The Algarve comes from an Arabic phrase that means “the West” and the most southwesterly point of Europe is here, near the town of Sagres, 327 km south of Lisbon. Set in a windswept landscape with miles of sunny beaches in Sao Vicente National Park, Sagres is perfect for active families who love the outdoors.
Like Portuguese explorers who ruled the seas during the 15th century, it’s hard to resist heading off to Cabo de Sao Vincente (Cape St. Vincent) the minute you reach Sagres. It’s a fantastic place with towering cliffs that loom over the point of land known as “the end of the world”. It earned that name as the place where the maps left off and the unknown oceans began before the Age of Discovery.
The Cape St. Vincent lighthouse was built here in 1846 on the ruins of an old monastery and still shines its light 50 km out to sea. At its base, you’ll find a small art gallery, a cafe and souvenir shop selling local pottery. If you need a sweater (it gets very windy), the vendors at the stalls outside the grounds are happy to oblige. During the summer months, hundreds of people line the cliffs to view the spectacular sunsets. Selfies are obligatory and as you look out over the edge, watch for local fishermen casting their lines off the 70-metre-high cliffs. The crashing waves and cross-currents at this rocky point yield an astonishing number of fish species.
Not far from the lighthouse is the Fortaleza de Sagres, where King Henry the Navigator trained his sailors before sending them off to explore Africa. A massive fortress with commanding views of the oceans, replica cannons and a small chapel, it’s probably most notable for the enormous circular monument that was recently discovered in the courtyard. Historians are puzzling out its meaning – was it a compass, a sundial or a navigational aid? Time will tell.
Surrounded by four wide golden beaches facing the Atlantic, it seems only natural that Sagres has become a surfing mecca. The best place to put in a board is at sheltered Mareta Beach, but swimming, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are popular at all the beaches. Summer temperatures average around 24C and the coldest month is January at a still pleasant 12C. The water temperature in August can reach 21C, but wetsuits are a good idea in the spring and fall.
Sagres is surrounded by a web of walking trails along the beaches, around the monuments, and through the National Park. The 120 km Fishermen’s Trail is a footpath that follows the shoreline to hidden beaches, fishing spots and coastal scenery and the 230 km. Historical Route runs north through small towns and villages, past the cork tree forests and river valleys of the National Park. It’s made up of 12 sections, accessible on foot or by bike.
“We can take you wherever you want to go”, says Rob from Algarve Cycling Holidays “and we have the best bikes”. I can vouch for that. My first ride on an electric bike was a blast as we went off-roading down the hills and valleys around Sagres on the way to Cape St. Vincent. The tiny motor added just enough power to keep me pedalling and smiling all the way along the 20-km round trip. Algarve Cycling buys new Kona bikes for all sizes of riders (including trailers and bike seats) every year and offers cycling lessons for all ages and skill levels. Pros like Rob can teach you all the tricks, including how to ride a BMX racer and the right way to stop. Custom tours are easy to arrange, but their services are only for guests of Martinhal Sagres Family Resort.
Stay & Dine
With a population of less than 2,000, Sagres is a sleepy little fishing village with a laid-back attitude. There are a few hotels and a handful of small cafes, but they pale in comparison with the Martinhal Sagres Family Resort on Martinhal Beach. A true luxury family resort, the Martinhal Sagres offers over 365 activities for families including movie nights and friendly daily football matches between guests. The Kid’s Club has activities from sunup to sundown for all ages and the Sports Academy offers tennis, football and swimming lessons. There’s a gigantic Kid’s Club area with toys, games, activities, PlayStations, an ice cream stand, and four pools on the property plus easy access to the beach. Rooms range from one bedroom to secluded luxury townhouses, all fully accessorized for children. Any necessities can be requested in advance from the family concierge. Oceanside, you’ll find SUP boards, surfboards, paddleboats, kayaks and wetsuits.
A convenience store at the Village Square at Martinhal has everything you’ll need for making meals in the townhouses’ fully equipped kitchens, and there are six options for dining out, from the casual Wolf Grill to upscale dining at O Terraco Restaurant that overlooks the ocean. Children have their own dining area, or they’re welcome to join the family in the dining room. The children’s menu is sophisticated, with omelettes, sea bass filet and spaghetti bolognese, as well as Portuguese dishes to choose from. Parents will enjoy specialities like freshly caught seafood, and wild boar tenderloin, as well as an extensive breakfast buffet with local charcuterie and mimosas, made with freshly picked oranges.
The Martinhal Sagres also has the wonderful Finisterra Spa with options for all ages from Parent and Child massages, facials and manicures, Teens and Tweens treatments to Reflexology, yoga and private fitness classes. It’s the perfect way to relax and refresh after a vigorous day spent enjoying nature.
The writer was a guest of Martinhal Sagres Family Resort while in Sagres. As always, her opinions are her own.