Sagres is the most south-western point in the Algarve and for centuries even believed to be the most western part of the world. This tranquil town that offers stunning views is relatively untouched by tourism. It is surrounded by beautiful beaches that are especially popular among surfers and tourists with campervans. Not a fan of camping? Then stay in the five star Martinhal Sagres Beach Hotel, one of the best in the Algarve. The main attraction is the fortress and the school of navigation that was built by Henry the Navigator in the Age of Discoveries. Find out all the secret tips on Sagres.
Sagres – Highlights
Top attractions in Sagres:
• Cape of St. Vincent
• Unspoiled west coast
Sagres is a small town in the southwest of the Algarve. The town of Sagres is part of the municipality of Vila do Bispo and is the biggest city of this municipality. Other cities in the municipality of Vila do Bispo are Budens, Raposeira, Vila do Bispo and Barão de São Miguel. The whole municipality has around 5600 inhabitants, of which around 2000 people live in Sagres. Sagres is marked by impressive high cliffs, looking over the Atlantic Ocean.
During the Age of Discoveries, Sagres was often the starting point for boat journeys to explore the world. Henry the Navigator founded Sagres in 1443, which he called Vila do Infante, Prince’s Village. With its foundation, Henry wanted to provide help and supply of fresh food and water for sailing vessels dropping anchor near the cape while waiting for favourable wind. But the lack of natural resources and fertile land water were a hindrance for its development during many centuries. The local economy nowadays is dependent on agriculture, fishing and tourism.
Sagres is quite remote from the touristic hotspots of the Algarve. Sagres is not visited by many tourists and the town has thus kept is charm. In summer, the city is more crowded than in the winter. Outside she summer season, Sagres feels very quiet and in a way deserted. But this also adds to the charm of the town. There are less bars and restaurants than in other cities of the Algarve, but Sagres has all the facilities to make your stay memorable.
What to see
The fishing port
This small fishing village has the most interesting fishing harbor of the Algarve. The view over the bay, the rocky coast, the beach of Martinhal and the harbor, is impressive. Every afternoon, the fish catch is unloaded by local fishing boats and carried to the building of the auction to be sold.
The fortress was built in the time of Henry the Navigator, both to defend his village and to protect the coast against raiding Moorish pirates. Tradition says that Henry founded a navigation school in Sagres, where the seafaring enterprise was organized. Today, historians are not sure whether the navigation school really did exist. But this legend of the navigation school seems to be a kind of romantic fantasy related to the fortress. There is no contemporary evidence of its existence. The fortress was built only in 1453, while the Portuguese expansion started in 1415. But we can doubtless associate Sagres with the Portuguese overseas discoveries, as it was also developed by Henry the Navigator and because Henry, in the last years of his life, visited Sagres regularly, especially to rest. The chapel in the fortress is from Henry’s time.
In 1587 the fortress was completely destroyed by an English raid, when Sir Francis Drake, commanding 800 men, attacked the region and destroyed the three fortresses of the region, including Sagres. Before the complete destruction, Drake ordered a drawing of the fortress. In the 17th century, the fortress was completely rebuilt. To visit the fortress, park your car outside (although it is possible to drive into the fortress) and enter the gate. Inside, on the left side you see a circular pattern, divided into 48 segments. The average size of these segments is 7.5 degrees, which represents 30 minutes. It is believed that this circle is a kind of wind compass and that it was related with the navigations and can date back from Henry’s time. But until now, there is no scientific theory about it. This circle was discovered under the earth in the 18th century and was excavated in 1919.
The buildings inside the fortress were recently rebuilt to be used as a museum, a restaurant and a tourist office. On the right side of the fortress you find the old chapel and one padrão, a column with the coat of arms of Portugal, which is similar to those which were left in the discovered countries. Behind the chapel you can enjoy a marvelous view over the coast. You can also walk up the fortress wall to see an old sundial (on the upper part of the wall above the entrance).
The cape of St. Vincent
The cape of St. Vincent (in Portuguese: Cabo de São Vincente) is the most south-western tip of continental Europe. It lies about 6 kilometres from Sagres. The cliffs rise about 75 metres vertically above the Atlantic Ocean. The sea can be ferocious here and the winds very strong. It was the last piece of land that explorers would see before they would set sail for the unknown. Nowadays, this cape still serves as a landmark for many ships travelling to or from the Mediterranean Sea. The lighthouse is since 1846 one of the most powerful lighthouses of Europe. Its 2000 watts beam can reach 60 km.
This cape was known to the Romans as the end of the world. It was mentioned several times by Roman authors as dedicated to Saturn, a Roman god. The Romans called this cape Promontorium Sacrum, what has given origin to the name Sagres. Another religious link with this cape is that Saint Vincent was buried here. Vincent of Saragossa (4th century) was martyred by the Romans in Spain. According to some accounts, his remains were honoured in Spain until the Arabian conquest in the 8th century. Some Christians then, brought his bones to the cape which, has since then been called the Cape of Saint Vincent. There, the bones of the Saint were housed in a small church known as Crow Church, because it was believed that crows watched over it for centuries. When this shrine was destroyed by the Moors in the 12th century, two monks who lived there, left for Lisbon with the relics of the Saint, which are now in the cathedral of Lisbon. The shrine was rebuilt after the Christian reconquest in the 13th century.
The cape became an important reference point for sailors and Columbus referred to it in several writings. A Franciscan monastery was built in the 15th century, which was almost completely destroyed by Drake’s raid in 1587. It was rebuilt in 1606. The monastery was given to the Navy after the religious orders had been abolished in 1834.
Sagres attracts a number of tourists for several sports, most notably surfing and diving. Surfing around Sagres has seen a big increase in popularity in recent years. There is also a surfing school in the town. It is said that Amado beach, located around 20 kilometres above Sagres, is the best beach for surfing. Next to surfing, people also visit Sagres for fishing, biking or hiking in remote nature areas.
Sagres is surrounded by several beaches. The beaches are less touristic than many other beaches in the Algarve. Some of the beaches near Sagres are Praia da Baleeira, Praia do Martinhal and Praia do Beliche. Around 20 kilometres north of Sagres is Amado beach, which is famous for surfing.
The fortress of Beliche
Not far from the cape of St. Vincent, there is a fortress called Forte do Beliche. It was built before 1578, as it was destroyed by Drake’s attack in that year. This fortress, which was important to defend the coast against the pirates, was rebuilt in 1632. This is attested by an inscription above the gate.
From Sagres you could explore the west coast of the Algarve, also known as Costa Vicentina. It stretches for about 100 kilometres along the west coast of Portugal, up to the city of Sines. This part of the Algarve has beautiful nature and does not have much tourism. It has some of the most remote beaches in Portugal.
Vila do Bispo (6 km from Sagres)
The name of this village means Bishop’s village, because in the 16th century it belonged to the bishop of Silves. The parish church is decorated with glazed tiles and gilt carved wood. It is worth a visit.
Henry the Navigator also owned a house in this old village. The parish church has a beautiful portal in the manueline style. About 2 km outside Raposeira (direction to Lagos) you can find the small gothic chapel of Guadalupe from the 13th century.
Make sure you have a car to go to Sagres. There is no train station in the town. There is a bus line that goes to Lagos, but otherwise there is no public transport. The best way to visit Sagres is by car.
We recommend you walk from the fortress to the small lighthouse at the end of the cape (about 1 km from the fortress). The walk gives spectacular views.
Sagres can be quite windy and it can feel much colder than in other parts of the Algarve. This is because of the strong winds of the Atlantic Ocean. Make sure you bring some warm clothes with you when visiting Sagres. And of course: don’t stand too close to the cliffs, especially on windy days or when the waves are high.
Every day there is a kind of market near the lighthouse. We recommend you the delicious figs with almonds as well as the regional sweets. You can buy these in a caravan on the left before the lighthouse.