To the people of 15th-century Portugal, the western shores of the Algarve represented the end of the civilised world - only uncertainty lay beyond.. The west, being furthest from Faro airport, and lacking the long sandy beaches of the east, still remains the least developed part of the Algarve, and is the part that appeals to many visitors in search of tranquillity, wildlife and the opportunity to experience Portugese culture less dominated by the trappings of mass tourism.
Lagos is an atmospheric town encircled by massive 16th century walls. In the town centre, discover a maze of cobbled streets, where shops, open-air cafes and restaurants abound.
The social hub of Lagos lies at Praca Gil Eanes, with a huge statue of Dom Sebastiao who believed it was his mission to conquer North Africa and convert the Moors to Christianity. He sailed from Lagos in 1578 with an army of 18,000 men but met defeat, and only 100 Portugese survivors returned to tell the tale.
Most of Lagos was devastated by the great earthquake of 1755. However, a notable survivor was the beautiful church "Igreja de San Antonio" which is well worth a visit. Lagos is also known for it's beautiful cove beaches that lie beneath the cliffs edge. To reach the cove inlets, there are steep winding steps. If you take a boat to the Ponta da Piedade (Point of Piety) you will see unusual rock formations, and on a calm day you can see the grottoes beneath the waters.
Situated approximately 30 km from Lagos, the large town of Aljezur nestles high in the countryside of western Algarve. The drive to Aljezur can be enjoyed along two routes, one from Lagos and another from Sagres, or take one each way! The route from Lagos goes through spectacular hilly countryside, the Sagres route is mainly flat but with numerous hamlets and villages along the way.
High on a hill above Aljezur are the ruins of a massive 10th century Moorish castle, captured by Dom Paio Peres Correia in 1246. He is said to have charmed a Moorish maiden who opened the castle doors to him one moonlit night. The super-fit may wish to walk up to the castle, alternatively access is by an almost vertical road where you can take your car right up to the castle walls. The views from the top are well worth the visit.
Aljezur is comparitively untouched by tourism, and you may wish to enjoy a coffee in the central square and just soak up the atmosphere of rural town life.
Travelling west from Lagos, about 12km , you will come to the tiny fishing village of Burgau, situated on the southeastern edge of the Costa Vicentina Nature Park, which extends in a broad sweep north from here to Odeceixe. The park has an untamed landscape in which wildlife thrives - especially birds of prey and wading birds.
The village of Burgau has a few restaurants and cafes, and a small supermarket. A small sandy beach is at the foot of a challenging slope down through the village centre. Locals seem to congregate at the bus shelter in the square, waiting for buses that don't tend to appear!
West from Lagos, the landscape becomes more rugged with harsh cliffs. From a small port called Cape St Vincent, on the southern side of Sagres, Prince Henry the Navigator trained his captains and set out to explore the world. The Cape was called "The End of the World" centuries ago by the sailors and it is undoubtedly one of the grandest geographical and historical features in Europe.
It is the most South-Westerly point in continental Europe, and boasts a beautiful crystal lighthouse. The lighthouse has an outside observation platform to enable visitors to get the best view. Some 200 ships per day pass by, from cargo ships to supertankers and warships.
A climb of 73 steps around a spiral staircase will take you to the platform. The light was converted to electricity in 1906, prior to this paraffin lamps were used. At 3,000 watts, the light is visible up to 60 miles!
Sagres is primarily a fishing town and the local fishermen keep the restaurants well supplied with fresh fish and seafood. Also in the town is the 16th century fortress, you can see the old school of seamanship within it's walls. A giant compass has been set into the stone, and it is said that Henry used this for his calculations. Also worth a visit are the 15th century Church of Nossa Senhora and the tourist information office which has an auditorium showing an interesting and informative film on the Navigator.