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Amazing Azores: a feast for eyes and belly

Lagoa das Sete Cidades (lagoon of the seven cities), located in the crater of a volcano on Sao Miguel island, Azores.

Apparently “religious tourism” brings nearly 10 million tourists to Portugal, including the many thousands who attend the country’s second biggest festival, Festas do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres in São Miguel, the Azores. However, as I discovered this weekend, the Portuguese  archipelago also has much to offer those who worship at the altar of food and wine.  And, as you can see, it is utterly blessed by mother nature. I was captivated by the beauty of the Azores – hiking, kayaking and whale watching here is most definitely on the agenda for another, longer visit.   

The lush green pastures of Sao Miguel and Sao Jorge result in fabulous cheese, beef, pineapple and bananas among other produce; hydrangeas frame many a view and, with agapanthus line the roads

My short but very sweet visit together with João Pires, Master Sommelier, came courtesy of  the Azores School of Tourism and Hospitality Training.  Each year the school hosts 10 Fest Azores at which ten leading chefs, sommeliers (including Pires) and baker extraordinaire Mitch Stamm go all out to produce a memorable dinner together with the students.  A brilliant learning experience for them and a great gastronomic experience for us.  Win win!

My notes on my vinous tasting highlights to follow but, for now, here’s a small taste of what makes the Azores rock, starting with some glorious panoramic views.

The island of Pico’s highly distinctive currais (volcanic stone encircled vineyards)which, if deconstructed could encircle the world twice

The counter at famous cheese shop O Rei Dos Queijos at the market, Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel – the cheese from and named after São Jorge island is a great favourite

The Azores is renowned for its deep sea fishing. The fish counter at the market. Ponta Delgada, São Miguel.

At excellent fish restaurant Cais 20 Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel I was (at last) persuaded to taste percebes or goose barnacles – they look prehistoric but taste fresh, of the sea!

 

The Yeatman’s Ricardo Costa saves us the work of teasing out the meat (pictured on the wafer) from a percebes

An thirllingly taut addition to the Azore’s developing wine scene from Alentejo-based Antonio Macanita of Fita Preta – brilliant with Costa’s cracas and second course of greater amberjack, marinated tartar, mussel and salicornia

Greater amberjack, marinated tartar, mussel and salicornia

I think I may love São Jorge butter even more than the island’s cheese…

Putting the volcano into volcanic – Ponto do Pico (photo taken from the plane) is Portugal’s highest mountain & stamps its signature all over Pico island’s intense, mineral wines

The wine cellars and aged “currais” (volcanic stone wall) enclosed vineyards of the Convento da Ordem do Carmo (above and below)are now home to Pico’s Museu do Vinho.

Fabulous fresh fish at restaurant Ancoradouro, Pico

Said fish brilliantly matched with Ancoradouro’s owner’s Verdelho (2013 vintage): Cancela do Porco

As did Paulo Machado’s Insula Arinto dos Açores

No wonder the wines are so mineral – vines are planted in volcanic rock not soil

Surplus stones are piled high – here to make room for crops which do require soil; the soil itself is imported from neighbouring island Faial

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