Under the eye of the volcano
Adega do Fogo is a haven of peace in the heart of nature, in an enchanting place where land, tradition, history and comfort become one
There is no doubt about the wonders that the Azores archipelago offers. Increasingly popular, the islands are a destination for quality tourism, particularly appreciated by travellers looking to be immersed in nature. Indeed, the mountains, the volcanoes, the vegetation, the fishing traditions, or the local products are what make the islands so popular amongst not just the international crowd but also mainland Portuguese tourists. More recently, the famous resorts with breathtaking views have given way to more intimate options that have managed to combine tradition with modernity and comfort.
For the past 40 years, every summer Benedita Branco has been walking the length and breadth of Ilha do Pico (Pico Island), the second major island in the Azores after São Miguel. Apart from its volcano, this island stands out for its wine-growing landscape, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004 and is considered a cultural landscape because it is punctuated by linear walls running parallel and perpendicular to the rocky shoreline, where vines are grown on black lava soil. These walls were built to protect the thousands of small contiguous rectangular plots (called currais or curraletas) from the salty spray of the seawater and the sea wind, whilst still allowing in the necessary amount of sunshine for the ripening of the grapes.
Benedita Branco acquired Adega do Fogo in 2017, with the aim of imparting onto her guests the summers she spent with her friends cooking in the traditional stone ovens and organising all sorts of activities to discover the wonders of Pico.
The estate, left abandoned for years, was once a distillery, which, according to the testimony of the former owners, was built by a priest around 1820. The original stills have been restored, but not only for decorative purposes, as even today they still produce homemade aguardente in various flavours, using 100% local ingredients: bananas, pineapples, strawberries, or sweet potato. Between November and February, guests can even take part in the entire process of making this “firewater” and enjoy it at their leisure.
Adega do Fogo is not a hotel in the sense that it does not operate on a single-room basis, but as a five-star holiday home to be rented in its entirety with all the amenities of a hotel. This means that families or groups of friends can enjoy the entire property for a minimum stay of five nights in summer and three nights in winter, including breakfast and daily cleaning. The house has six double bedrooms, a sauna, a heated outdoor swimming pool with a view of the volcano, and various areas to relax, such as the barbecue and bread oven area with its rough wooden table, designed so that the shade of the trees always provides the necessary coolness.
The interiors are sober, inviting you to travel back in time and in harmony with the existing materials and structures. On the outside, the original façade has been kept in its entirety, as Benedita’s idea was to “create a small, charming hotel in a vibrant home full of history”. Plants and flowers are the essences of the archipelago, so there is no shortage of them on the property, which is full of fig trees and dotted with small gardens.
Guests can also complete their stay with other experiences, such as discovering the traditional Azorean dishes prepared by local cooks and served in the dining room, which can seat 18 people, or on the terrace. There are also butter and cornbread-making workshops, fishing and whale-watching trips, cycling and walking tours on the island’s trails, personalised massages overlooking Pico Island, and local wine tasting.
It would seem that Benedita has achieved her dream, that of reviving an old distillery by giving it a new purpose: welcoming visitors and showing them the best the Azores has to offer.
By JOHANNA TREVOIZAN
Article first published in Vivre Le Portugal magazine