Looking around Lagos

October 16, 2017 - Lagos, Portugal

I was not feeling very well and decided to stay in the hotel and rest. In fact my head cold was so bad and my nose so sore that I stayed in our room and Margaret went down and picked some breakfast for me and then went back for hers. I appreciated the effort and enjoyed some bread and pastries and a boiled egg. I didn’t even think about toasting the bread in the kitchen of our suite until after I had finished eating.

It was a 9am pick-up for Margaret and after she left I did a little journal work and read for a while.

Margaret

Our first stop - incredibly only 2km from the centre of Lagos - was at Ponte da Piedade which is a stunning stretch of coastline which we saw from the top of the steep cliffs. Even from there you could see that the beaches would be beautiful. Especially on a sunny day, which this wasn’t.

Unsurprisingly, there is a lighthouse (farol) on one of the cliffs as the coastline would obviously be quite treacherous, especially in a high sea. The sandstone cliffs are an amazing golden-red, and just out into the sea in such a way as to make craggy rocks like the Twelve Apostles in Victoria, caves, arches, grottoes, blowholes and tiny little beaches.

We had time to walk down a long, steep stairway at the bottom of which was a platform with a good view of a little blowhole and several caves. It must be spectacular to take a boat trip around that coastline.

If I ever go back to Portugal, which I probably won’t, I’ll stay most of my time near here – I’m sure there are some great hotels, and walks and boat trips would make for a great holiday.

Back in the bus for a 45-minute drive to Sagres, another clifftop town where we stopped out on the end of a promontory at the Fortaleza de Sagres. It is the site of an old fort most of which was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake; not by the quake itself but by the tsunami which washed up over the 60-metre high cliffs. Some tsunami!

The first fortress, which was more like a heavily fortified wall dividing the headland from the town (the cliffs did the rest of the protecting), was built on the instruction of Prince Henry the Navigator. He and his brothers and their father King John 1 were keen to stop North African pirates from raiding the Portuguese coast, and even keener to raid North Africa for themselves, looking for slaves and gold. (We all had a bit of a chuckle when our guide referred to ‘the pirate Francis Drake’ who harassed Spanish galleons returning with gold from the Caribbean a century or so later. He ‘plundered’ the nearby area of Cape St Vincent in 1587. All depends on your perspective!)

Prince Henry apparently spent a lot of his time pottering around the Fortaleza de Sagres – as you would, it being in a spectacular spot – plotting this and that, and planning voyages of discovery. Although he lived in Cabo de Sao Vincente which is visible from Sagres, he built a church at Sagres in 1459 and also built the famous Navigation School. The church has been restored a number of times, and is still there; it is small, very simple and quite beautiful. The School drew many scholars, especially cartographers, and adventurers, but nobody knows now exactly where it was.

The site was restored in the 20th Century and there a some more buildings being constructed now. They are of fairly blocky and uninspiring design, and were the target of quite a tirade of abuse from Alex.

On the ground is the outline of a compass rose, a monument displaying the cardinal directions of N, S, E and W, and points in between (depending how many points it has). The one at Sagres is probably part of the 20th Century restoration.

The site is a huge, bleak plateau, encompassing the whole headland, and looking to me as if it might cover 10 acres or so. Alex allowed us 20 minutes to explore, which was extremely frustrating as there were spectacular views from the edge of the cliffs. I walked around for a bit before having to cut back through an area where hundreds of stone cairns have been constructed.

Our next whistle-stop was at Cabo de Sao Vincente, said to be the south-westernmost point of Europe. (As it isn’t west of Cabo da Roca, I don’t really know what this means.)

The Cape is named after St Vincent whose body was brought ashore here in the 4th Century. I haven’t looked up the story of St Vincent yet, so I don’t know what he was doing dead in the water in the first place.

More cliff top walks and a lighthouse there wasn’t time to explore, and glimpses of sheer drops into the Atlantic. Alex told us, in tones of disapproval, that many fisherman scramble onto or down the cliffs with rods in order to drag fish up hundreds of feet. We saw a few doing just that. Alex’s main concern, and we could understand why when we saw them, was the danger not only to them but also to the children who went with them.

The parking area at the end of the road is lined with stalls selling the usual tourist stuff. I don’t know why people – and there were many – were spending their time there rather than exploring the cliffs and walkways. The lighthouse, built in 1846 on the ruins of a 16th Century Franciscan monastery, is one of the most powerful in Europe, guarding one of its busiest shipping lanes.

Today’s was only a half-day tour, to allow us ‘free time’ for ‘a dip in the warm sea’ according to our itinerary. Perhaps because the weather made this prospect less than inviting, Alex added a voluntary tour of the old part of Lagos, which most of us joined. We started at a lovely old square on the edge of the Bensafrim River. The Algarve was Moorish from 8th Century until taken by the Christians in 1249 after which it was incorporated into Portugal.

By the middle of 15th Century trade with North Africa was flourishing, and the first slave market in Europe was established in Lagos in 1444. We saw the site of it. This was the century of Portuguese exploration, and in the square is a very large statue of Henry the Navigator. We walked past the first slave market in colonial Europe, and through narrow cobbled streets filled with restaurants until we came out into another square, this time dominated by the strange 1970s statue of Dom Sebastaio (King Sebastian). Sebastian inherited the throne in 1554, at the age of 3, so various regencies were established until he came of age as king in 1568. He seems to have been a Good Thing until he became obsessed with mounting a crusade against the kingdom of Morocco – he was a devout Christian, the Moroccans were Moors. The campaign was disastrous and, in 1578, he died in battle without an heir. The statue, which is quite weird, depicts him as very childish, almost vacant, dressed in clothes that are too big for him and turning his back on Portugal and his face to North Africa. The statue was designed to make a political statement in the ‘70s so Alex told us as there were many who believed that Portugal was making a mistake at that time trying to hold onto its colonies in Africa instead of turning to Europe. Very interesting.

I walked back along the river and crossed over the little bridge that leads to the Marina on which our hotel is situated.

We have had such great weather throughout our whole trip that it would be churlish to grumble. Nevertheless it was a pity that our stay in this interesting city, with its gorgeous surrounding coast, has been overshadowed by very dismal weather.

Back to Max

Margaret returned about 1.30pm and we both slept and read for the rest of the afternoon before going out early to find some dinner. As in Spain it was unusual to find restaurants open before 7.30pm if not 8pm. Because this is a marina and caters for people from many other places but especially English tourists we found most of the places around the marina were open.

We chose to eat at the Quay Bar where we had a beer and a Mojito (pronounced moh-key-toe in Portuguese). The menu was very British and I had a Sirloin Steak with mushrooms and chips while Margaret ate Slow Roasted Pork Belly with mashed potato. Margaret enjoyed a red wine with her meal and I savoured my beer while I ate and then finished with a coffee. All up about €55.

I was still not feeling too flash but the appetite remained intact.

We returned to our room and packed our bags ready for an 8.30am start tomorrow. As breakfast only starts at 8am we needed to be ready to go beforehand.


Pictures

Ponta de Piedade
Ponta de Piedade
An old church near Sagres
Fortaleza de Sagres
 
 

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