We’d watched the many phases of Pico Alto (clouded/clear/rainy/clouded) from our slip at Horta; the highest volcanic peak in the Azores at 2351m (7713ft). We’d pondered whether to hike Pico Alto. The trek requires an early start because the mountain only allows a certain number of people per day. Without a great anchorage for Detour, it seemed a bit of a hassle to spend the night at Pico for 7-hours of skidding up and down volcanic gravel. Our laziness won out and instead of tackling another summit, we opted to take a long, easy hike through Pico’s vineyards. We took the ferry, which is frequent and cheap, across the Faial Passage to the island of Pico.
From the town of Madaena, after a pause for espresso and pastries, we walked a well-marked trail to the UNESCO site of Pico’s vineyards. This trek became about an 8km(10mi) round trip including a leisurely lunch stop to sample the seafood/wine combo.
The history of Pico’s wine production began during the 15th-century, when the island was settled. Pico’s volcanic soil is rich in nutrients and the climate is exceptional for grapes, however the salty ocean air is continually attacking the land. To protect the grape vines from wind and salty ocean spray, intricate walls were constructed from plentiful volcanic stone. The small plots are called currais.
The vineyards are extensive; pathways lead through various heights of walls, and shelters are scattered throughout. It is a scene unlike any we’ve ever seen.
Everything is done by hand from planting to harvesting. During our visit, grapes were being picked and we were graciously offered a sampling of grapes from a woman who was harvesting. “Uvas! Uvas!” she exclaimed as she piled purple and green grapes into our extended palms. They tasted like candy! Off-trail (navigating with maps.me) and farther up the hillsides we found a variety of crops in the carrais; pineapples, apples, corn, chestnuts, figs, peppers, and tomatoes.