Blank, hulking and forbidding, Sagres’ fortress offers breathtaking views over the sheer cliffs, and all along the coast to Cabo de São Vicente. According to legend, this is where Prince Henry the Navigator established his navigation school and primed the early Portuguese explorers. It’s quite a large site, so allow at least an hour to see everything.
Five kilometres from Sagres, Europe’s southwesternmost point is a barren headland, the last piece of home that Portuguese sailors once saw as they launched into the unknown. It’s a spectacular spot: at sunset you can almost hear the hissing as the sun hits the sea. A red lighthouse houses the small but excellent Museu dos Faróis, showcasing Sagres’ role in Portugal’s maritime history.
In the lighthouse complex at Cabo São Vicente, this small but excellent museum gives a good overview of Portugal’s maritime-navigation history, displays replica folios of a 1561 atlas and gives information on the history of the lighthouse.
Near the turismo stands this statue of Henry the Navigator, map in hand, pointing out to sea as if saying ‘what are you waiting for, guys? It’s all out there!’
Just after you enter the Sagres fortress you can’t miss the huge, circular stone pattern measuring 43m in diameter. Named the rosa dos ventos(literally, a pictorial representation of a compass), this strange configuration is believed to be a mariner’s compass or a sundial of sorts. Rediscovered in 1919, the paving may date from Prince Henry’s time but is more likely from the 16th century.
A kilometre before reaching the lighthouse at Cabo de São Vicente, you’ll pass the Fortaleza do Beliche, built in 1632 on the site of an older fortress. The interior, once a hotel, is off-limits, but you can go through the walls to the seaward side and descend a pretty pathway down to near the water. The sheltering walls here can make for a more appealing picnic spot than the wind-whipped cape.
This small whitewashed church dates from 1570 and sits within the Sagres fortress precinct. It is a simple barrel-vaulted structure with a gilded 17th-century altarpiece. Take a closer look at the tiled altar panels, which feature elephants and antelopes.
Near the southern end of the promontory of Sagres fortress is a lighthouse. Death-defying anglers balance on the cliffs below the walls, hoping to land bream or sea bass.
A tiny fortress above the fishing port.