Madalena, Azores

Photo: José Luís Ávila Silveira/Pedro Noronha e Costa (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: José Luís Ávila Silveira/Pedro Noronha e Costa (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Powerful waves and the deep blue ocean are in front of you. Rows of Verdelho vines, black rocks, and clay roads surround you. An old windmill, with its stone base and red cap, hasn’t stopped spinning on this windy day. While a dormant volcano—it’s peak shrouded in clouds—stands in the distance. Pico Island might be the best kept secret in the Atlantic.

Pico Island is one of the Azores. The autonomous region of Portugal, in the North Atlantic Ocean, sits 850 miles west of the mainland. It’s nine islands are volcanic, remote, and fiercely independent. Pico, in the central archipelago, isn’t the largest island (that would be São Miguel) or the most visited (Faial and Terceira come to mind), but it could be the most beautiful.

The Black Island was settled later than the rest of the Azores. Farms were first established in the early 15th century. They were soon replaced with vineyards and, eventually, whalers. Whaling remained the island’s primary industry until the 1970s, while the unique vineyards—which grow in volcanic rock patches—became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The wine producers’ old manor houses fill the cobblestone-lined main town, Madalena. The Pico Wine Museum, housed in an old convent, details the island’s wine-making history and organizes wine tours and tastings. Plus small, picture-perfect hotels sit among the vines.

Photo: Pocinho Bay
Photo: Pocinho Bay

One of those hotels is Pocinho Bay. The boutique hotel sits 10 minutes south of Madalena along the rocky coastline. It’s traditional buildings, with red roofs and black stones, blend into its surroundings. Little nooks offer privacy and perfect views of either Faial Island, Mount Pico, or the vineyards. The six rooms, featuring comfortable beds with white down comforters, blend classic Azorean and modern designs. While blue-cushioned sun loungers and, at night, flickering lanterns, surround the pool. You immediately feel right at home.

Your mornings at Pocinho Bay begin with breakfast in the open-air dining room. Warm bread, homemade jam, fresh eggs, and sweet crêpes fill the wooden table. After overeating, retreat to one of the white hammocks in the lounge, where the sound of breaking waves and chirping birds almost put you back to sleep. Follow the walking trails or take a dip in the pool to wake yourself up. Stop at Restaurante Ancoradouro, for fresh seafood and a gorgeous ocean view, for lunch as you head into Madalena. Then climb Mount Pico, go on a whale watch, or tour a vineyard in the afternoon.

By the end of the day, you realize there’s neither a hurry nor a need to run around on Pico. For once, you can completely relax on vacation. Sit back, sip a glass of fruity Verdelho, and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Just remember, Pico is our little secret.

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