Portugal village worth its salt with the tourists

Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:26am EDT
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By Andrei Khalip

SALINAS, Portugal (Reuters Life!) - Shoveling drying salt in a pit under scorching sun while tourists and fellow villagers drink beer and look on from above may sound like a miserable experience, but not in Salinas, Portugal.

The presence of tourists in the cafes on the ancient wall above the salt pit in this tiny Portuguese village some 100 km (62.14 miles) north of Portugal's capital Lisbon is more than welcome and causes no consternation.

"One thing works with the other. Without tourism, the salt business would probably collapse, and vice versa," said Casimiro Froes Ferreira, 82, and the head of the Salinas cooperative.

The village has been extracting salt since at least 1170, when the local ruler sold part of the pit to the Knights Templar -- the first known record of Salinas.

In the middle of a pool in the salt pit lies a deep well of water heavily laden with salt -- Portugal's only natural saltworks. The water is pumped to shallow cells in the pool where it dries up over a few days, leaving a layer of salt.

"We work seven days a week between May and October when the weather is good and when salt needs to be dried and removed -- practically the same way our ancestors did. After work everyone just joins the crowd in the bars overhead," Froes Ferreira said.

Most of the village's old salt depots and stores -- made entirely of wood, including door locks to avoid corrosion from salt -- have been transformed into souvenir shops and bars, where one can try a local cheese baked in salt.

Even the local bikers club is headquartered in such a hut.   Continued...