Take a trip to the southwest tip of Portugal, right at the end of the Algarve, and you'll find the peaceful little seaside town of Sagres, just perfect for a relaxing weekend away
Perched perilously on the edge of the Ponta da Baleeira cliffs, hundreds of metres above the sea, we clung nervously to each other as the howling wind bellowed all around. Both terrifying and exhilarating, we watched local fishermen bravely and skillfully cast lines over the edge, while we barely struggled to stand. We shared the view of the ocean and surrounding cliff-tops with hovering seagulls, who took advantage of the strong winds to swoop from one air-flow to the next. We were standing on one of the famous cliff-tops outside the small township of Sagres, at the far southwesterly tip of Portugal.
A few hours drive from Faro, Sagres is a quiet seaside town that feels a world away from the high-rise resorts of the central Algarve. Attracting surfers, sun seekers, and history buffs, Sagres is a popular haunt but is not overwhelmed by tourist numbers that are seen in other parts of the Algarve such as Faro and Lagos. This wild and windy Portuguese coastal tip has been admired and visited for thousands of years, including the Greek geographer Strabo who decreed it the end of the “inhabited world”. This isolated spot was also witness to Portugal’s Age of Discovery, where adventurers set sail from Sagres for the West Coast of Africa and further afield.
The local community around Sagres is still very much connected to the sea. A busy fishing industry bustles at the Porto da Baleeira, where the harbour is dotted with brightly coloured fishing boats and dinghies. Sharing the port with dive bombing seagulls and curious cats on a search for a free meal, we explored the port, wandering out to the brightly coloured lighthouse. On the docks, local fishermen untangled their nets across the walkway resulting in an unexpected game of jump rope with the strung out lines. Continuing the port endurance course, around large piles of crab pots and lobster cages, we admired the rocky island outcrop in the middle of the bay from the end of a pier. For nature lovers, the port was also found to offer facilities to go dolphin-watching and take a boat trip around the surrounding headlands.
Keen to hit the beach, we set out eagerly on arrival. The closest beach to town, Praia da Mareta, lies between two towering rocky headlands, Ponta de Sagres and Ponta da Baleeira. Quiet and nicely sheltered from the worst of the winds by the surrounding cliffs, we stretched out for a few days relaxation. Local lifeguards doubled as attendants for a small section of deckchairs and umbrellas that helped us shelter from the strongest sun in the middle of the day. Further on down the coast are beaches such as Praia do Tonel, which provide stunning surfing locations for the more adventurous, but is no place for a beach umbrella with its wild, bracing winds and huge waves.
Late afternoons were spent exploring the stunning cliff-tops which provided beautiful views of Praia da Mareta, the fishing port and, most notably, the remains of Fortaleza de Sagres. Sitting at the entrance to the Ponta da Sagres headland, a 15-minute walk from town, its two bastions and a large central gateway lead out to the cliff edges beyond. A defensive and observational structure, built by one of Portugal’s most celebrated historical figures, Henry the Navigator, the fortress looks out over Cabo de Sao Vicente, the most southwesterly point in Europe, and the lighthouse that sits there. Running around the fortress walls, on the edge of a cliff at the tip of Europe, it is easy to absorb the pure isolation of those first mariners who occupied this navigational centre of learning.
Sagres is truly an isolated spot, battered by wind and sea. Despite these wild natural elements, Sagres is quite simply one of the most beautiful settings for a beach holiday in Portugal, providing sanctuary in one of its sheltered bays. Its remote location also allows an escape from the bustle of the rest of the Algarve for a few days.
Eating and drinking
Caffé Espresso at the Mareta Beach, a boutique bed and breakfast (+351 282 620 040; Praca da Republica; www.maretabeachhotel.com). It offers a wonderful selection of Portuguese pastries, including delicious custard tarts, and a good selection of tea and coffee. The outside tables provided a good place for people-watching.
Raposo Beach Restaurant (+351 968 173 268; Praia da Mareta), situated on the side of Praia Mareta itself. It offered a simple but excellent range of fried fish dishes for lunch. Mains range from €5-15 each.
One of the best seafood restaurants in town is A Tasca (+351 282 624 177; Porto da Baleeira), which sits directly in the port itself. It's a popular choice, offering everything from fried sea bream to octopus kebab, and we found it wise to get in early, as its tables fill up fast. It offered excellent value for money and had a view of the harbour that was worth the wait. Mains range from €10-20 each.
Bossa Nova (+351 282 624 219; Rua Cte Matosa), an excellent but basic Italian restaurant offering wonderful pizzas for as little as €7.
Where to stay
Aparthotel Orquidea, with stunning views of the fishing port and harbour. It costs €65 per night for a double. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If money is no object, another great place to stay in the same area is the Memmo Baleeira hotel. It offers spacious contemporary rooms, on-site gym and spa pool, its own restaurant, and a view of the Porta da Baleeira. A double in high season costs €240 per night; in low season there are great deals from €60. (www.memmobaleeira.com)
Transfers from Faro Airport
We organised airport transfers to Sagres through Holiday Taxis (289 898928; www.holidaytaxis.com) for £22 per person. The journey takes up to 2 hours depending on traffic.