Lagos & the western Algarve
A journey through the glorious past of Portugal to the end of the world!
Where the journey to the new world began
Lagos, a beautiful city in the west of the Algarve, has a very cheerful and relaxed atmosphere. Holidaymakers of all age groups stroll through the small streets of the old town and appreciate the many restaurants, bars and shops that can be found there. The busy nightlife and the nearby spectacular beaches attract many visitors, despite the relatively larger distance from Faro airport.
The beaches around Lagos have been named the most beautiful in the world more than once.
Lagos is not only a very pleasant town, but also has a rich past that the locals are very proud of.
The city was known around 2000 BC under the name Lacóbriga. Initially it was visited by the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians. In the 15th century the city became the base for discovery expeditions initiated by Prince Henry the Navigator. From here he organized the great voyages which lead to the discovery of big parts of the African continent.
When trade between Portugal and Africa flourished, this region became one of the richest in the world. The city was well known for its trade in ivory, gold, silver and other exotic goods. Lagos was also known for a very cruel form of trade, namely the slave trade. It was here where in the 15th century the first slave market of Europe arose. Lagos was also the capital of the Algarve from 1576 to 1756.
The oldest part of Lagos is still surrounded by ramparts that were built in the 16th century, when the city was still the residence of the governors of the Algarve. The 17th-century fortress Ponta da Bandeira was also part of these fortifications. The fort is accessible via a drawbridge and there is a small museum on site about the discovery era.
On the square Praça Infante Dom Henrique is a statue of Prince Henry the Navigator, who looks out on the sea. Also the church Santa Maria is located on the same square. From the origins of this church, the 15th century, only the façade remains. The remainder was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake.
The church of Saint Sebastian, lying on a hill just behind the fish market, dates from the 14th to the 16th century. Because of its location you have a free and beautiful view over the bay of Lagos from here.
The lavish church of San Antonio was rebuilt in 1769, again just after the devastating earthquake of 1755. Gilded and painted carvings, plump cherubs and mythical animals refer to the baroque.
The church is used as the entrance to the regional museum (Museu Regional) of Lagos. In this small museum there are a number of beautiful priest robes to be seen. You will see a robe that was manually embroidered with gold thread. This garment was worn in a mass, which in 1578 was dedicated to Dom Sebastiao. Dom Sebastiao was about to leave for Morocco, where he shortly afterwards died on the battlefield along with 8000 soldiers.
There are also altars to admire such as a three-dimensional cork altarpiece or a mobile altar with a wooden and gold leaf covered statue of St. Anthony, which was used by the Portuguese army on mission in the 17th century. In the peoples' hall you will also find a miniature work of very different kind, namely a model of an imaginary, but typical coastal village. A resident of Lagos worked at least 5300 hours on this and also the founder of the museum, Mr. José Formonsinho, contributed to this masterpiece.
With a length of over 4 km, Meia Praia is one of the longest sandy beaches in the Algarve and the only long sandy beach around Lagos. In the summer you can practice numerous water sports and all year round you can enjoy the rippling water during a long and relaxing beach walk.
The breathtaking coastal strip of Ponte da Piedade is located about 3km south of Lagos. Among the rugged sandstone cliffs are red and yellowish rock formations, giving access to numerous clogged caves. The cape with a lighthouse above it is a beautiful location to enjoy a romantic sunset.
The beach of Praia de Dona Ana has been chosen several times as the most beautiful beach in Europe and even as one of the most beautiful beaches worldwide! Praia de Dona Ana is also the beach that is depicted on countless postcards. It is a fairly small and very intimate beach on the crystal clear sea, situated in a sheltered bay and surrounded by high red cliffs. From here you can also explore the nearby caves and inlets by tour boats.
Lagos and its surroundings offer beautiful panoramas. From Ponte da Piedade (opposite the lighthouse), you have a fantastic view over the bay of Lagos and up to the coast of Sagres. While in the background you can recognize the Monchique mountains, you can also see Albufeira in the direction of the East.
A journey to the end of the world
The small port city of Sagres is the most south-western city on the European continent, making it an excellent starting point to explore the beautiful beaches and nature of the rugged Algarvian West Coast. The town is also known to the surfers, because of the rugged sea and pristine beaches in this region.
The biggest attraction of the town is the Fortaleza de Sagres. This imposing building is located on the arm of the steep Ponta de Sagres peninsula and is a national monument of great historical importance. In time it helped protect the city from North African raids. Prince Henry the Navigator would also have led the organization of his great and dangerous expeditions in this fort. These expeditions eventually put large and unknown West African areas on the world map and were the beginning of the Portuguese golden age.
The 60m high cliffs offer natural protection for the fort and the city. In the courtyard of the fort you will see a very large compass (Rosa dos Ventos) and the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Graça.
The unique wind rose with a diameter of 43m was used to measure the wind direction.
In the chapel you will find statues of Saint Vincent. The white building is oriented towards Cabo Sao Vincente and is surrounded by ruins of the old fortress. There is still very little left of the fort itself. Like so many buildings, this fort was almost completely razed to the ground during the great earthquake and tsunami of 1755.
The geographical location was an important strategic place during the 15th century, when trade and shipping flourished between the Mediterranean, Africa and Northern Europe. In 1421 the fort would be founded by the prosperous and influential Infante D. Enrique (Henry the Navigator).
The fort is surrounded by history and myths. Here would have been the legendary nautical school (Vila do Infante), where prince Henry the Navigator gathered together astronomers, cartographers, astrologers and geographers to plan expeditions and devise ways to improve seafaring. His private home was located on the Cabo São Vicente where the lighthouse now stands. However, he died in the fort of Sagres in 1460.
During the Spanish occupation in 1587 the fort of Sagres was also the centre of an attack by the British commander Sir Francis Drake.
There is a possibility to take a walk along the edge of the Ponta de Sagres peninsula. Next to the lighthouse there is a large draft hole in the rocks, so you can hear the waves far below you. This draft hole is called the 'breath of the sea'.
A few kilometers outside Sagres is the famous cape Saint Vincent (Cabo São Vicente). According to legend, this cape was named after a 4th-century martyr.
The cape has a mystical appearance and is today also called "the end of the world". Originally Greek chroniclers gave this name to the cape because of the savage sea, the dramatic limestone cliffs, the ever-present wind and the grim landscape.
The Romans worshiped this cape and called it Promontorium Sacrum as the setting sun there seems to be swallowed by the ocean.