Situated a few kilometres away from Europe’s most south-western point, the Cape of St. Vincent, Sagres lies on the rugged shores of the western Algarve coastline. Traditionally a fishing village, Sagres’ past has always been steeped in history and a certain amount of mysticism. The town’s most important legacy is its association with Henry the Navigator, who lived near here and who allegedly chose Sagres as a location for his legendary school of navigation and the departing point for the first caravels on their exploratory journeys of the 15th century.
Sagres’ steep escarpments and jagged and windswept coastline have spared it the frenzied development that the tourism industry has brought to some of the eastern side of the Algarve and as such, it retains a wild, stark beauty. There are plenty of beautiful, sandy beaches lying between the cliffs, a number of the less sheltered ones being extremely popular with surfers. The town itself has a pleasant central square, surrounded by numerous bars and restaurants serving delicious fresh fish, a busy harbour and a beach. There is little of historical interest within the town, as any evidence of former glory was wiped out by the devastation caused by the 1755 earthquake that ravaged this entire region. However, a short walk outside the town will take you on a historical journey back to times of sun gods, Roman cults, pirates, overseas discoveries, Arab mosques, Christian martyrs and peninsular wars.
The “ponta de Sagres” (Sagres Point), lying a short distance from the town, is a spectacular promontory consisting of 165 foot (50 metres) cliffs reaching out into the sea and pounded by waves on all sides. It provides spectacular views of the coastline and the grottoes and hollows that have been carved out by the sea and is an historical mark within the Algarve. Remains of an 18th fortress, replacing Henry the Navigator’s original 15th century fortress that was allegedly destroyed by Sir Francis Drake after his attack on Cadiz, skirt one side of the promontory and provide sole access through an impressive arch. The 16th century Our Lady of Grace church, erected on the site of a chapel formerly built by Henry the Navigator, and the famous 43 m-wide compass and tower all bear further testimony to the historical importance of this site.
A few kilometres away, the Cape of St. Vincent provides equally impressive views of the coastline and a great deal of legend. Clusters of menhirs testify to the presence of Neolithic inhabitants who allegedly used this site for rituals, the Phoenicians erected a sanctuary to Hercules here, the Romans considered it sacred ground, a place where the setting sun made the ocean waters boil, and it was a place of pilgrimage to the burial ground of the martyred St. Vincent, whose body was carried here after the Arab invasion and who lent his name to the site. The Cape’s powerful lighthouse was rebuilt on the site of a 16th Franciscan convent where monks of old would light beacons to warn ships of impending danger.
There are a host of beaches to choose from in the vicinity, some of them long expanses of exposed sandy beaches while others are situated in sheltered bays. Praia da Mareta, the town’s main beach, is a 5 minute walk away and is a sheltered 600 m-long popular family beach. Many of these beaches provide amenities and a selection of sports activities, diving being a particular favourite in the beaches where there are natural grottoes and tunnels.
Any time spent in Sagres must include a taste of the local cuisine. Apart from the local fresh fish, this area is renowned for its delicious whelks and barnacles that come straight off the rocks and combine perfectly with a cold beer. To end the meal, a taste of the local Sagres honey cake.
It is easy to understand the legend and myth surrounding Sagres when you step onto the rugged cliffs of its stunning coastline and admire the force of Nature in a place where land meets sea.
Recommended Sagres Hotels