Sagres - History
To the Romans this location was known as "Promontorium Sacrum - the end of the world where the waters of the ocean boil at sunset". Today, this small town is close to the most south western point of Europe known as Cape St. Vincent. The legend of the martyr Saint Vincent is that his relics were mysteriously transported by ravens from the Holy Land to the Cape and subsequently guarded by them. In 1173 the ravens reputedly then moved the relics to Lisbon where they remain to this day. However, it much more likely that they were moved to Lisbon upon the orders of Dom Afonso Henriques. Several naval engagements took place off the Cape; Admiral Tourville defeated Sir George Rooke in 1693; Admiral Rodney defeated the Spanish in 1780; Admiral Jervis with Nelson defeated the Spanish fleet in 1797. As Sagres is located on the south side of the Cape its natural protection from the western winds and rough seas lent itself to the building by Prince Henry the Navigator (Dom Afonso Henrique), of a fort in which to house his school devoted to navigation and exploration but he lived mainly in nearby Lagos. He is also reputed to have created a shipbuilding yard in the small natural harbour.
From 1419 until 1460 he devoted his time and the revenues of the Order of Christ into this project. Money was spent liberally in building the vessels known as the “Caravela” which was in time to prove so suitable for exploration. In 1427 Diogo da Silva first discovered the Azores Islands. Until 1434 no sailor was known to have sailed further south than the Cape Bojador on the west side of Africa. In this same year, Gil Eanes from Lagos, conquered the Cape but it was not until 1488 that Bartolomeu Dias succeeded in rounding the Cape of Good Hope. A home of the Prince was likely to have been at the nearby Cape St. Vincent close to the ruins of a 16th Century Monastery. Unfortunately, the famous English captain and sometimes pirate, Francis Drake has recorded in his logbook that his men completely sacked this house in 1597.
Sagres - Description
There is very little left from an historical point of view as the only items left from his original building is the small chapel of Nossa Senhora da Graça and reputably the giant pebble wind compass, Rosa dos Ventos. The present walls surrounding the area are the remains of a 17th Century fort. At the nearby Cape St Vincent is an impressive lighthouse that can normally be visited. This lighthouse has provided the guiding beam that safely directs the hundreds of ships that pass the Cape every year from the inevitable destruction that would otherwise occur. The surrounding cliffs present a very dramatic sight with their impressive towering sheer height and at most times being beaten by the strength of the vast Atlantic Ocean.
The local restaurants are renowned for their fish and its variety and freshness and it is common to see the local fishermen wedged in dramatic perches on the cliff face with the thundering sea many scores of feet below. Unfortunately, every year the lives of some of these enthusiastic fishermen are taken, usually by falling. It is interesting to note that the area of Sagres enjoys its own mini-climate. There is very little vegetation, the ground being mainly rock with barely any soil, but in the area to the north of the town 25 different varieties of wild orchids have been found.
Sagres - Nearby Locations
The nearest town is Vila do Bispo that acts as the administrative centre for the area and also houses a few good fish restaurants. In the 8th Century about one kilometre to the southwest of this town was the seat of a religious Order known as the Igreja de Corvo. Founded by Christians from Valencia seeking refuge from the persecution of the Spanish ruler Abderramão I, all visual traces have been removed in the course of time. However, in the immediate vicinity are over 250 “megaliths” and other signs of ancient civilization dating back thousands of years.
The area was recorded by the Moors as being very rich and providing hospitality to all travellers regardless of their faith. From Sagres the traveller can either go north or back to the east. Along the south coast just to the east is the superb open beach of Martinhal that is popular with windsurfers. Further east are the small and unspoilt beaches of Ingrina and Zavial, whilst further on is the more developed beach of Salema. Just to the east of Vila do Bispo near the small village of Raposeira is the modest 13th Century Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe, reputed to have been used often by Dom Afonso Henrique in his religious devotion.
The beaches immediately to the north of the Cape are more exposed to the winds and rollers of the Atlantic with quite dangerous offshore currents. Further to the north of Vila da Bispo is the open sandy beach of Bordeira. About two-thirds of the journey north to this beach is a turning left to the small village of Pedralva. The village was virtually uninhabited and shows to the traveller a picture of what the Algarve looked like prior to the invasion of tourism and how life was once very demanding. At present there is a plan to reconstruct the many ruins and turn into a type of tourist cultural attraction.
Sagres is the most southwesterly resort in the Algarve and is becoming popular with British and German tourists. It is still relatively untouched by tourism offering lazy days and quiet nights. It is an attractive town of mainly low rise houses, lining the quiet streets the villa rentals are select with few apartments or hotels.
In Roman times was part of an area called the Promontorium Sacrum (from where the name, Sagres, derives). At this time it was believed to be the most westerly part of the world and it was thought that the setting sun off the point made the waters of the ocean boil. It is still relatively untouched by tourism and is an attractive town of mainly low rise houses, lining the quiet streets.
Because of its location people often expect a wind-swept barren landscape, but Sagres is a truly tranquil town with beautiful beaches, a picturesque harbour at Baleeira, a very pretty square, Praça da República, and stunning views. It is very popular in summer with visitors, but all year round with fishermen and surfers because of the western Atlantic waters creating such good waves for surfing.
Sagres is particularly popular with visitors coming to see the place where Prince Henry the Navigator, son of King João I, built his famous school of navigation. The school has earned Sagres a significant place in history because it was where Henry bought together great mariners, astronomers, ship-builders and cartographers to build and navigate great ships in the period of the Age of Discoveries.
Sagres is also home to Henry’s fortress, Fortaleza de Sagres, which was originally built in the 15th century and rebuilt in 1793 after it was destroyed by Sir Francis Drake in 1587. Inside the fortress is a former monastery founded in the 16th century and a 14th century chapel, built on what is traditionally said to be the site of São Vincente's grave. An impressive, yet puzzling sight, is also the 39m-diameter wind compass (“Wind Rose”)!
Further along from the fort, is the headland, Cabo de São Vincente (“Cape St. Vincent”). The point was named after the body of St. Vincent was taken there to protect it from the invading Moors and became a place of pilgrimage for centuries. In 1173, the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, had the remains of St.Vincent transported to Lisbon. There is also a lovely lighthouse (claimed to be one of Europe’s most powerful lighthouses) and the views from the point are simply breathtaking.
Sagres has no shortage of accommodation to stay in, with apartments, hotels, guesthouses and boasts one of only three Pousadas, Pousada de Sagres - Infante, in the Algarve. Pousadas were originally government-supported hotels designed to preserve Portuguese culture and history and they offer a truly luxurious and calming stay.
Sagres - perfect for walking, cycling, surfing, diving or generally getting a taste of the Algarve that is still relatively untouched by tourism. It is certainly very popular with the campervan / mobile home owners as there are always lots of them parked overlooking Mareta beach, with their occupants relaxing in deck chairs outside in the sunshine, at whatever time of the year we visit and what a view it is!
It may be the most south-westerly point in Europe, but it cetainly isn't bleak or boring! The beaches are lovely and if there is a wind blowing, then there will always be a beach that is sheltered from the prevailing wind if you want to sunbathe - or of course, there should also always be a beach that is good for surfing! Sagres is only around a twenty minute drive from Lagos, the largest town at this end of the Algarve, for shopping or a more lively nightlife, or there are lots of beautiful, near deserted beaches on the western atlantic coast just waiting to be explored. See map of Sagres region
Trying to sum up Sagres is difficult! There are lots of places to wine and dine or simply have a snack - bistro style, pizzeria, typical Portuguese. There are restaurants with fabulous views, there are restaurants with sunshades and tables on enclosed patios along the main street where you can watch the world go by.
There are glorious sandy beaches protected by high cliffs. Sometimes the wind blows, but the scenery is still spectacular! It has history. It is quiet, but also very popular with surfers who, no doubt, enjoy a get together in the evenings to discuss the best waves. You can sit at a cafe in the square and read the paper, or you can watch the local menfolk play boules
Sagres - Algarve - Portugal
Information courtesy of general internet research and algarveuncovered.com, portugal-info.net, tripadvisor.com, algarve-guides.com and many more sources
Villa Rentals in Sagres and holiday rentals in the Algarve Portugal in general are big business so you should expect to be treated with professionalism and with courtesy.