Planning a holiday in Portugal? Here are 5 interesting things you may not know about the country!
1) Portugal and Britain are great friends and have been for centuries.
British tourists have always been made very welcome when visiting Portugal but did you know that the warm friendship between the two nations is the oldest in the world?
The first alliance between Portugal and Britain dates back to 1373 and remains the world's oldest uninterrupted alliance today. Although Portugal did contribute ships to the Spanish Armada this was during a period when Portugal had been subjugated by the Spanish , much against the popular will, so doesn't really count!
Britain helped their oldest ally numerous times against Spanish and French aggression and signed various mutually beneficial trade agreements throughout the centuries and ties remain as close as ever!
2) Britain's Portuguese Queen and Portugal's English Queen who changed their nation's History
To cement the alliance Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt, married Dom João the 1st in 1385. Unlike so many other diplomatically arranged marriages that inevitably ended in tragedy it seems that the two actually developed a huge fondness for each other and had numerous children together- including one of Portugal's best known historical figures, Henry the Navigator. More on him later.
Nearly 300 years later Catarina de Bragança married King Charles II in 1661. As a sign of the times there were two ceremonies, one public Anglican one and another secret ceremony following the Catholic rites. Catarina was a staunch Catholic and although well liked she was always viewed with a certain mistrust by the King's advisors and parliament due to her religion.
Legend has it that Catarina introduced England to one of its favourite beverages - Tea! Portugal at the time were the dominant force in India and had a virtual monopoly on Eastern trade routes, including tea from China. Apparently Catarina was so fond of the drink and socialising at court that she started the tradition of the "5 o clock tea " for which the English are now renowned world over. I have been asked numerous times if it is really true that the whole of Britain grinds to a halt at 5pm for everyone to take tea together - if only!
3) Portugal's discoveries were set in motion by a son of England
After finally expelling the Moors and securing the nation's borders against French and Spanish aggression, Portugal turned their efforts to maritime exploration. By 1494 the Portuguese and Spanish had made such progress in discovering new territories that the pope helped draw up a treaty between the two which effectually carved the world up between them, with Spain allowed to colonize the America's and Portugal allowed to colonize Africa and the Indian Ocean. Brazil wasn't officially discovered until 1500 but just fell on Portugal's side of the line!
However the great mind and motivating force behind the early discoveries was Prince Henry the Navigator, son of Philippa of Lancaster and Grandson of John of Gaunt. It was he who founded the school of navigation and bought, copied and (probably) stole Moorish charts and sailing techniques that gave Portuguese sailors such a huge advantage over other nations for navigating down Africa's perilous coast.
4) Portugal is the world's largest cork producer
You may feel like celebrating booking a holiday in Portugal with a bit of bubbly. Did you know that it is highly likely that the cork in your bottle was grown and produced in Portugal?
Cork production is a huge business in Portugal, with the country producing about 50% of the world's supply, an amazing amount for a relatively small and little industrialised country. Not only is it the world's largest producer but Portuguese cork is also recognised as the best quality.
These days cork is used not only as a bottle stopper but also in construction as flooring, decoration and a very effective insulation. In fact more and more uses are being explored every day, with fashionable clothes, musical instruments and even footballs now being made out of cork!
During your holiday in Portugal why not take the opportunity to visit some of the cork fields and factories to find out more about this fascinating resource?
5) Portugal is now the place to surf the biggest and best waves
It is no surprise that Portugal is a haven for aquatic sports, with such a large coastline and the dramatic yet often temperamental Atlantic.
Surfing is hugely popular and Portugal is widely regarded as the best place in Europe to grab a board and ride those waves, with the world surfing championship now an annual event on our very own Silver Coast.
But did you know that the largest surfed wave was also recorded on our very own Silver Coast, just north of Nazaré? In fact surfers from all over the world are now flocking to Nazaré to attempt and beat the record as is now recognised as the best place in the world for catching those huge waves, created due to the unusual topography and favorable winds.
Personally I'm quite happy relaxing in a canoe or even a lilo in the safe and calm Obidos Lagoon or the Bay at São Martinho, or just relaxing and enjoying a nice gin and tonic sat by a private pool!
I hope you found the above facts interesting and would love if you wanted to contribute your own favourite stories or anecdotes from your Portugal Holiday. Hope to see you soon!