Our 33-day visit to Europe was drawing to a close. We had one more place to see, the Fortress of Sagres (pronounced Sargresh), on the SW tip of the Algarve, Portugal.

As you will have seen from all the other 29 posts, we had a wonderful trip which included Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands and finally, the Algarve in southern Portugal. We visited with friends and family and were blessed by them all.

We left Cabanas at about 09:00 to travel the 120kms to Sagres. We had planned to go all the way without stopping but took a quick detour when we saw the sign to the motor racing track, Algarve Autodramo ne Portimão. We didn’t get out of the car but drove all around and saw the Grandstand, the whole Communications Building and part of the track itself. It has been used for Formula I races occasionally but, the drivers do not like the elevations, so it is used mainly, for bike racing. Besides the Circuit itself, there is an hotel with a casino and a kart track for the juniors.

Algarve motor racing circuit
Casino at the Algarve Circuit

We returned to the A22 travelling south until the road turned north, so we moved on to the EN25 to continue to Sagres Fortress arriving 30minutes later. It was such a beautiful day that there were a lot of visitors, so Paul had to drop us and then go to find parking.

Entrance to the fortress

The actual history of Sagres Fortress is not certain. The area is known as the St Vincentian District because it is believed that the remains of St Vincent, a 4th century martyr, who was set adrift off Valencia, were buried there. In the mid-12th century, when Almoravid fanaticism took over in the area, the remains were sent to Lisbon for safety.

St Vincent as a boy & as a man

We walked up the long, paved walkway to the entrance of the fortress, bought our tickets and went through into the large courtyard. Within this walled area was a stone inscription commemorating Prince Henry, The Navigator, a Wind rose, the Church of Senhora da Graça (Our Lady of Grace), an exhibition centre and a restaurant with a souvenir shop, among other things, but these were the most prominent. I shall discuss each in turn.

As we left the entrance and ticket office, there was a board giving information on the Promontory on which the fortress is located. Dom Henrique of Portugal, Duke of Viseu or better known as Prince Henry, the Navigator made the Promontory his headquarters for his explorations. He built himself a home and lived out the rest of his life there. Henry was considered the Administrator of the time of the development of the Portuguese Empire. He was responsible for the early development of Portuguese exploration and maritime trade with other continents.

Henry the Navigator

The whole area was a key location for what was known as The Age of Discoveries as it was the furthest point of the known world at that time, viz. the 15th – 17th centuries. The explorers over these years sailed south from Portugal to Madeira, The Azores and down the West Coast of Africa. One of the best known of these times was Christopher Columbus who sailed across the Atlantic a few times. An interesting aside is that he was not the first European on the north American continent. In fact, he only reached the Caribbean Islands. It was Lief Eriksen of Norway who is believed to have landed on the North American continent some 500 years earlier.

In a large area to one side was a Wind rose which was discovered in 1919. This is a tool used by meteorologists to give a clear view of how wind speed and direction are typically distributed at a particular location. Before the development of the compass rose, a wind rose was included on maps in order to let the reader know the directions of the 8 major winds. It is made in a circular shape and, within a particular plan, using different colours spokes are drawn and the longest indicates the strongest wind.

Fortress layout and wind rose

The Church of Senhora da Graça (Our Lady of Grace) was situated at one end of the Promontory and looked rather wind and sand battered but in good condition inside. It is thought to have been built on the site of the earlier Church of Santa Maria, which existed in the 15th century and was linked to Prince Henry.

Chapel entrance and the bell tower with 2 bells

Finally, there was the Exhibition Centre which was excellent and we spent most of the time of our visit there. Instead of writing more about it I thought the photos could speak for themselves. Unfortunately, the writing on the displays was small and the lighting very strong.

Evangelisation & meeting of cultures
Info on slaves & plants
Map of the Slave Trade
Original door
Trade of ivory vs silk with China
Maps of 14th and 15th centuries
Maps of 15th century

When we had finished in the Exhibition Centre we made a short visit to the shop and bought the essential fridge magnet. Paul did a quick walk on the restored walls with false battlements.

Part of the restored wall of the fort

By the time we left, the strong wind, for which the Promontory is well-known, had arrived and walking back to the car proved to be quite a challenge. We had to hold on to each other to prevent being blown over.

From the Fortress we drove to the small town of Burgau for lunch which had been booked at a small restaurant owned by a South African (SA) couple with SA staff. They make a few SA specialities including Bobotie and Malva Pudding. Burgau is a former fishing village but now relies mainly on tourism. It is a very small town with steep streets. Three of us had to get out at the top while Paul drove right down to the beach area to park the car. Walking back there on the cobbled streets was quite an achievement.

When we reached Lagos, we went for a drive around the town and then drove on to Portimão where there is a beautifully restored bridge over the Arade River. An opportunity for tourists is to take a boat trip up the river to the town of Silves for lunch and then return to Portimão.

Bridge over the Arada River

Our final stop was at Carvoeiro where Janet and Paul lived first on their arrival in Portugal. They still own the flat there and rent it out and go there themselves regularly. We drove around the town stopping at a lovely little church high on a hill. It had some beautiful paintings on the front walls and, on the walls opposite were tiles painted with replicas of the former fishing boats which used to set out to sea from the town. This, too, is a very steep town and the streets are narrow so accessing the beach is not easy, but it is a popular place to visit and stay. Each year, in mid-June there is a big music festival to celebrate the start of summer.

Church in Carveiro
Stairs down to the beach
Stork on its nest

From here we drove straight home to have time for Trevor and I to pack and tidy up everything. We were leaving the following day by train from Faro. Janet had generously arranged for us to travel to Lisbon by First class. We spent the night in an hotel near the airport and then flew home having enjoyed an absolutely wonderful month in Europe.

Map of the Algarve. Places we visited are marked