We’d arrived late into Sagres, after a full day of driving, and were surprised by how busy the town seemed on an out of season week day. The first three hotels we tried were all full, the unnaturally hot weather was to blame apparently. Tired, we decided to splash out and stay in the upmarket (and pricey) pousada. We didn’t have much chance to explore before sunset, so we went for dinner and decided to start again in the morning.
Sunrise revealed that we were staying on top of a cliff overlooking a beautiful sandy bay, the town glimmered in the distance and we could see the old ‘star fort’ on the opposite promontory. Given the price, our room was quite disappointing, but the views and a relaxed breakfast in the garden soon put us into a better frame of mind.
We strolled down to the beach and out along the cliffs, our first taste of the truly extraordinary coastal landscape of this region. Towering cliffs, turquoise waters, vast panoramas and little else but the sound of sea birds and the crashing waves of the mighty Atlantic Ocean for company.
This must be one of the most dramatic and atmospheric coastlines anywhere in Europe, as you might expect of the most southerly community in Portugal and the most south-westerly in Europe. The town sits above the spectacular 10km-long horseshoe of the Bay of Sagres; the flat plateau of Sagres Point stretches into the distance with the huge fort sitting on top above the waves.
The fort reminded me of similar Portuguese forts I’d seen in Mozambique and Cabo Verde. The pointed star shape being favoured by Portugal as its fort of choice.
Sagres has a strong connection to one of Portugal’s great moments in history. It was here during the 15th Century that Prince Henry the Navigator established a School of Navigation that would be instrumental in kick starting the Portuguese Age of Discoveries. The ‘school’ would help push back the frontiers of the known world and lead directly to Portugal’s Golden Age.
The School of Navigation attracted the best and brightest of Europe’s academics and explorers, building up a nautical community to study the art of cartography, navigation and ship design that was unrivalled elsewhere in Europe. Knowledge was brought back from voyages down the western coast of African, and this translated into journeys as groundbreaking as those that took humanity to space.
Given the tremendous historical importance of the area, the town lacks any buildings of historical interest, other than the nearby fort.
After the historical assault we’d experienced travelling through the ancient towns of the Alentejo, Sagres’ lack of visible history came as something of a relief. Without any castles on hilltops to investigate we stuck to relaxing instead. The town itself is very easy going; there are some good restaurants and the beautiful landscape and wild coastline make this a place well worth a couple of days exploration.