The Story of Authentic Portuguese Cork: Everything old is new again

porto cork souvenirsYou know that phrase “we’re not getting older, we are getting better”? We jokingly echo this saying to our friends as the age odometer slowly creeps up. Yet it IS true, and what better way to prove it than to witness it firsthand in beautiful Portugal where ‘older is indeed better’.

In the year 1279, the Kingdom of Portugal was established. It is a lovely old country where ancient cork trees, aged historical properties, and even old gnarly vines have - for the most part - stood the test of time. The Portuguese people have made use of these local resources in the most wonderful ways for their income sources - and for our enjoyment. Let me explain:

The interior of Portugal is blessed with cork trees - some can live up to 500 years old. Every 9 years the cork bark is removed from the trees and then a new layer re-grows, making it a renewable resource. Cork is made into an amazing array of products; it is versatile, lightweight and a great insulator - even cork floors have become extremely popular today.

The most famous product is, of course, wine corks. Luckily for the nation, there has been a very recent resurgence in the wine world (especially old-world wine) in the use of wine corks (versus plastic or synthetic); thus the ancient trees can continue to replenish their bark as long as everyone continues to buy corked wine. You can count me in. :)

Those aged historical properties have been brilliantly converted into ‘pousadas’ - carefully restored castles, monasteries, and fortresses that have become proud authentic national treasures which are now open to visiting tourists as accommodation options. One wonderful example (actually within the cork-producing region) is an original 15th-century convent - complete with gilt mirrors, ornately painted walls and ceilings and rich velvet upholstery. If only its walls could talk! It is located in the equally impressive fortified town of Evora - known as Portugal’s Renaissance capital. And to further the town’s appeal, there are lovely artisan shops in historical buildings selling unique cork products - purses, paper and even cork shoes!

Last but definitely not least, those ancient vines have for centuries been producing port wine. When Portugal was first discovered, the English merchants came to town and loved the local wine that was produced in the Douro region; in order to ensure they could take it back to England without spoiling, they added brandy to it to fortify it. Port wine became famous from this point onwards - with many an English man travelling back to Porto - and eventually some settling in Porto to establish the large port manufacturing operations. Port takes its name from Oporto which we know today as Porto. And true "port wine" comes only from this region, following specific regulations of production, just as "Champagne" technically refers to wines from a specific region of France.

If you wish to fully explore the area with visits to a cork production facility, a night in a converted monastery in Evora AND a visit to a Port wine cellar in the lovely city of Porto, then I invite you to book my Authentic Portugal tour where you will have an opportunity to enjoy all of these experiences.

Yes, ‘everything old is new again’; the proof is in the port AND the cork – and us: because everything does get better with age.

Enjoy this video which gives a sense of the amazing beauty of Portugal.

by Maggie Hamer

Tour Leader, Today's Woman Traveller 

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