The road to the end of the world…
We’ve all heard tales of how maritime folk used to believe the earth was flat, venturing off into the unknown with nothing more than an old sailboat and a strong desire to conquer lands unknown. But have you ever been somewhere that was once thought to be the end of the world? Stood on a cliff edge with nothing more than ocean between you and the horizon?
Europe’s south-western most point was once thought to be such a place, with its rugged cliffs and unforgiving waves provoking the shoreline. Desolate in a way, Sagres is also one of the most nature-rich and beautiful destinations in the Algarve.
If you’ve read our guide to Faro already and made note of its architectural delights, get ready to slow down, inhale the sea air and brace the Atlantic, as we bring you part two of our Algarve Series – Sagres!
Days 2 – 4
The drive from Faro to Sagres will take you around 2 hours. It’s an easy route and a good one to get used to European driving if you’re new to life on the right! Take the motorway west all the way to Lagos (don’t forget to top up your car’s transponder before you set off to avoid being caught out by tolls – head to Confused.com for more tips!). Hop off here onto the A22 which will pretty much take you all the way to Sagres. If you’re keen to hit the more touristy spots, give yourself enough time to stop off along the way – Vilamoura, Albufeira and Praia da Luz all line the coast between Faro and Sagres.
We chose Sagres as a base for the majority of our Algarve trip – it’s well placed to explore the untouched west coast (keep an eye out for our next post!) and has enough going on to keep you entertained for a good few days. Most importantly, it’s not your typical touristy beach town – restaurants are geared towards locals and the majority of visitors are surfers and hikers, so the town has a slow, chilled out vibe.
With so much to tell you we’ve split up the rest of the 3-day guide to include our highlights of what to see in Sagres – the sleepy surfer town at the end of the world.
Search and scroll #Algarve photos on Instagram and you’ll soon see why it’s up there in the rankings. Sagres has a few of its own beaches, some within walking distance of the centre and each with totally different vibes.
- Praia Da Mareta
Closest to the centre of town, Mareta beach is a good choice if you’re wanting to spend the whole day on the sand. There’s a beach cafe and a large car park nearby. Find a spot sheltered near the rocks to avoid the brisk winds (it is the Atlantic after all) and set up camp. The beach is big enough to accommodate any crowds but nicely sized to enjoy a stroll up and down. Hundreds of fish feed in the shallows but if you fancy a snorkel, just remember it’s not the Mediterranean!
- Praia Do Martinhal
Situated next to one of Europe’s finest family beach resorts, Martinhal beach is ideal for those travelling with kids in tow. It’s a huge stretch with a large cafe bar and plenty of water sports on offer. It’s characteristic of beaches you’d find in other tourist destinations but good for windsurfing wanderlusters!
- Praia Do Tonel
Tonel beach is a popular surfer spot as the waves can get pretty impressive. Conveniently, there’s also a surf school if you want to get some lessons in. It’s a 20 minute walk from the main strip or a 5 minute drive, with plenty of parking nearby.
It’s no secret that Sagres is beautiful, but it’s also steeped in history, with sights that are probably not on the average tourist’s radar (beer fans exempt, perhaps?).
- Cape Saint Vincent
Officially the most south-western point of mainland Europe, it’s easy to see why folk once thought this was the edge of the world (until Prince Henry the Navigator showed up, at least).
The wind is harsh and the cliff edge jagged, with just a lighthouse to mark the end of the road. If there’s one area of Sagres that’s overcrowded it’s this spot just before sunset – get parked up early!
The lighthouse here can in fact be seen from 60 miles away, guarding one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and making it the second most powerful lighthouse in working existence.
Find a spot on the rocks, crack open a Sagres beer and watch as the sun sets, bringing with it a new day. Don’t forget to make a wish!
- Fortaleza Do Beliche
Leave Sagres centre in enough time to stop at Fortaleza do Beliche before you arrive at Cape Saint Vincent for sunset. The inner grounds are off-limits but you can still access the perimeter and (carefully!) walk down the trail towards the sea, with amazing views on the way. This fortress was built in 1632 and stands tall above the cove of Beliche. It’s eerily peaceful here too, offering shelter from the wind of the Cape.
- Fortress of Sagres
Allegedly the former site of Prince Henry the Navigator’s nautical school, it was from here that the daring explorer plotted his expeditions to uncharted seas. All that remains is a giant ‘wind compass’ etched into the ground and the 16th Century Church of Our Lady Grace, built on the former site of Prince Henry’s Santa Maria church.
There’s not much to see physically of the fortress itself, aside from a few architectural remnants of history gone by. The highlight is walking the track along the cliff edge that takes you around the peninsular, with panoramic views of the Atlantic and nearby Cape Saint Vincent. There’s also a peculiar art installation that acts a bit like a sound tunnel – walk through its maze and find the middle, it’s not what you might expect!
Stare long enough into the blue and you might just see a migrating humpback whale or one of Henry’s mythical monster of the deep…
- Dolphin watching
With so much ocean on its doorstep, Sagres is a popular spot for dolphin and whale watching. Cape Cruiser Sagres is run by marine biologists so each trip they take, they gather vital research to help monitor and conserve the various species that inhabit the nearby waters – if you’re lucky you might even spot Orcas! On an average trip, the common dolphin is the most papped and the best part is, you’ll journey off on a ribbed speedboat for an up-close-and-personal experience with these magical creatures. One for the adrenaline seekers, it’s 1.5hours of wave hopping you won’t forget!
Lace up your hiking boots and grab your walking poles as Sagres is a fantastic place to begin a rambling adventure. Nearby Praia do Telheiro beach is a geosite, marking the start of a beach trail just short of 4miles. Check out Walk Algarve for more details and maps!
Eating out in Sagres isn’t overly expensive thanks to it not yet being overcrowded by tourists. But that’s certainly not to say the town doesn’t deliver top nosh. Here are our favourite spots to wind down after a busy day of surfing or sun seeking.
Sitting on the main ‘high street’, The Hangout is a popular cafe that draws surfers and hikers alike. It offers sandwiches, salads, homemade quiche and delicious cakes – including the nation’s favourite, pastel de nata – the Portuguese take on an egg custard! It’s also worth getting one of their fresh juices or smoothies if you had a few too many the night before.
- Armazem ££
There are some mixed reviews for this place but we couldn’t fault it. It’s decked out with lush greenery, geometric tiles and lighting-of-the-moment, filament bulbs. In that respect it’s not what you’d expect from a traditional Portuguese grill but don’t let that fool you – their meat and fish are fresh and you can watch the chefs grill your chosen dish in front of you, including the ‘catch of the day’! Wine lovers – a litre of house red will set you back just €8. Enjoy.
If you want a seat in the restaurant you’ll need to book ahead – it fills up fast! The food is delicious with a Mexican twist and the vibe is surf-shack-chic. Grab a table outside under the fairy lights or collapse onto the beanbags and chat the night away with stories of your day out on the waves! Or, just chill with one of their lava cakes…
- Vila Velha £££
One for those who enjoy a spot of fine dining on their travels, Vila Velha is a must. Book ahead to avoid being turned away at the door and make sure to check out their extensive seafood menu. It’s decorated much like your grandma’s house but that only adds to its endearing character! The staff are also ridiculously friendly so you’ll be well looked after all evening. Be prepared to pay extra for butter, though…
Where to stay?
Casa Azul Sagres has a number of studio apartments that are perfect for a few days’ stay. Get breakfast in to keep costs down and stock up the fridge with the region’s favourite tipple – Sagres beer! The two convenience stores across the road make it easy to stay topped up and offer everything you might need. Rates are reasonable and parking is free in a nearby car park or on the street out front.
Must see – Cape Saint Vincent at sunset, Fortress of Sagres
Must eat – Amazem for fresh seafood, Vila Velha for exquisite dining
Must remember – the Atlantic brings with it quite a bluster so take extra layers!
Time for another cuppa after that! Thanks for reading, if you’re heading to Sagres anytime soon, share your photos on Instagram or Twitter with #travelavo so we can keep up with your travels too!
Our final post in our Algarve Series will explore the rugged, untouched west coast – don’t miss it!