Make Sagres part of your Age of Discovery
I’m sure we’ve all heard people call Sagres ‘the end of the world’. This seems to be a popular description of this windswept region of the Algarve.
Many visitors appreciate that Sagres is the last stop on their journey through Europe. You certainly can’t go any further once you’ve reached Sagres and Cap St Vincent. In this wild and picturesque corner of Portugal, it feels like the world is truly falling off a cliff. And it’s quite a spectacular sight! I can imagine many inquisitive minds from the past standing at the edge of the sheer cliffs, watching from this remote outpost and wondering what lies beyond. It must have been a tantalizing prospect.
The “real” Portugal
Far from the busier resorts of the Algarve, Sagres offers a taste of the highly sought-after ‘real’ Portugal that we hear so much about, especially among expats who have come here looking for something completely different from what they have left behind. Cafes offering full English breakfasts, fish & chips or Devonshire cream teas seem to make some aspects of modern Algarve life a little goofy in some people’s minds. Sagres, however, is a small settlement which has retained a vibrant Portuguese community despite being only 34 km from the resort town of Lagos. It is within the local Portuguese community of Sagres that a palpable sense of authenticity has remained. This town certainly has a different vibe compared to other parts of the Algarve. In some ways it feels more like a rural Alentejo town, which isn’t a bad thing.
In the ancient world, Sagres was the last point explored. Today, of course, it is quite regularly explored by countless tourists from all over the world. Located in the Parque Natural de la Costa Vicentina, Sagres offers a rugged geographical allure. This natural park is home to more than 100 species of flora which are unfortunately now considered endangered. The park provides refuge to a number of animal species that are also threatened with extinction. In this regard, Sagres is strikingly similar to many other parts of our increasingly beleaguered world.
Sagres has a population of less than 2,000. The sleepy town itself is not what draws tourists to the area per se. There are few tourist attractions or fabulously ornate architecture around Sagres. It is the area’s impressive natural features, dramatic cliffs and 25 secluded beaches that make Sagres so popular. It is particularly popular with surfers, climbers, hikers, divers and birdwatchers. Its storm-torn coastline, wild seas and generally mild climate attract visitors year-round.
Fort of Sagres
The Fort de Sagres is the city’s main historical attraction. The fort is positioned on a narrow promontory that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. The fort dates back to the 15th century, a time when the Portuguese coast was often the target of Barbary pirates from the North African coasts.
The Fortaleza de Sagres was built on the orders of Prince Henry the Navigator (Infante D. Henrique). Henry was the main driving force behind what became known as the Age of Discovery. Henry spent much of his time at Sagres Fort before setting out on his many travels. It was during such a trip that he discovered the Azores as well as large parts of the African coast.
Before the Age of Discovery, many Europeans had been too scared to venture into the open Atlantic for fear of huge sea monsters that were believed capable of swallowing ships whole! This means that people like Henry were true trailblazers and myth breakers.
Henry has a dubious reputation as the founder of the Atlantic slave trade. Enough said about that.
The historical significance of the site of Fortaleza de Sagres outweighs the tourist experience as there is very little to see there other than the views. I was, however, fascinated to learn that much of the fort had been destroyed in the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 1755. It blew my mind that any wave could have come over these huge cliffs that s ‘rise over 60 meters above sea level. It must have been the mother of all waves. Unimaginable!
Escape the crowds
So, tsunamis aside, Sagres is an ideal location for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of the Algarve’s busiest resorts. The town has a small Praça with a fine selection of local cafes, bars and restaurants. They are all within walking distance of Mareta beach (meaning it can get very crowded during peak summer holiday season). Away from the Praça, there is a huge selection of other cafes, bars, restaurants and takeaways dotted around the town. There are many choices.
When I visit a Portuguese restaurant or a Spanish tapas bar, I often find myself discreetly observing what some locals are choosing to order. Armed with this new information, it’s fun to see if the servers would be willing to steer me towards something a little different, authentic, and slightly off-road. Whatever I choose, around Sagres I’m always confident that I’m about to enjoy food made from the finest local ingredients. It is quite common to see fishermen carrying boxes of freshly caught fish daily to local restaurants. Surely it doesn’t get better than that?
Outside of the surfing fraternity, many visitors to Sagres seem to be more of a transient; just passing through town on the way to and from Cap St Vincent with its famous lighthouse and legendary sunsets. They often arrive on day trips from the larger resorts of the Algarve which are located further east along the more sheltered southern coast.
The bustling resorts of Lagos, Luz, Portimão or Vilamoura tend to be much warmer away from the exposed peninsula on which Sagres is perched. This warmer climate attracts more “all-inclusive” vacationers from Northern Europe. However, Sagres is often favored among Andulusian visitors who come in droves to escape the sweltering temperatures of Spain’s hottest region. For them, a cool sea breeze is welcome!
An excellent basis
Sagres is also an ideal base for traveling some of Portugal’s west-facing coastal routes. As the Spaniards have already discovered, this area, including Sagres itself, can feel significantly cooler than the southern Algarve coast. Despite the seemingly mild readings on the thermometer, prevailing winds can often have a considerable advantage, especially after dark. A warm jacket is recommended no matter when you choose to visit. This will almost certainly come in handy at some point during your stay, just to protect yourself from the wind. There will also be days when you wonder why the hell you bothered to pack it!
Sagres was the first place I ever visited in Portugal, so it will always hold a very special place in my heart. I have visited Sagres regularly for many years. For me, a trip to the Algarve is never quite complete without spending time in this unusual corner of Portugal.