Around and About
The mystique and the physical grandeur of Sagres and Cape St Vincent attract great numbers of daytrippers. Those who choose to stay a few days or even weeks, can do so in style at the Pousada Infante, the Hotel Baleeira, the Navigator Hotel Apartments, or at all sorts of lesser accommodation down to cheap, private rooms and a friendly camp site.
Those who arrive to stay a while are usually glad to be at the end of the line, on the outer fringe of Algarve tourism, away from the glitz of the commercial south coast. A great many arrive with packs on their backs and with Australian, New Zealand, North American, or South African accents. The square in front of the CaTh' Conchina is the main meeting place for backpackers by day. It is the point of arrival and departure for buses, the junction between boarding house and beach, a place to linger and meet new friends over coffee or beer. In the evening, the scene shifts slightly to inexpensive restaurants and watering holes with names like Quatros dos Ventos and the Last Chance.
On Ponta de Sagres, a giant finger of rock pointing to the ocean, stand buildings which evoke the past of a place that is part of the history of the world. The fortress is situated here, dating back to the 15th century, and the church of Nossa Senhora da Graça, which tradition says was founded by Prince Henry the Navigator.
Cabo de São Vicente ( Cape St. Vincent ) is an obligatory landmark to any ship travelling to the Mediterranean. Here many major sea battles were fought just in front of its fortress. The Cape takes its name from a Spanish priest martyred at the beginning of the 4th century. According to legend, his remains were brought or washed ashore on Promontorium Sacrum, the Sacred Cape, as it was known in ancient times.Inside the fortress a chapel can be found, built on what is traditionally said to be the site of St. Vincent's grave. The original temple, perhaps on the site of the Forte de Beliche, was watched over by 10 ravens which never left it. During the reign of Afonso Henriques (1139 - 85 ), Vincent's remains were exhumed and taken by ship for reburial in Lisbon to protect them from desecration by the Muslims. Legend has it that the raven kept constant vigil from the rigging of the ship all the way. Because of this, the raven is still part of the insignia of both the city of Lisbon and of Cape St Vincent's local seat of administration, Vila do Bispo.
Cape St Vincent lighthouse was built on the site of a 16th-century Franciscan convent in 1846. It was electrified in 1906, and is situated at the end of the 6 km road from Sagres. The two 1,000-watt lamps magnified by concentric rows of prisms throw a 10 foot tall beam 60 km out to sea making it the second most powerful lighthouse in Europe. It keeps vigil over one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. All shipping from and through the Mediterranean to the west coast of Europe and most of the eastern seaboard of North America passes this way.
Baleeira is a small picturesque fishing port of Sagres, which houses up to one hundred fishing boats, some over 20 metres in length. There are four good beaches in the neighbourhood. Praia do Martinhal is the farthest from the village, but it is the biggest and the most protected if a westerly wind is blowing. It stretches from the Baleeira fishing harbour to an outcrop of low cliffs, the site of a Roman settlement which specialised in the production of amphorae. Praia da Mareta just below the village and facing south-east is tucked in the lee of Sagres Point. Over on the other side and facing west is Tonel, a small beach with steep access. There is a long beach at Beliche, perhaps the best around Sagres.
The beaches up the west coast are fantastic, many of them comprising of acres of nearly deserted sand backed by dunes or cliffs looking out over lines of surf cascading in on the wildly beautiful shore. Among the most breathtaking are the ones on either side of a track which runs along the clifftops adjacent to the old village of Carrapateira, 14km north of Vila do Bispo. Apart from a couple of beach bars, the coastline here is total natural.