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Decanter’s Dream Destination: Pico Accommodation, Azores, Portugal

Every month Decanter selects a must-visit destination for wine travellers. Sarah Ahmed recommends a unique stay on volcanic Pico Island in the Azores, where you can combine whale-watching and wild swimming with stunning local food and wines.

The conical volcano mount Pico dominates the remote, 48km-long Azorean island that takes its name. In fact the highest peak in Portugal (2,531m) makes such an imposing backdrop – not to mention the dazzling azure Atlantic Ocean to the fore – that it’s easy to miss one of the Azores’ most ambitious wine tourism projects.

The Azores Wine Company opened its minimalist winery, cellar door, restaurant and hotel in 2021. Discreetly clad in black basalt rock, hewn from the lava-bed of mount Pico, the building is almost subsumed within the gentle folds of the rolling volcanic slopes.

It sits surrounded by a chequerboard network of thousands of small walled vineyards, built to protect vines from wind and sea spray, which are known locally as currais. This intricate and distinctive vineyard landscape was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004.

A sense of place

Credit: Francisco Nogueira

The project was founded by winemaker António Maçanita and Filipe Rocha, former director of the Azores School of Tourism & Hospitality. Like the duo’s revolutionary wines, the hotel and restaurant showcase Pico’s volcanic and oceanic terroir with terrific verve, finesse and impeccable attention to detail.

As functional as it is stylish, the building’s naturally sloping roof draws on the vernacular – specifically the island’s vineyard water tanks. It also serves a similar purpose: harvesting around 1,500,000 litres of water per year that can be used to water the vines.

Wine has been produced in Pico since the 15th century. The currais are peppered with a few surviving adegas –  a type of rustic man cave, where locals would eat and drink with friends, not just make wine.

The adega at Azores Wine Company is built on a different scale however, with five sophisticated studio apartments, a two-bedroom apartment, cellar door and restaurant. Still, intimacy is the goal.

Rest and relaxation

Guests are invited to gather around the fire pit in the inner cloister. They can share plates at the open kitchen’s U-shaped dining counter or indulge in six- or seven-course wine pairing menus at the eye-catching boulder-cleft chef’s table.

Each guest room has an ocean vista and its own terrace. Inside, stylish charred-wood finish carpentry echoes the stark black basalt volcanic landscape. Luxurious Burel blankets dial up the warmth, whilst the extra-large beds promise an ultra-comfortable night’s sleep after a day spent hiking up mount Pico.

Other guest activities on offer include walking the island’s heritage trails and wild swimming. The Azores is also one of the world’s top destinations for whale-watching.

Food and wine

Of course the greatest comfort of all is to be found upstairs in the restaurant, where dynamic young couple chef José Diogo and Inês Vasconcelos, who looks after front of house, deftly draw on their experience at top kitchens in Europe and Asia.

The menu makes good use of the rich bounty of fresh, local produce from the Azores archipelago: from the vineyard to the distant pastures of Faial and São Jorge islands and the glittering ocean between.

Moresish caramelised Rainha do Pico butter is served with local bread. Whilst an exquisite amuse bouche of São Jorge cheese crisp is dressed with nasturtium and bonito and pumpkin flakes. Elegantly sauced or garnished catch of the day might include limpets, amber-jack, snapper or lobster tail.

Share small plates at the counter or sample a cheese platter at the cellar door, while you enjoy a rare opportunity to taste the Azores Wine Company’s range: from the entry level Vulcânico label to its miniscule production flagship cuvées and 10-year-old Licoroso.

Wines from Maçanita’s eclectic Fita Preta label from Alentejo are also on offer, while themed wine pairing menus include an innovative ‘Islands’ head-to-head between Portugal, Spain and Italy.

The restaurant and cellar door are open to the public by appointment. For more information, visit antoniomancita.com.

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