Thinking about the typical products of Portugal, we immediately think of the wine, such as the Port or the Madeira wine, or the splendid ceramics, the azulejos, hand-painted that decorate houses and gardens.
However, not everyone knows that Portugal is in first place in the world for cork processing with 53% of world production. In the Alentejo area, between Lisboa and the Atlantic coast, 72% of the total production of the entire country is concentrated and skilled craftsmen work cork here.
What do you get from cork processing? Virtually everything: caps, home accessories, fashion accessories, clothes and shoes, but also bags, furniture and floor or wall coverings.
Cork is a 100% natural product, it is soft, resistant, versatile, recyclable, hypoallergenic and has thermal properties keeping both heat and cold.
Cork is an element so important in the history of Portugal that we find traces of it in many monuments:
– The Convent de Santa Cruz do Buçaco and the Convent dos Capuchos of Sintra, for example, where the monks used cork to cover the walls and make the environment more comfortable and this is how we find some cells and some common areas with the walls covered cork.
– In the basilica da Estrela in Lisbon, you can admire the 18th century Nativity with terracotta figures on cork scenarios.
– The door jambs, windows and portholes of the Chalet of Countess of Edla in Sintra are decorated with cork elements.
– São Brás de Alportel (Algarve), owes its development to the cork industry and today is located in the center of the Rota da Cortiça (The Cork Road) through beautiful cork forests.
The cultivation of cork oaks is an art that requires time and a lot of patience. A cork oak takes 25 years to be productive and to be able to make the first extraction of cork. Between one extraction and another we have to wait 9 years and only after the third one we will have a fairly compact and usable cork. The cork boards are stacked outdoors, then they are boiled and divided according to thickness and quality. With the best boards, natural corks are obtained while the lower boards are used for soles for shoes or corks for common wines. Trees can live up to 400 years and ensure crops for 200 years.
Once upon a time there were three rivers that were born in Spain. They were called Douro, Tagus and Guadiana. One day they contemplated the clouds and asked where they came from.
“From the sea,” they replied. – They are our father and grandfather.
– Where’s the sea? the rivers asked.
“Far away, in Portugal,” replied the clouds.
– It’s big?
– Yes, it’s too big.
– We have to go see the sea.
And they agreed that the next day they would go all to see the sea. And so they did.
The Guadiana woke up first and went there calmly, contemplating the hills and beauties that were hiding and choosing the paths it crossed; when it arrived in Vila Real de Santo António it stopped in amazement. The second was the Tagus. When it woke up, the sun was high. It began to walk fast, barely choosing a path, but when it entered in Portugal, it thought that it must be in the lead and remembered to enjoy the meadows and hills, stretching out on the flat banks, before launching into the arms of its grand-father. The Douro, when it woke up and found himself alone, did not even rub its eyes. It ran away between gorges and precipices, not choosing a path, nor thinking of enjoying nature.
So it was the Douro who, dirty and muddy, arrived first.
I decided to start our blog in this way: with a story that the children learn to explain why the three main rivers of Portugal have such different geographical characteristics.
Portugal is a country with a thousand different faces, with many souls, where there is always a surprise waiting for us. And this is the country I want to tell, a country that I love and where I found my home. And maybe one day, while traveling together, I will explain to you why Portugal has such a special place in my heart.