The Cork of Alentejo Portugal

Jun 2014

The cork of Alentejo Portugal has been a natural resource for centuries.  Dry rolling hills make a challenging terrain for farmers who have managed to adapt to the rhythms of the landscape with this renewable product.  Patience is a virtue for these farmers, as the first twenty five years they play a watch and see game with mother nature.  Additionally, the first harvest has no market value.  Only after the next ten years is the second harvest finally ready and the grower must still wait for his reward.  Although cork is a completely renewable resource harvested from living cork trees {never harmed during the process}, it does not come easy.

cork harvest portugal

Trees are marked with a coding system to indicate the year of harvest.  Even after the second collection, which usually takes place between May and August, the trees need to be tended for another nine years before the light, waterproof material can be pushed out to the surface and finally become a product that can be sold.  What makes the impermeable layers worth the wait is the fact that the trees can live up to several centuries.  It is often the next generation what will ultimately see the uniform layers that can be made into the perfect wine stopper or finest quality flooring.

cork of alentejo portugal

As a sustainable material for flooring, cork has seen a huge surge in popularity over recent years.  Used extensively for commercial and industrial applications, it is tough and durable, but quite comfortable underfoot.  Coming in a multitude of patterns and colors, the design industry is seeing more and more applications for this eco0friendly product.  I am often surprised to see it used in some unusual spaces.


Brooklyn’s Nu Hotel features minimalist, loft-inspired rooms with custom furnishings crafted from recycled teak wood, cork floors, environmentally conscious woods, lead-free paints, and organic bedding. I love the casual coolness of this eco-friendly property.

sagrada familia cork floor

Did you guess where this is? Finally, the inside of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is done.  The church attracts millions of visitors each year and is expected to be completed in 2026. Once inside, it is impossible not to raise your eyes to the magnificence of the sculptural detail in the ceilings.  If you can manage to turn your eyes downward, you will observe that you and all the other visitors are walking on a beautiful cork floor.  Perhaps the Sagrada will provide the ultimate test for the sustainability of this centuries old product. This particular flooring, made in Portugal  by Wicanders,  comes with a high traffic, non-toxic varnish to insure its durability and allow for repairs.  I wonder what Gaudi would have to say about the aesthetics of the final installation.

If you are considering a renovation, or would like to learn more about cork, visit 100% Cork.  The bark, which becomes the cork flooring, was designed by Mother Nature to protect the tree during its average 250+-year lifespan. Not only is the bark inherently fire resistant to temperature changes prevailing in those regions and  impervious to more than 38 species of insects, including the termite, it is also resistant to the development of microbes. Sounds like the perfect green material to me.

So remember when you are choosing flooring for a build or renovation, Cork is:

  • 100% renewable resource harvested as bark from living cork  trees
  • 100% free of PVC’s and absolutely no formaldehyde glue or binders
  • Naturally hypo-allergenic, anti-microbial and anti-fungal
  • Adding valuable LEED credits towards making your project green

Have you seen the use of cork in any unexpected places on your travels?

Photo of Sagrada Familia via Wicanders.

  1. noel says:

    It is a lovely material, I remember the floors of Sagrada Familiar. The images of the trees that are scrapped are beautiful – it makes such an interesting sculptural effect on the trees when they are decorked? (whatever the term is)

  2. What a lovely surprise to read this article Alison. My other half is Portuguese and he has already talked to me about this subject.

    You’ve done a superb job in presenting this really worthwhile story and highlighted the many wonderful benefits very clearly.

    • alison says:

      Oh Jackie, I was a bit nervous as I knew you might stop by and this was about your neck of the woods. I am so happy that you approve!

  3. Joao Alves says:

    Alisson, Magnificent article! This is my country! Cork is really a fantastic thing and 100% Eco-Friendly. I’m the other half of Jackie de Burca.All the Best. Joao

    • alison says:

      Joao Welcome! It always makes me so happy when someone from the home country visits a post and is positive about the post. I hope one day i’ll get there and perhaps cross paths with you and Jackie! Come back soon.

  4. Thanks for this advice. I’d never thought of using cork flooring and the facts that it is naturally hypo-allergenic etc is particularly great for anyone with young children crawling around on the floor. It looks great too!
    And next time I uncork a wine bottle (probably this evening!) I’ll remember how long it took to produce it!