9 Surprising Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Portugal

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Portugal is a small European nation of around 10.5 million people. Alongside Spain, with which it was combined, Portugal gained independence in 1143. It expanded its empire to include countries in India, Africa, East Asia and South America and created the most enduring European empire, lasting over 500 years. Deciding to end the dominance of its colonies, Portugal surrendered them all, ending with Macau in 1999. Perhaps best known for its Age of Discovery explorers such as Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco De Gama, the Portugal holds many interesting secrets and lesser-known wonders. We’ve made some fantastic discoveries about this beautiful country and want to share some surprising facts you probably didn’t know about Portugal.

Cabo da Roca (Photo credit: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris)

1. Portugal has the westernmost point in Europe

Cabo da Roca, a rocky point along the Atlantic coast, about 40 miles west of Lisbon, is the westernmost point in mainland Europe. The cliff rises about 500 feet above the sea and, at first, housed a fort that guarded the entrance to the port of Lisbon. Today there is still a beacon that provides aid to navigators. The area is incredibly windy and taking a photo while standing on the edge of the mainland is a favorite with locals and visitors alike.

Livraria Bertrand in Lisbon at night.  It is the oldest and largest chain of bookstores in Portugal and opened in 1742.
Livraria Bertrand (Photo credit: Cmspic / Shutterstock.com)

2. The oldest bookstore in the world is in Lisbon, Portugal

The Portuguese love books, so it’s no surprise to see bookstores everywhere, in big metros as well as in small towns. Books are found new and used and in many languages. One of our favorite stores is Deja Lu, located inside the historic Citadel of Cascais. All of its profits are donated to the Portuguese Down Syndrome Association. The city of Óbidos is a UNESCO Creative City of Literature. So it makes sense that the oldest bookstore in the world is still in operation and located in Lisbon. Livraria Bertrand in the Chiado district of Lisbon opened in 1732. Its owners and name may have changed over the years, but its beautiful interior and tiled facade continue to surprise and delight. Perhaps not by chance, Livraria Lello in Porto has been called the most beautiful bookstore in the world. Certainly, bibliophiles have a lot to enjoy in Portugal.

Mafra Palace Library - Mafra, Portugal
Mafra Palace Library (Photo credit: Cabo da Roca / Shutterstock.com)

3. Important libraries use bats to protect them

It is clear that the Portuguese have always been crazy about books when we learn that two of the oldest libraries in Europe, each around 300 years old, are in Portugal. But what’s even crazier is that they use bats – yes, real bats with wings and all – to protect the books inside. The Joanina Library of the University of Coimbra contains original manuscripts from the 15and century. The Royal Library of the Palácio de Mafra is a masterpiece in itself, with large volumes as well as spectacular craftsmanship. Colonies of bats emerge at night to eat pests that would eat away at books, helping to preserve important story elements, even when they are part of them.

Tea served with desserts.
Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

4. The Portuguese brought teatime to the English

Another shock to the system could be the surprising fact that Portugal was actually responsible for introducing tea to Britain. In 1662, when Catherine of Bragança left her beloved native Portugal to marry King Charles II, she brought to her royal court her habit of taking afternoon tea and drinking it delicately from wooden teacups. porcelain. Previously, only medicinal teas were available and drawn from clumsy cups. Those at court who wished to emulate His Royal Highness picked up the habit, and soon most of Britain followed suit. So, the little Portuguese princess made another gift of herself to her husband’s house.

5. The biggest waves ever surfed are in Portugal

Surfers love to catch big waves, the bigger the better. And nowhere are they bigger than on the Silver Coast beaches of Nazaré, Portugal. The official record, set in Guinness World Records for the biggest wave ever surfed, is an 80ft whopper at Praia do Norte in Nazaré, mastered by Brazilian wave master Rodrigo Koxa in 2017. The record for the biggest wave for a woman is held by Brazilian surfer Maya Gabeira, at 73.5 feet. While these waves are in the record books, there is a potential record wave ride over 100ft taken by local Portuguese António Laureano that is being analyzed. It only seems a matter of time before someone crashes 10 on a 100 foot wave. And our bet is that it will be a wave in Portugal.

Belém Tower, Lisbon Portugal (Photo credit: Sue Reddel & Diana Laskaris)

6. Portugal is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and possibly many more

One of the most surprising facts you probably didn’t know about Portugal is that it holds 17 designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites within its borders. The Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém in Lisbon; the historic center of Évora with its ancient Roman ruins; the cultural landscape of Sintra, including five incredible palaces; the Alto Douro wine region; and the frontier garrison town of Elvas, with its fortifications, are just a few of the important sites on the list. But what’s even more surprising is that there are at least 19 other sites that Portugal has put on its “provisional” list – places that could find their place among the other UNESCO sites in the world. ‘to come up. The aqueduct of Águas Livres, the levadas of Madeira Island and Vila Viçosa (where Catherine de Bragança was born) are just a few. It is clear that any visitor to Portugal will have a wonderful range of options to explore the country’s heritage.

Pastel de nata.
Pastel de nata (Photo credit: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris)

7. Portuguese cuisine has influenced the world

Many already know a lot about the exploration of the Portuguese and how they made many discoveries around the world. But what you might not know is that the Portuguese have also influenced food habits around the world. We have already mentioned the contribution of tea to Britain. But this is just one example. The Portuguese went to Goa, India, and cooked a pork dish full of garlic and wine, which has become nowadays vindaloo, one of the most popular Indian dishes. When Portuguese sailors unexpectedly found themselves in Japan (rather than their intended destination of Macau), they appeased themselves with lightly beaten green beans, paving the way for what is now mostly known as tempura, associated with Japanese cuisine ever since. Anyone who has tasted the delicious and decadent Portuguese pastel de nata will wonder if it was modeled after the egg tarts of China. In fact, it’s the reverse. And fans of the hot and spicy piri-piri (sometimes spelled peri-peri) sauce may be surprised to learn that the Portuguese actually grew the must-have chili peppers from South America to Africa and then l India, Thailand, Malaysia, and elsewhere. Now you can even enjoy it at Nando, but don’t forget to thank Portugal.

Portuguese wine
Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris

8. Portuguese wine is exceptional – and affordable

While European powers such as Italy, France and Spain are well known for their excellent wines, the Portuguese are quietly consuming equally magnificent wines, many of which have just been recognized by other parts of the world. Fortified Port and Madeira wines have made their excellence known over the years. And even the fresh and bright “green wine” vinho verde, can get to a summer table here and there. But Portugal has 12 designated wine regions, each with its own personality producing distinctive wines that we have enjoyed so much ever since we got to taste them. While you might not be so surprised to know that Portugal produces wines of such high quality, you might be very surprised to learn that many delicious table wines from all regions can be purchased for less than €10 (about $10.95) a bottle. Another surprise is Carcavelos wine, a fortified wine produced in just one small area along the Lisbon coast, one of the favorite libations of American founding father Thomas Jefferson.

Portuguese coastline.
Portuguese coastline (Photo credit: Sue Reddel and Diana Laskaris)

9. Portugal is not only one of the best places to visit, but also to live or retire

It’s easy to say there are some surprising facts you didn’t know about Portugal. We continue to learn them every day. But one of the best things we’ve discovered is that Portugal isn’t just a phenomenal place to vacation, it’s also a wonderful place to call home. The ancient city of Braga, Portugal has been voted the best place to travel in Europe. Lisbon and Porto continue to attract more and more visitors every year. But for us, visiting was not enough. We fell in love with this country. History, culture, great food and weather – so many reasons left us wanting more. We moved to Portugal and have been grateful every day since. We learn to speak Portuguese, which is difficult but fun. We live in Estoril, a city near the sea with a lot of history. People ask us all the time what it’s like to live in Portugal. We’ve made friends, found favorite bakeries and restaurants, and keep encountering new surprises. But above all, we are happy to call Portugal our home. Perhaps the most surprising fact you probably didn’t know about Portugal is that it’s one of the best places in the world to live and retire. If you plan to pay a visit to check it out, let us know. We’ve become something of a “welcome cart” around here, which is probably the most surprising fact of all.

Although Portugal is not a big nation, it has had a significant impact on the world. We discovered surprising facts about its history, culture, cuisine and more. We hope we’ve piqued your curiosity to discover more surprising facts about Portugal that you probably didn’t know.

If you want to know even more about Portugal, check out the rest of our coverage:

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