490
O Petisca Tapas Azores-style fare is on offer at this traditional, casual spot in pretty Madalena, offering a taste of the islands with limpet rice, breaded octopus, chicken gizzards and stewed fava beans. Tapas-based meal from £20. Av. Padre Nunes da Rosa 9950, Madalena, 00 351 292 622 357
WHERE TO STAY
Azores Wine Company Few wineries can lay claim to as dramatic a location as the Azores Wine Company, where guests are lulled to sleep by the sound of waves crashing on the shore and wake to see Mount Pico through floor-to-ceiling windows. Six understated studio apartments, complete with kitchenette and terrace plus a one-bedroom apartment, make an excellent base to explore the island or simply to lounge
around in until it’s time for a wine-pairing dinner in the in-house restaurant (limpets with seaweed, perhaps). The two-level property, clad in volcanic stone, features a central courtyard and everything else leads off from here; guest rooms are on the ground floor, with the restaurant, tasting room and winery upstairs. Doubles from £172, including breakfast. Rua do Poço Velho 34, Cais do Mourato, Bandeiras,
00 351 912 530 237, antoniomacanita.com