At the extreme southwestern corner of Europe, once called o fim do mundo (the end of the world), Sagres is a rocky escarpment jutting into the Atlantic Ocean. From here, Henry the Navigator, the Infante of Sagres, launched Portugal and the rest of Europe on the seas of exploration. Here he established his school of navigation, where Magellan, Diaz, Cabral, and Vasco da Gama apprenticed. A virtual ascetic, Henry brought together the best navigators, cartographers, geographers, scholars, sailors, and builders; infused them with his rigorous devotion; and methodically set Portuguese caravels upon the Sea of Darkness. Both the cape and Sagres offer a view of the sunset. In the ancient world, the cape was the last explored point, although in time the Phoenicians pushed beyond it. Many mariners thought that when the sun sank beyond the cape, it plunged over the edge of the world.
Today, at the reconstructed site of Henry’s windswept fortress on Europe’s Land’s End (named after the narrowing westernmost tip of Cornwall, England), you can see a huge stone compass dial. Henry supposedly used the Venta de Rosa in his naval studies at Sagres. Housed in the Fortaleza de Sagres, Ponta de Sagres, is a small museum of minor interest that documents some of the area’s history. At a simple chapel, restored in 1960, sailors are said to have prayed for help before setting out into uncharted waters. The chapel is closed to the public.
About 5km away is the promontory of Cabo de São Vicente. It got its name because, according to legend, the body of St. Vincent arrived mysteriously here on a boat guided by ravens. (Others claim that the body of the patron saint, murdered at Valencia, Spain, washed up on Lisbon‘s shore.) A lighthouse, the second most powerful in Europe, beams illumination 100km across the ocean.
Many beaches fringe the peninsula; some attract nude bathers. Mareta, at the bottom of the road leading from the center of town toward the water, is the best and most popular. East of town is Tonel, also a good sandy beach. The beaches west of town, Praia da Baleeira and Praia do Martinhal, are better for windsurfing than for swimming.
Between October and January, you’ll be assured of a prolific fishing catch; and at times, you can walk down to almost any beach and hire a local fisherman to take you out for a half-day. Just about every large-scale hotel along the Algarve will arrange a fishing trip for you.