After a couple of days on the Azorian island of Terceira, on Monday I took a ferry to Pico. Flying would probably have been quicker (if more expensive) but I fancied a seven hour mini-cruise instead, stopping at a couple of other islands on the way. As the ferries only run this route a couple of times a week I only had one full day on Pico before returning on the Wednesday.
I’d been rather hurried in my planning and had thought the island rather smaller than it turned out to be, so the hotel I’d booked (the only cheap one I could find online) turned out not to be particularly close to the area I needed to visit. It was very nice though, right by the sea and with a cafe/bar menu that included vegetarian food! Which is even more amazing when you know it was run by a Frenchman.
Sadly there were no spaces their half day whale watching trips and there were also no regular buses to where I wanted to go. But just as I was about to go off in search of a taxi the aformentioned Frenchman told me a guided tour of the vineyards was about to depart if I was interested. Which is how I ended up spending a wonderful day in a people mover with a delightful German couple and a gorgeous and knowledgable local man, driving around the island.
The area with the vineyards is located on the northwest coast of the island. Like the rest of the Azores, Pico is a volcanic island and the land close to the sea is unsuitable for any other kind of agriculture. The vines are planted in holes broken through the otherwise barren volcanic rock, with a bit of soil (imported from the next island we were told) chucked in with them. To protect the plants from the sea winds, drystone walls of the black rock are built around them, forming tiny, generally irregular plots.
The grapes have to be harvested by hand and it is mostly done on a small family business basis. Some of the vineyards used to be owned by monasteries and it is these which have much more regularly laid out walls. Some vineyards also have fig trees, these protected by semicircular walls.
The area with the vineyards occupies the strip of land closest to the sea with the villages inland of them, sited nearer the arable and pasture land in the interior. Narrow lanes run down towards the sea from the villages and small groups of warehouses and seasonally occupied settlements, built of the same black basalt as the field walls, are also found by the sea.
You can see the marks of ox cart wheels in the unbroken basalt sheets right by the sea and also ramps leading down to the water where barrels were rolled down to be collected by waiting boats, to minimise the need for this slow overland transport.
Now I could have built one of the small black stone buildings, such as this tiny church, but my black Lego supply is limited.
So I’ve built a bit of vineyard!
The tour included lunch with unlimited amounts of two local wines and a vast range of spirits (it would appear the locals will distil anything), so our afternoon hike up a small volcanic hill was a little inebriated.