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Travel Trivia: 8 facts about Portugal

For once I am actually writing this post in the country I am writing about, because I’m currently on a work trip in Portugal. Woohoo! It’s my first trip abroad since the whole Covid-19 fiasco started and it feels liberating. 🙂 So, let’s start this series with some Travel trivia facts about Portugal:

  • Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe and its borders practically hadn’t changed since 1297. It was a major colonial maritime power for 600 years and the first of European countries to both establish and abolish the slave trade.
  • It also had one of the longest 20th century dictatorship periods in Europe. Although António de Oliveira Salazar is not as notorious as some of the other European dictators, his rule was characterised by a strong nationalistic conservatism driven by Catholicism. He managed to keep Portugal neutral during WW2 and tried to hold on to its colonies at all cost, until he suffered a stroke in 1968. It took until 1976 for Portugal to become the republic it still is today.
  • Although people say Spanish and Portuguese are relatively similar languages, Portuguese has a lot of zh and sh sounds that make it harder to understand, and also more interesting, at least in my opinion. Also, due to colonisation, Portuguese is the official language of 7 other countries besides Portugal: Brazil, Cape Verde, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, and Equatorial Guinea.
  • It’s capital city is Lisboa or Lisbon, which has the world’s oldest bookstore and is known for its iconic yellow trams. It is also very likely that Lisbon is in fact older than Rome and has been inhabited in one form or another for the past 3000 years.
  • Portugal is essentially the land of tiles, because they are absolutely crazy about ceramics. You’ll find colourful traditional Portuguese tiles everywhere, both indoors and outdoors: on buildings, monuments, in churches and art. They’re called azulejos from Arabic, which means a small polished stone. Every region has its own distinct pattern, although the most common one is the white and blue, because blue used to be a symbol of wealth.
Mary, the queen of tiles.
  • About half of the world’s cork comes from Portugal, making cork their biggest export and a popular natural product. Since cork trees aren’t cut down or damaged during harvesting, cork is also very sustainable and is increasingly used as a substitute for leather in the fashion industry. You actually need a special permit to cut down a cork tree in Portugal and they can be harvested every 9 years.
  • Other famous Portuguese products include pastel de nata, a sort of custard filled pastry, and port wine. Port wine comes from the city of Porto and is a heavy, fortified aged wine, where a brandy or grape spirit is added to the wine before the end of fermentation. I really don’t like wine, but I’ve discovered than port tonic is quite good, so give it a try even if you aren’t a wine lover.
Port tonic.
  • Much like flamenco in Spain, Portugal also has its own traditional music called fado. The name denotes a rather final idea that no one can escape their fate, so fado songs are very melancholic, singing of love, loss, hope and resignation, accompanied by guitars, mandolins, and violins. Fado is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list and you can find live performances in every Portuguese city, but personally I’m not a fan.

As you can see, Portugal hides many treasures and although I feel that they are really overdoing it with the tiles, I am definitely here for the cork bags and accessories. How about you, have you been to Portugal yet or do you consume any of their products? Come let me know in the comments below (also please let me know if I got any of these facts about Portugal wrong or if you’d like to share another one).


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6 responses to “Travel Trivia: 8 facts about Portugal”

  1. Naya

    I love Portugal I definitely want to go back . I have even thought about moving there in ten years or so because it was relatively affordable and though it’s not in the Mediterranean it had a very med vibe that matched my psychosynthesis

    1. Honestly, I prefer Spain, but Portugal is awesome too

  2. This was fascinating. I checked out the world’s oldest bookstore and also cork trees. The bit about the trees and cork period was really interesting!! It sounds like you’re having a great time, and it’s nice you’re able to travel again.

    1. Thank you! I’m glad I got to travel again too, even if it was for work. 🙂 Also yes, the cork trees are super fascinating

  3. Very interesting. I guess I never really thought about cork or where it came from.

    1. Me neither, until I saw some cork trees in Australia. It’s an interesting material, because it doesn’t feel like wood or bark on its own

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