Cork is the most common take-home item: this oak bark is shaped into everything from baseball caps to shoes. The Algrave is the world's biggest producer, and it's a thriving industry despite the move by many wine producers to use plastic stoppers instead. Wine, local liqueurs, gourmet delicacies, such as tinned fish, ceramics and handicrafts, are also popular. Local markets burst with flowers, fish and (dried and fresh) fruit.
Portugal produces about half of the world’s cork, mostly in the Algarve and Alentejo regions. The light, flexible, waterproof bark of the mature cork oak (sobreiro in Portuguese) is stripped every nine years – a skilled manual procedure conducted in summer – to provide cork (cortiça) for tiles, anti-insect hats, footwear, bags and wine-bottle stoppers. The trees grow the bark back and go on to live for several centuries. This, and the fact that cork groves offer both traditional grazing land and an important wildlife habitat, means that the cork industry is very sustainable – a fact that has boosted the cork’s recent comeback against plastic wine-bottle stoppers.
Need to Know
- Gentle haggling is common in markets (less so in produce markets); in all other instances you’re expected to pay the stated price.
Taxes & Refunds
- Prices typically include 23% VAT (some basic foodstuffs and services carry reduced rates of 6% and 13%, respectively). Non-EU residents can claim back the VAT on goods from participating retailers – ask for the tax-back forms and get them stamped by customs. Refunds are processed at the airport or via post.