We arrived last night and checked into our hotel tired from a long day of travel. After breakfast, the sun finally came out. We headed to the cork factory, where the harvested cork is made into a variety of items. The cork is on the outside of the bark on the tree. It is dead, like nails or hair, so removing the cork doesn’t kill the tree, as would happen if the bark itself was removed. The factory is surrounded by cork trees, but they actually own only one tree, 85 years old, to explain the process. All the rest of the cork is purchased from local farmers.
There are various qualities of cork. The same tree may have different qualities of cork, depending on where it is located on the tree. Sunnyside, shady side, upper, lower parts make a difference. The usage of the cork depends on the quality. The denser the cork, the finer the quality. Wine corks use the highest quality with the grain because the cork must allow the wine to breathe. Champagne corks are cut against the grain because you don’t want any air getting into the bottle. There are many uses don’t require the highest quality, allowing 100% of the cork to be usable in some fashion.
The harvested cork is boiled for one hour and pressed down, or else it would float in the vat. It is separated into qualities and then is boiled again to make it flexible. They make corks for wine and champagne, of course, purses, shoes, aprons, coasters, trivets, belts, lamps and even furniture. What doesn’t get used immediately is ultimately compressed for flooring or other uses or ground into various size pellets for insulation. The gift shop had many choices of items made of cork, including hats, shoes, purses, belts, iPad covers, placemats and so much more. You see them all over Portugal at various prices.
From there, we went into the Roman walled city of Evora, practically across the road from our hotel. It does remind you of the medinas in Spain and Morocco, most likely because of its proximity to both countries. We went into the main church, which dates back to the 16th century. The opulence was astounding.
Next door is the Chapel of Bones. Every inch of the walls and columns were covered with bones or skulls. It was quite eery.
As you walk around Evora, you see the beautiful sidewalks. They are everywhere in Portugal. They are like cobblestones, only smoother. I wonder if they are slippery in the rain?
Time for lunch… We had to try the local delicacy, the black pork. We went to a recommended restaurant and shared a dish of black pork cheeks with roasted new potatoes and a Mediterranean salad, complete with asparagus, mozzarella and tomatoes, shredded carrots and baby lettuce. The meat was dark but incredibly tender to cut and eat. The pigs are only fed chestnuts. We aren’t sure why the meat is dark and melts in our mouth, though. Maybe it is the chestnuts?
After lunch, we went to a local winery for a tasting. This area, Estremoz, is just outside of Evora. There are many wineries growing a variety of grapes for red, rose and white wine. The harvesting was completed in early September but I tasted one last fat grape on the vine. It was very sweet.
They gave us a tour of the facility, showing us where the grapes are crushed and fermented, aged in French oak casks and bottled. After the tour, we went into a lovely tasting room. In Portugal, they say it is important to have food with wine. They had some chicken croquettes, a couple different salamis, cheese, and crusty bread. The white and rose were okay, however, the red was the best of the three.
Now, back to the hotel in Evora. We had some time to continue souvenir shopping, but I think I am running out of interesting things to buy. Hard to believe! A good night’s sleep and tomorrow, we are off to Lisbon.