We arrive at the town of Biscoitos on the northern coast of Terceira. Our first stop is the wine museum and headquarters of Casa Agricola Brum, the main winery on the island. The factory was opened in 1890 by Francisco Maria Brum, known as Chico Maria. The museum was inaugurated 100 years later and is run by the fourth generation of the family. We are greeted by Chico Maria’s great-great grandson’s wife who is going to give us a tour of the vineyard and museum.
We follow her into the vineyard at the back of the museum where we can see the grapes growing in ‘curraletas’ (small, square beds) protected by black basalt walls. The vine, as well as other types of cultivation, was first introduced to the region by the Portuguese settlers in the mid 15th century. During the Portuguese Discoveries period there was a rising demand for strong wine. Verdelho du Biscoitos, the fortified wine produced here, supplied the fleets that undertook the “India Run”. The low lying vines that produce the Verdelho wine grow in the deep soils comprised of volcanic rock, surrounded by high heat-retentive walls of black basalt rocks that protect the vines from the wind and seawater while allowing the grapes to receive enough heat.
We pass the old wine press and see the ancient utensils and tools used in winemaking. As our tour comes to an end we enter into a large tasting room full of old barrels. At one end of the room is a bar and behind it is a selection of wines produced by Casa Agricola Brum.
After tasting the wine we continue on to the natural swimming pools of Biscoitos. These beautiful swimming pools are formed along the black rocks created by ancient volcanic eruptions. The rock formations were adapted to swimming pools in 1969 and now have various safety features including boardwalks, handrails and a lifeguard. It is rainy and dull today but that is not stopping families from jumping straight into the blue waters.
On our way back to Angra du Heroísmo we stop at picnic area with a ‘vigia de baleia’, a land-based lookout for whales and dolphins. These lookouts were used to help the whalers until the end of the whaling industry in the Azores, in the mid 1980s. Today some of the vigia are still used to look out for whales, however the animals are now hunted by camera-weilding tourists instead of whalers with harpoons.
This particular vigia was built in 1950 (approximately) by Francisco Linhares dos Santos and provides uninterrupted views of the ocean. Spotters would sit in the circular concrete room, less than two metres in diameter, for hours watching for signs of whales or dolphins. Modern spotters will send a message to whale-watching boats by mobile telephone to let them know where the animals are but before this type of technology was available they would set off a flare to let the whalers know there was “baleia á vista” (whale in sight).