Sagres, Portugal—Awesome, breathtaking, beautiful. Some of the more common words that come to mind upon reaching such an uncommon site. Once home to Prince Henry, the Navigator, Sagres is set on continental Europe’s most southwestern point. With Sagres Point jettisoning out through the Atlantic as if reaching toward some far-out object of desire, Sagres was, for some time, considered the end of the world.
My first visit, fifteen years ago, was a completely serendipitous event. While spending the weekend in Lagos, my friend César and I rented scooters to ride around and keep ourselves in trouble. It was recommend that we make that 20-30 minute ride east to Sagres. Sure!
So, we headed east. On the way, the road was a bit barren. Even though I’m only referring to the mid-90s, it’s amazing how untouched most of Portugal was then, and relatively speaking, still is. I was a little worried about running out of gas or of one of the scooters breaking down out there in unfamiliar territory. We only passed one or two tiny—real tiny—aldeas (villages) on the way. Most of the route was set inland, so the coast line was not very visible until we were within a couple of miles of Sagres.
It was at that point that it became very clear that we were literally reaching the end of the road. Like grains of salt on a kitchen counter, we were mere specks on a giant tableau of earth. And from such a height, the ocean seemed even larger and appeared to go on further than you could ever reach in a life time, if you could walk on water.
Since then—and since the Euro—there’s been a dramatic and noticeable build-up all over Portugal, especially around Lisbon and the Algarve. Much of the construction can be attributed to EU funding and the increase in and tourism that started coming in from all over Europe, particularly from England and Germany, as a benefit from joining the European Union. In the Algarve, most of the build up is concentrated near the larger cities such as Faro, Albufeira and to some extent Lagos. However, the overwhelming majority of Portugal’s coastline is still free from the sprawl. The town of Sagres has grown some, probable tripled from the time I first visited, but it’s still pretty small. The vendors selling junk are selling it from vans—they’ve not moved in yet. Most of the tourists come in on giant buses, and are gone within an half hour. And so, though you can no longer just walk into the fortress that sits atop Sagres Point (now there’s a guard and a fee)—or ride your scooter through the unmanned entrance and skim the edges of the cliffs on a $20/day two-wheeler as we did, you can explore all the equally stunning surrounding area totally unsupervised, disturbed or noticed—free.
From Sagres Point, looking east, and DOWN, you can the Martinhal Islets and the Martinhal Beach. Though there is a resort on the beach, it is totally open to the public and if you there anytime outside June, July and August, the beach is essentially all yours. The water is super clean and clear—it’s the Atlantic, not the Mediterranean. But, its also a little cold. There’s a great little restaurant right on the sand. Stop in, grab a cold drink and a hot lunch. Then, lay out and get a little sun. It’s a perfect little ride.