Portugal is the largest producer of cork in the world. It is sold everywhere in the country…from cork purses, cork jewelry to even cork umbrellas and yoga mats. When I was given the special opportunity to visit a couple local cork factories in Porto and in Lisbon, I literally couldn’t wait.
I LOVE PORTUGAL and want to learn everything there is about the country.
Without the knowledge and understanding, we only know of cork boards and cork stoppers. But the more I learned from our expert friends, the more I became fascinated to see so many products made entirely from cork.
In Porto, our friend Mr. Ferreira took us to a few cork stopper factories including his own. He has been a major influence in the cork industry since the 1980s and extremely knowledgeable. It was an amazing experience for my family and I. In just a day we were able to visit a few factories and see all the work performed behind the scenes. I must say… I was really impressed with how the Portuguese take care of their cork forests and environment. Mr. Ferreira’s passion for cork caught our interest. We heard stories of his period of struggles during the economic crisis and yet because of his years of knowledge and education, working in the cork industry generated stable income for his family. He took such great care of us that day with his generosity and hospitality, it made my boys feel completely at home.
Towards the end of the day we paid a nice visit to his son’s juice shop and another visit to his daughter. My kids not only learned all about cork but they also experienced the genuine Portuguese hospitality.
Our 12 year old commented on how that experience was at the top of his travel highlights. To be honest, we had a hard time saying good-bye to Mr. Ferreira. I know we will see him again. But one thing’s for sure, our time in Porto was memorable because of him.
From that point on nothing seemed to be able to top off that experience…until we went to visit Ricardo.
Ricardo owns a large 3rd generation family-run factory outside of Lisbon. He had just returned a few day earlier from the forests to pick up raw cork from the fresh harvest. As we drove into his factory, there were piles everywhere waiting to be recycled into flooring, fabric, paper etc.
I thought I knew everything there was to know about cork until we spent several more hours with Ricardo. Apparently I didn’t. There was more. We heard stories of his childhood and how the cork industry also had a tremendous influence on his family’s history. We talked a lot about life. My husband and I both felt like we were having coffee with a friend.
We felt like we had known him for years.
We walked into his factory and I was blown away. So much labor and hard work to create such beautiful material made from the bark of a cork tree. Nothing is wasted from the tree and the tree never dies. He showed us live videos of how the skilled workers have to so carefully strip the bark from the tree, one slip of the ax and it could harm the tree.
He encouraged me to return next year and see the harvesting in action.
I think I will. After all, it gives me another reason to return to Portugal!
Ricardo’s passion was contagious. I loved his humble attitude and perspective on life.
I know we’ll see him again, perhaps over dinner with his family or during the harvesting period next year.
I love developing relationships with the locals. My kids love it too. It gives us a connection and deeper glimpse into the culture.
In just a couple days my family and I will be staying at a family owned bed and breakfast in Evora, Portugal located on a farm primarily made up of cork oak trees and vineyards. We have heard all about this place and cannot wait to experience it ourselves!