Wild, rugged and isolated, Praia de Carreagem

Standing on the cliff top above Praia de Carreagem is a dizzying experience. Far below big Atlantic waves sweep relentlessly into the beach and surrounding cliffs, the white foam of the waves standing out starkly against the turquoise water. Even from high above the sound of the ocean is immense, and the spray from the waves creates a magical, misty haze over the beach and down the coast.

The waves should make Praia de Carreagem a surfers paradise, but beneath the crashing water lie hidden rocks making this a treacherous stretch of ocean. When you’re standing on the beach watching the waves roll in the rocks sometimes appear beneath the green water, like phantoms they disappear again as the waves wash over.

Road to Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Road to Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Road to Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Road to Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Perhaps it’s the rocks that deter people, because when we arrived at Praia de Carreagem we had the beach to ourselves. We spotted a lone fisherman a couple of hundred metres down the beach, but other than ourselves and a few gulls we’d discovered the emptiest beach in Portugal.

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

This coast is home to plenty of wonderful beaches, and you could spend weeks exploring them all, but Praia de Carreagem has a wild, rugged charm that is hard to beat. Plus this is definitely the place to head if you want to be surrounded by nature in splendid isolation – even in this less frequented part of the Algarve, finding yourself alone on a beach is pretty unusual.

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

We almost didn’t make it to Praia de Carreagem. The beach lies several kilometres from the nearest main road, and the route passes down narrow lanes, past abandoned houses, before becoming a dirt track. In traditional Portuguese style, there aren’t many sign posts and we almost took a wrong turn on a couple of occasions. It’s entirely possible that somewhere unsuspecting tourists are still driving around the dirt tracks of Portugal trying to find a beach.

When we finally reached the beach there was a small track leading to a set of wooden steps that twist down the cliff face to the rocks and sand below. The views to the beach and along the coast are spectacular, especially in the fresh early morning air.

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Strolling along Praia de Carreagem it becomes clear that you couldn’t get many people on the beach anyway. The strip of ‘habitable’ sand is narrow and the ocean comes high up the beach, all the way to the cliff in places. All along the beach are rocks and stones rubbed smooth by the constant action of the waves, adding to the beachcombing fun.

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Carreagem, Algarve, Portugal

The wild coastal beauty of Praia de Odeceixe

In a country renowned for its beautiful and dramatic scenery, the wild Atlantic Coast along Portugal’s western edge is perhaps the most superlative landscape of all. We would see a lot of this coast over several days filled with beach combing and punctuated by delicious seafood lunches; but the stretch of coast that will linger longest in the memory is around the village of Odeceixe, and its eponymous beach four kilometres west of the village’s whitewashed houses.

Monte West Coast, Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Monte West Coast, Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Monte West Coast, Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Monte West Coast, Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

The scenery of this area isn’t the only thing I’ll remember. We managed to find ourselves staying in a truly wonderful rural retreat of small houses scattered around a peaceful estate dotted with cacti and oak trees. The Monte West Coast is one of the most delightful places I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying. Tucked away down a dirt track a few kilometres from the main road, it exudes a relaxed and easy charm.

Monte West Coast, Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Monte West Coast, Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Monte West Coast, Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Monte West Coast, Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

There is hardly any noise beyond the chirruping of birds; butterflies waft past and the hilltop pool has views down the valley. At night a canopy of stars unfurls across the sky. If we’d stopped here at the start of our trip I doubt we’d have seen anything of the rest of Portugal. The owner, Catarina, is an expert on the best beaches and restaurants to visit along the coast. Thanks to her advice we had some of the tastiest food anywhere in this region. Truly wonderful.

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Driving from the Monte West Coast you find yourself alongside the Rio de Seixe, which marks the boundary between the Portuguese regions of Algarve and Alentejo. Follow the river west and you find yourself overlooking the magnificent Praia de Odeceixe. This broad sweep of golden sand is situated dramatically between two craggy headlands and overlooked by vertiginous cliffs.

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

The large Atlantic waves that crash into the rocks also make this a prime surfing beach, and it has a bit of a reputation as surfer/hippy hangout. When we were there there were mainly families and a scattering of surfers, all very low key but I’m told that in summer things can get pretty crowded.

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Odeceixe, Algarve, Portugal

We’d driven up from Cabo de Sao Vicente making a few stops along the way, and by the time we had unpacked at Monte West Coast and found our way to the beach the sun had started its long descent into the ocean on the horizon. Standing on the cliff tops watching the reds, oranges and pinks of the light play over the water, cliffs and beach was mesmerising. We’d be back in the morning to explore further…

Visiting Fig Valley on the road to Aljezur

If I was a literal sort of person I’d probably have been disappointed by the Vale Figueira which, not unreasonably, I’d assumed we’d be passing through en route to the Praia de Vale Figueira. As we drove down the dusty dirt track towards the coast, it quickly became apparent that there weren’t any fig trees, and the valley was pretty disappointing as well. Honestly, if you can’t trust the brown tourist signs pointing you towards hidden delights what can you trust in life?

Praia de Vale Figueira, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Vale Figueira, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Vale Figueira, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Vale Figueira, Algarve, Portugal

Luckily the Praia de Vale Figueira makes up for the missing figs trees. This out of the way (for the Algarve) beach is what beaches should be all about: a dramatically located, vast expanse of golden sand without a single other human being in sight. In a part of the world where beaches come with strong associations of swathes of tanning flesh, Praia de Vale Figueira is a real blast of fresh air.

Praia de Vale Figueira, Algarve, Portugal

Praia de Vale Figueira, Algarve, Portugal

We were on our way up Portugal’s west coast, bound for a wonderful rural retreat just outside of the village of Odeceixe on the final leg of our Portuguese journey. We’d been given some good tips for the road trip from Sagres, including the best place to have lunch in the small town of Aljezur, and taking a break from the rigours of driving through Portugal’s beautiful countryside at Praia de Vale Figueira.

The beach is supposed to be popular with surfers, never a recommendation in my experience, but the day we were there it was blissfully empty. We strolled for a while with the warm sand beneath our feet taking in the vast, hazy vista as large Atlantic breakers rolled in before deciding that we should definitely check out our lunch recommendation. Next stop Aljezur and grilled fresh squid.

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Views from the castle, Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Views from the castle, Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Views from the castle, Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Views from the castle, Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

If you find yourself thinking, “Aljezur? Doesn’t sound very Portuguese.” You’d be right. Aljezur was founded in the 10th century by North African Moors, who controlled this region for the next three centuries, until the Christian conquest. The dramatically situated castle is the site of fortifications dating back to pre-history, but much of what we see today is built upon the old Moorish castle foundations.

Aljezur is one of many names in this region with North African roots, but it resonates with a special force. Aljezur wasn’t conquered until 1249, the same year that Moorish forces were finally defeated and Portugal, the nation we know today, was unified. The fate of Aljezur echoes that of the Crusader states in the Middle East, holding out against Christian conquest while hoping for aid from ‘abroad’ in North Africa. Eventually it fell to 13th Century geopolitical realities. Aljezur is the Krak des Chevaliers of Moorish Portugal.

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

While the town is many centuries old, today much of it largely dates from the mid-18th Century. The state of the castle gives a hint of the disaster that struck Aljezur in 1755. This region is awash in perfectly preserved castles, so why is this one in ruins? The answer is the gigantic earthquake that struck Lisbon in 1755. This 9.0 magnitude earthquake levelled most of Lisbon and, even this far south, had a terrifying impact on Aljezur, destroying the castle and most of the original town.

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

It is a lovely town, quintessentially Portuguese. Narrow streets weave their way up the steep hill to the castle, which commands stunning views over a green countryside dotted with whitewashed villages. I wish we hadn’t left the exploring of the town until after lunch, the streets are viciously steep and the heat and strength of the mid-afternoon sun was all a bit much. Apparently the castle is only 88 metres up from the town, but under these conditions if felt much, much further.

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

Aljezur, Algarve, Portugal

From dawn to dusk at atmospheric Cabo de Sao Vicente

Arriving at the truly dramatic Cabo de Sao Vicente, Europe’s most south-westerly point, at any time of day is wonderful; watching the sunrise over the massive cliffs and red and white lighthouse is pure theatre, played out on a very large stage. This coastline is full of the most amazing seascapes, but Cabo de Sao Vicente really is special.

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Driving out from Sagres towards the lighthouse in the dark of pre-sunrise, it quickly became apparent that I wouldn’t be alone watching the sun come up on the south-west tip of Europe. This is an iconic place, sunrise an iconic time and I suspect quite a lot of bucket lists had one less thing on them once the sun had risen. The car park at the lighthouse was busy with people wandering around; quite a lot of people seemed to have spent the night there.

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Despite the number of people, you don’t have to wander too far to find yourself alone on top of alarmingly high vertical cliffs with uninterrupted views in all directions. The lighthouse was doing what its name suggests, sending out a beam of light to warn passing ships of danger. It underplays its importance, but in reality this is one of Europe’s most powerful lighthouses, guarding one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

In the opposite direction the lights of Sagres flickered in the half light of morning. The air was still, just a light breeze came off the ocean, the sound of waves competing with sea birds to make the most noise. This is probably as placid as it gets on this coast, I can’t imagine standing here in a storm.

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunrise at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

The ancient Greeks knew Cabo de Sao Vicente as Ophiussa, the Land of Serpents. Following hard on the heels of the Greeks, the Romans called it Promontorium Sacrum, the Sacred Cape. From those early days of human adventure this headland had a mysticism that it has retained throughout the centuries. The power of this place is undeniable, even I felt a sudden urge to indulge in a little sun worship.

Sunset at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunset at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunset at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunset at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Being a nerd for the complete experience, and not wanting to have been in the area and missed it, I decided to go and watch the sunset at Cabo de Sao Vicente as well. It may have only been the sun doing what it had done twelve hours earlier, just in reverse, but in this isolated corner of Portugal sunset is loaded with atmosphere. It was magnificent.

Sunset at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunset at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunset at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Sunset at Cabo de Sao Verde, Algarve, Portugal

Yarn bombing, wool activism in Sagres

Yarn bombing, yarn storming, yarn installations, guerrilla knitting, kniffiti, urban knitting, graffiti knitting or wool activism…whatever you want to call it, the bizarre practice of knitting or crocheting things over trees and various bits of inanimate street ‘furniture’ has a lot to commend it. It is both attractive on the eye and keeps militant knitters and crochet fanatics safely out of harms way…and away from the rest of the population.

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

I’d never come across the concept before, but yarn bombing is a ‘thing’, it even has its own entry in Wikipedia. One of my friends runs a wool/knitting shop so I’m aware of the contemporary popularity of all things knit-one, pearl-one. I’ve heard of speed knitting, knitting pub crawls and knit-ins, but this was something new. Of the many perceptions I had about Portugal’s Algarve region, this was not one of them.

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

The knitted trees of Sagres on the south western tip of Portugal are rather lovely. People gather at the trees – which form two lines either side of a small park – and knit them brightly coloured ‘clothes’ or ‘cosies’. Trees are not the only target of yarn bombing, lamp posts, telephone exchanges, bikes, bridges, park benches and statues have all been given the treatment.

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

The movement is believed to have started in the United States and has spread around the world. Technically it is considered on the same level as other forms of graffiti, in reality it is largely tolerated. Perhaps because it is considered more upmarket than the work of those spray paint anarchists who tag their way around the world.

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

What the trees think of all this madness we’ve yet to discover…although as one yarn bombing activist website states, “To date there is no evidence that any trees have been damaged due to yarn bombing”. Well, they would say that wouldn’t they?

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

Yarn bombing in Sagres, Partugal

At the end of the world in Sagres (the town, not the beer)

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.

Coastline near Sagres, Portugal

Coastline near Sagres, Portugal

Coastline near Sagres, Portugal

Coastline near Sagres, Portugal

Coastline near Sagres, Portugal

Coastline near Sagres, Portugal

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.

Coastline near Sagres, Portugal

Coastline near Sagres, Portugal

Coastline near Sagres, Portugal

Coastline near Sagres, Portugal

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.

The Bay of Sagres, Portugal

The Bay of Sagres, Portugal

The Bay of Sagres, Portugal

The Bay of Sagres, Portugal

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 Bay of Sagres, Portugal

The Bay of Sagres, Portugal

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.

The Bay of Sagres, Portugal

The Bay of Sagres, Portugal

The Bay of Sagres, Portugal

The Bay of Sagres, Portugal

The Bay of Sagres, Portugal

The Bay of Sagres, Portugal

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.