Secrets of Portugal
Credit: Getty Images/Blend Images

Some of Portugal's best assets are far from secret: port wine, medieval castles, the many recipes and tastes of bacalhau — the Portuguese word for codfish.

But there are other places, things, and facts that are lesser known, and they only make the case stronger for adding Portugal to your destinations for 2017.

Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you're chatting it up with a local in the 2016 Destination of the Year. Because if there's anyone who appreciates a good bit of history, it's the Portuguese.

Portugal Gave Us “Tea”

Well, not actually tea to drink, but they are responsible for the name we use. When the Portuguese first encountered tea in China, it was called chá. The first published encounter with tea (under the name we know and love today) was in 1560 by Portuguese missionary Gaspar da Cruz. Portugal — the first European destination to start drinking tea — played a huge role in introducing the beverage to destinations along its trade routes in the sixteenth century.

And Tempura

Many think that tempura — deep-fried vegetables and meats — originates in Asia, considering the many dishes that are still cooked the same way today. But the Portuguese will be the first to tell you that the cooking method actually hails from Portugal.

The word tempura derives from “temperar,” or the Portuguese word meaning “to cook.” You can easily find green beans that are dipped in batter and fried called peixinhos da horta, or “garden fishes,” in restaurants all around the country.

There are also theories out there that say Spanish and Portuguese missionaries traveling through Japan in the 1500s shared this staple. While historians have neither confirmed nor denied this potential factoid, it's a great conversation starter when you find yourself nestled up to the bar surrounded by locals.

Portugal Is the Oldest Nation-state in Europe

Portugal has maintained its original borders since 1139, making it the oldest country in Europe. To put that in a bit of perspective, Lisbon has been around four centuries longer than Rome.

And It's Home to the Oldest Bookstore

The Bertrand Bookshop has been around since 1732. You can find this piece of history in Lisbon's Bairro Alto neighborhood. The bookstore was destroyed in an earthquake that rocked the city in 1755, but was moved to the same location you can find it at today in 1773.

Sintra Has a Microclimate

Sintra is a small town a 30-minute drive from Lisbon, and is well known for inspiring Hans Christian Andersen's fairytales. With its winding mountain roads, bold palaces, and overgrown atmosphere, it's not a stretch to imagine princes and princesses spending their days on the mountainside of this now-busy resort town. But the most interesting thing about Sintra may be its weather — the area is home to a microclimate.

Sintra is noticeably cooler than Lisbon and has more clouds and fog, which will quickly roll in and out of the mountains making for some amazing photo opportunities. Somehow this odd weather pattern gives it even more of a storybook feel.

There's a Festival Where You're Encouraged to Throw Garlic at People

On the night of June 23rd, the Portuguese people take to the street to celebrate the festival of Sao Joao. While you can find celebrations in cities around the country, the northern city of Porto is the place to be for the festivities. The festival has Pagan roots and follows an ancient courtship ritual — many refer to the event as “the festival of lovers.”

On this night, you'll find people throwing plastic or inflatable hammers or garlands of garlic at those they find attractive.

The Biggest Wave Someone Has Ever Surfed Was Off the Portuguese Coast

In November 2011, surfer Garrett McNamara made the record books by riding the largest wave ever surfed by a human. The wave rolled into Nazare, Portugal and rose 78 feet.

The Stunning São Bento Railway Used to Be a Benedictine Monastery

You won't find many other train stations this pretty. This transportation hub houses a stunning visual of Portugal's history in the form of tile panels, or azulejo. But long before people were running to catch trains in this space, it was a Benedictine monastery.

The monastery was built in the 16th century, but crumbled during a fire in 1783. it was eventually rebuilt, but after falling into disarray again in 19th century King Carlos I decided to include the area as an important part of the railway expansion in Portugal. The King laid the first stone of the São Bento Railway in 1900.