There are so many special things about this country, it’s hard to pick ones to highlight.

Portugal is famous for its beaches, food and Cristiano Ronaldo….but that’s just the tip of the iceberg and is the bit most tourists are familiar with. As a nation, Portugal is not much given to boasting, so you may not know that...

Its culture is influenced by its location on the Atlantic Ocean: salt cod (Bacalhau being reputedly having a different recipe for every day of the year!) and sardines are accepted as almost national dishes. Much of the nation’s architecture dates to the 1500s–1800s when Portugal was a powerful maritime empire, and its borders are pretty much unchanged since 1297. Portugal also had one of the longest-running empires and one of the largest, the alliance between England and Portugal, ratified by the Treaty of Windsor in 1386, being the oldest alliance in the world still in force.

Believe it or not, Lisbon is older than Rome and is among the oldest cities in Europe. It has been a city since 1147, but its history predates Portugal by a couple of thousand years. Archaeological finds dating back to 1200BC reveal that the Phoenicians had settlements across what is now Lisbon, meaning Lisbon has been continuously inhabited for over 3,000 years.

Portuguese is one of the most spoken languages in the world. Obviously spoken here by the 10 million or so inhabitants, but also by 230 million others all around the world. In fact, Portuguese is the 6th most used language online, and the official language of 9 countries. (Oh no, more pressure to learn it, I have tried several times, and it is so difficult!).

Did you know that Portuguese cork accounts for about 50% of the world’s production? It only grows naturally in two areas in the world, the first being the Iberian Peninsula, and the second being North Africa. And the best comes from the Algarve! Portuguese cork is used not only in the wine industry by leading brands such as Moet Chandon, but by Rolls Royce, Airbus and NASA and apparently Portuguese cork has even been used in the spacecraft used by the European Space Agency in it’s mission to Mars.

Portugal has a history of passing pioneering laws, despite being quite traditional in a lot of aspects. Portugal became the sixth European country to allow same-sex marriage in 2010. (The country has come a long way since homosexuality was outlawed and punishable by imprisonment). It also ranked seventh out of 49 European countries for its record on LGBT human rights in the 2019 Ilga-Europe Rainbow Country Rankings. Portugal was the first country to begin to legislate for the abolition of capital punishment. The Death Penalty was abolished here in 1867.

Although some other countries produce a port-style wine (South Africa, for instance), only port produced in Portugal - specifically Porto and the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal - has the right to be called Port.

Portugal holds the record for the shortest-reigning monarch in the world! Crown Prince Luís Filipe was the King of Portugal for a grand total of 20 minutes after his father Carlos I was assassinated on 1 February 1908, and after suffering injuries in the same attack, Luís Filipe also died and the title of king was transferred to Manuel II, the last King of Portugal. Incidentally, the Monarchy was dissolved during the 5 October 1910 revolution, and he lived the remainder of his life in exile in, of all places, Twickenham, Essex.

Lisbon’s Livraria Bertrand is the world’s oldest bookshop, and was founded in 1732, but sadly this original store was one of the many casualties of the Great Lisbon Earthquake in 1755. The earthquake scored 8.5 on the Richter scale and left around 60,000 people dead. Livraria Bertrand then set up shop on Rua Garrett in 1773, where it still stands. Nowadays, there are around 50 branches of Livraria Bertrand across Portugal.

And last on today’s list is another famous claim to fame, American surfer Garrett McNamara created a new world record by riding a death-defying wave of 23.77 meters off the coast of Nazaré in February 2011. An underwater canyon makes this part of the Portuguese coast the world’s biggest wave generator.