São Brás de Alportel - Discovering cork tour

Images from a cork tour in the centre of the cork production in the Algarve
Wednesday, 28 June 2017 | Excursion

Since centuries, the rural town of São Brás de Alportel in the hinterland of the Algarve is a centre of cork, a natural produce made of the bark of cork trees. These trees find ideal natural conditions in the hilly forests of the Serra de Caldeirão, producing cork of a quality second to none. The Discovering cork tour by AlgarveRotas is a guided tour to explain the history as well as the economic and ecologic importance of this traditional industry. End of June 2017 we enjoyed this tour, guided by Patricia, together with our friends from Germany.

The tour started and ended in the costume museum of São Brás (Museu do Traje do Algarve), built at the end of the 19th Century by a rich cork dealer. From there we went by minibus to the fountain Fonte Férrea north of Alportel, where the Câmara Municipal of São Brás owns a large oak tree forest. Our guide Patricia explained that, compared to cork plantations, naturally grown oak trees produce bark of superior quality due to the special climatic conditions in the Serra. A cork tree needs 25 years before its bark can be harvested for the first time, and the harvest is normally repeated every 9 years. The harvest takes place from June to August by hand, a work requiring long experience and skill, and the transport of the bark in this difficult terrain is cumbersome.

The next station of the tour was one of the eldest cork manufactories in the Algarve, a small place in Mesquita. At the beginning of the last century more than one hundred of these factories did exist in the surroundings of São Brás de Alportel, generating a significant prosperity for the city. With the increasing automation of the production process most factories moved to the metropolitan area of Lisbon and only five are still operational in São Brás. The factory in Mesquita is specialised in the pre-processing of the cork bark, all steps from the cooking to the selection, cutting and packaging are done manually. The bales of 65 kg are then delivered to other factories in São Brás and Silves, where stoppers for wine and champagne bottles and other products are confected.

From Mesquita we went back to the former home of the cork dealer in São Brás. This impressive manor house, built in 1899, gives an idea of the wealth of that time generated by the cork industry. The museum depicts costumes of the 19th and 20th.as well as cars and carriages, agricultural equipment and everyday objects of the region. A video presentation in the former stable of the estate summarized the information about the great history of cork already given to us by our guide Patricia during this very instructive and enjoyable tour.