September 5, 2019

The Algarve and Portugal's Cork

My previous post showed highlights of our first week in Portugal last month. Today's post is about our second week: what we saw in the Algarve region. How do you like the tile work in the hotel room? It gives a different meaning to the word 'headboard' and never let us forget where we were.

We stayed in Albufeira, where cliffs frame the beaches, the weather is dry and warm, and the evenings are fantastic!

Walking every day at the beach was such a treat, my eyes at times glued to the cliffs, at times searching the sand for shells, and all the while marveling at the clear and cool water. The warm current had not yet arrived from Northern Africa so the temperature of the ocean was a bit below normal.

We took a boat tour of the coastline and Benagil Caves. What a wonder!

One of the afternoons we drove to Vilamoura and strolled on the marina, switching our gaze from the beach to the boats and yachts, Ferraris and Lamborghinis, and beautiful shops as we planned a future stay in this area.

Another day we drove to Tavira, a quaint town with cobbled streets, shops, restaurants, and remnants of Moorish buildings. On a Sunday Summer night, the town's people gather at the square for a light meal and a concert.

Those tiles!!!! Why is it we confine tiles to the indoors? It was as if the buildings' facade were draped with a waterproof quilt. With every step through the streets in Portugal, I understood the origin of many of the quilt blocks we use in our work.

Eager to explore, we went to Faro one afternoon after the Cork Factory Tour (read all about it below!). See that blue sky? The weather was clear and the sky that hue of blue the whole time we were in the Algarve, the perfect backdrop for the stone walls and whitewashed houses and churches.

 The Bishop's Palace displays intricate tile work in every room. Wallpaper is overrated...

This charming city, the Algarve gateway to many European destinations, harmoniously combines the old with the new (notice the huge bird nests on the rooftops of this cathedral). One day was not enough and our next trip will include the Bone Chapel and Faro's beaches.

What I loved most about our trip to the Algarve was the Cork Factory tour we took at Novacorti├ža. Florencia Laginha, with flawless English and congenial demeanor, was our tour guide. Her presentation was extremely informative, interesting, and illustrated with samples of the diverse textures, appearance, and applications of cork. Adults and teenagers alike were hanging by her every word, asking questions, handling the samples with curiosity, and engaged for the duration of the tour.

When you visit Portugal, you 'must' take this tour!

When we drove from Lisbon to the Algarve, we took a detour through Comporta. All along the road, there were these trees with what appeared to be painted trunks. During the presentation, we learned that those trunks were actually 'naked'! The core of the trees goes through a process of oxidation after harvest and the trunk changes hues as time goes by.

 The bark of the cork oak trees is carefully stripped by artisans (read all about it here).

It takes 25 years from the time the acorn is planted until the first harvest where the cork looks like the number 1 above. Nine years later, the cork extracted will be a bit smoother (number 2), and every harvest thereafter (every 9-12 years) yields a much smoother bark (number 3). Every bit of the cork is used...

... whether in granules of varying sizes and density...

 ... as circles of varying porosity levels...

... or in sheets, cubes, or thinly sliced.

 It was fantastic to learn how the corks go from this...

 ... to bottle stoppers...

... or to furniture and other luxury items! I love my new cork bag! In fact, one of the owners of this business, Sandra Correia, was the brains behind the usage of cork in luxury items.

After all the traveling we did in Portugal, the food we ate, the inspiring sites, and all the learning, it took me quite a while to adjust back to my daily life. Portugal is famous for its maritime discoveries of long ago; now, it is our turn to discover Portugal and its attractions. You will not be disappointed if you include this destination on your next European vacation. On our list for the future is to explore the northern part of the country. But it may take a little while before that happens.

Until then, I hope to infuse my quilt designs with elements borrowed from all I saw in Portugal.

Have a fun day,


  1. What an amazing adventure you had! I love all the photos you took and that cork bag looks awesome. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You're welcome! We had a lot of fun and I got a renewed appreciation for all Portuguese things! Have a wonderful day!


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