Sagres: heaven on a stick
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
Show trip route
What I found here is a real world version of the Turkish Hedon I fooled a few people with in the April 1st entry, definitely an inspirational highlight of my odyssey and so good I'm a little hesitant to promote it and possibly add to tourism pressures in the area. Still, Sagres is not easy to get to which helps limit the flow of ravaging package tourists to more mainstream destinations down the south coast. I'm very glad I had Alexandra, friend and local, to show me the way in this beautiful corner of Portugal.
First stop was Lagos, just in time to reach a beach bar set in a wonderful location on Meia Praia (Meia Beach). Lagos itself is a laid-back little town at one end of the expansive beach that rings a glorious Atlantic Ocean bay, itself progressively built up the further you head east. I haven't seen beaches like this since leaving Australia and I think it outstrips a lot of ours to boot! Magnificent!
By 'just in time' I mean to catch the Portugal v England World Cup quarter final with a bunch of her Portuguese mates and a bar full of rabid football fans - split 50/50 in the support of both teams. What an atmosphere! As the minutes ticked by with no score fans on both sides alternated between chewing nails and rowdy attempts to out-cheer the other side. It was all flag waving, beer swilling and gasps of disbelief at the near misses, errant substitutions, penalties and cards given in this do-or-die affair. The match went to overtime, then the penalty shoot-out and from there the rest is history.
Crestfallen English put on a brave face as the locals cheered their victory. Still, most took it with good grace and were glad to be in Lagos when it happened - away from the lager lout crowds elsewhere. As one Englishman put it, 'other towns like Albufeira down the coast will probably be ablaze by now, but here in Lagos it is so chilled that we'll have a great night out with the locals here tonight, even though we lost'. Nice one mate, a great outlook at the trials and tribulations of the Mondial.
Deciding to opt out of more beer with the congregated football fans we headed through streets full of fluttering flags and doppler-shifting horns of cars speeding by (very reminiscent of similar celebrations in Montenegro and on Sicily), to Alexandra's parent's place near Portimao. They have a beautiful traditional villa close to the beach which is unfortuntely being crowded out by weekender apartment blocks on a far more developed strip of the coast. Would have been heaven twenty years ago but now the Irish bars, fast food joints and dodgy discos have moved in which make it difficult for them to enjoy their home.
That wasn't going to stop them with the feast prepared that night however, easily the best meal I've had this year and featuring kilos of seafood, meats, salads and sweets over numerous courses of sumptuous dining. What a treat and sure beats a roadside hotdog I would have had otherwise. Profuse thanks for your hospitality Mr and Mrs C!
A special blend of light green tea brewed by Mr C had put me out like a like that night, so despite the pulsating noise of party-town around I awoke refreshed for Sunday driving adventures to Sagres itself. Sagres lies about 80km west of Lagos, so halfway there we stopped at Guadalupe to check out a restored church that features some unique architectural designs common to the area.
Unfortunately it was locked (strange for Sunday) so we couldn't go in, but the externals feature numerous tiny windows and doors to supplement the main light sources, plus a skewed, off-centreline entrance and curiously exposed corner brickwork that adds an unfinished feel but quite appealing border to the structure. Liked it a lot even though I'd be well out of place inside.
We reached Sagres itself a little later and was immediately confronted by another couple of traditions. First was the house next to the cafe - blindingly white-washed, sporting sexily curved walls and also spouting strange circular chimneys from its lovely tiled roof. There is quite a bit of generational difference in the residential architecture here, particularly in terms of decoration - pure white versus splashes of wonderful pastel colour detailing, and the shapes of the chimneys and vents as examples - but the vast majority is unparalleled elsewhere and very pleasing indeed.
The marzipan (I think) cakes are works of art in themselves. As they have a similar price tag we didn't have any but they are similarly appealing anyway.
On toward the Sao Vincente lighthouse at the south west cape, we stopped at Beliche Beach to see the cliffs and wind-swept terrain that Sagres is famous for. Sparkling water, a wide sandy beach all surrounded by 60 metre high rock walls and abundant, scrabbly gorse. Lip-smacking scenery.
The majority of flora here is unique to the region adding interest to the walk along the cliff top. We had come on a perfect day with only light breezes and plenty of sun shining through broken cloud, so it was hard to see why all the plant life was so low-lying, but the usual gale force winds you find here explain it. Lucky me I suppose - it was damn nice wandering about on the best day Alexandra had ever experienced there apparently.
As we reached the lighthouse and cape, the extreme westerly point of continental Europe, evidence of tourism picked up - Germans swilling beer and munching sausage at an out-of-place (but opportunely-located bratwurst stand) whilst the crowds gawked at the large 'caravelle' cruising by. This boat is a replica of the ships used by the Portuguese explorers in the 15th century to open new trading routes in the Indies and Americas, so seeing one was a nice touch for this particular tourist. Unfortunately the lighthouse was closed on the day you would expect most visitors, so we didn't get to see the glass inside.
Speaking of explorers and navigators - somewhere further along the coast is the fort and naval college that Infante de Henrique set up, I believe in the 1460s, to train all these new world adventurers. Not much was actually going on there (would have expected a museum or the like) but the chapel - where the sailors said their pre-voyage prayers - and the giant compass were interesting to see.
There's great walking along the cliffs here too - more expansive views and bizarre shrubbery to check out plus the opportunity to see the cliff fishermen in action. They literally throw the line in down the 60 metre cliff and wait for a bite, so they must have a very sensitive hand. I wondered for a while whether this was more or less dangerous than the rock fishing common back home and came to the conclusion one is probably as dangerous as the other, but a bigger splat is involved here. We left them to it.
What ended up being the main stop of the day was just around the corner and up the western coast of Portugal at a beach called Cordoama. Accessed by a dirt track it was an absolute highlight - this beach is huge, pristine and absolutely magnificent in every way.
Surfers congregate here, many with the surf-schools that operate out of Sagres, a take to the waves as a half dozen para gliders wheel silently around the towering cliff faces overhead. The water is a little rough but crystal clear and bracing in a way only the Atlantic can serve up. The perfect day witnessed around the cape had made its way here, so we ended up staying the rest of the afternoon, enjoying a solid and tasty lunch washed down with a couple of beers at the only cafe here. Lazy and invigorating all at the same time.
Four hours and a number of swims later we ventured up another rocky dirt track into the lush pine groves of the surrounding hillsides. Alexandra was scoping out mountain-biking trails and these would be great. The view from the top gave us a new angle on the paragliders as the sun prepared to set in the west and it was a beautiful way to spend my last few moments in the Sagres.
We did stop once more, at the western edge of Lagos to check out some of the gull topped pinnacle-like seaborne rock formations, as well as some of the tiny protected beaches huddling within. This only increased my desire to return here one day - what a place! If there's anywhere I could settle in coastal Europe this would be it - and I will be pondering just that eventuality!
Better wrap this up now but have to thank the wonderful Alexandra la Valletta for taking the time to show me around this paradise she calls home. There is no better way to see a place than with someone in the know and I am so very lucky that I had you doing just that in The Algarve. May the sea grasses thrive and multiply wherever you find them and your kayak and bike steer you true. See you next time!
Next entry -> a tipple in Porto, home of Port (a scrumptuously fortified vino)
I didn't know...
That the Portuguese naval school located in the Sagres region was responsible for the training many of the captains that would go on to explore, map and colonise places as far afield as the west African coast, South America, India and the East Indies.
Whatever that resulted in they were pioneers in the true sense of the word and helped set the course of globalisation from that moment onwards.