Cycling In Portugal: Aljezur to Sagres - 43 kilometres.

The view of Cape Saint Vincent from Sagres fortress.
Despite the looming heat, the two-hour ride from Aljezur to Sagres was a pleasurable experience. Fanned by a tailwind, my sleep debt and regularly re-occurring body ailments were soon forgotten. Idly skirting the undulating landscape, the winding road, the N268, provided rare glimpses of the Atlantic coastline. No more alluring was the passing view of the seaside village of Carrapateira, its red-roofed and white–walled houses blending as one with the tranquil blue sea and cloudless sky above. More renowned today, for its two magnificent beaches, Praia da Bordeira, with its rugged limestone crags and wide encroaching sand dunes, and Praia do Amado, a paradise for surfers, it was difficult to envisage its somewhat turbulent past. During the mid-17th century, this section of coast was swarming with Barbery corsairs  who, after disembarking from their anchorages off shore, plundered the local settlements, kidnapping townsfolk before selling them into slavery in the markets of Algiers. 

The statue of Henry the Navigator in Sagres.

Less than an hour’s ride from Carrapateira is the seaside town of Sagres, and its’ twin promontory, Cabo de São Vicente (Cape Saint Vincent). Seemingly isolated but never lonely, this ‘Sacred Place’ or Promontorium Sacrum as it was named by the Romans, has had a mystical quality about it since ancient times when settlers became drawn by the geographic location and dramatic landscape. Historically connected to the early Portuguese Age of Discovery, it was here that Henry the Navigator created his own fortified town (Vila do Infante) and a nautical school that became dedicated to the teachings of astronomy, cartography and shipbuilding.

A Portuguese national monument, Henry’s original 15th century Fortaleza de Sagres (Sagres Fortress) was almost destroyed as a result of Sir Francis Drake’s 16th century attacks along the southern coasts of the Iberian Peninsula. Partially remodelled over the next two centuries it was again reduced to rubble, this time by a resultant tsunami, caused by a catastrophic earthquake in 1755. Restored to its present day appearance by the end of the 18th century, its bare, hefty front wall separates the mainland from the headland. Atypically designed, its remaining three sides are protected by 60 metre monster cliffs underneath. Inside, a small number of  buildings pepper the otherwise desolate landscape, including a former monastery, a 14th century chapel and a multimedia centre, which not only provides an absorbing account of Henry’s life and the role he played in Portugal’s Age of Discovery, but a half-hour break from the virtual shadeless heat outside.
A cannon in the Fortaleza de Sagres.

The most intriguing spectacle of all is the Rosa dos Ventos (Wind Rose), a giant geometrical design believed to be a mariner’s compass. Not discovered until the early 20th century, this 43 metre-diameter circular stone pattern, with its 32 spokes, is another historical landmark attributed to the inventiveness of Henry.

Just as fascinating, though perhaps more identifiable is the view of Cape Saint Vincent. Europe’s most south-westerly point, it evidently owes its name to the martyred Spanish priest ‘Vincent’, whose remains were transported here to protect them from the invading Moors. Once a popular place for pilgrims on foot, its steadfast red lighthouse today guards one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The Wind Rose inside the fort.
Besides its beaches, the dramatic coastal scenery and its history, Sagres remains untainted by the rapid increase of tourism in the Algarve region. Like Fisterra, you only need to visit its harbour during late afternoon to experience its ‘end-of-the-world’ atmosphere. Just the same, its comparatively lesser tourist numbers, along with a permanent population of less than two thousand, provides sufficient patronage for its numerous restaurants serving traditional Portuguese food, including, not surprisingly, a wide variety of fresh fish.

One of the traditions Roz and I looked forward to most, was having a couvert, or appetizer brought to our table at the beginning of the meal. Similar to the Spanish custom of serving tapas, an assortment of tantalizing and inexpensive produce, including bread, assorted cheeses and an olive oil mixture for immersing the bread into, is laid out in front of you to consume; should you choose. And not once, did we pass up the opportunity. Regularly accompanied by a pitcher of dark-red sangria, it was another thing we’d miss once again across the border.
Books by Mark Krieger:

‘High Spain Drifter’ is available on Amazon , Barnes and Noble, Booktopia  and other online bookstores. 

‘Lycra, Lattes and the Long Way Round’ is available on Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books

Both books are also available at local bookshops on the Mornington Peninsula: @ Rosebud Bookbarn and @ La Brocante

“The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.”

                                  English author Iris Murdoch

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