Sagres, at the Edge of Europe
At the tip of southwest Portugal, we find Sagres. It is awash in pastel colors — flesh colored tones of earth, a moody green-gray ocean and a blue sky that is trying its hardest to transition to summer … unsuccessfully.
We spend the night in a pousada at the literal edge of the country. Portugal’s pousadas are old buildings — convents, castles and palaces — renovated and run as hotels by the government. They’re authentic, affordable and, in some cases, stunning places to stay. I highly recommend checking them out if you’re traveling to Portugal.
From Pousada Sagres we have a westerly view to the lighthouse at Fortaleza Sagres. Beyond the fort and peninsula, there is nothing but the vast Atlantic Ocean, whipped up into a cold, churning bath on windy day like today. We bundle up and head to the fort, stopping first for a short hike down to Tonel Beach.
Except for the Mediterranean color palette, the dramatic coastline resembles Northern California’s Big Sur and Bolinas.
We enter Fortaleza Sagres, the departure point of Prince Henry the Navigator who sought a maritime route to Asia around the southern tip of Africa. The single column at the start of the path is a “replica of the marker stone (Padrão) used by the Portuguese navigators in the fifteenth century to mark newly discovered territories. It displays the coat-of-arms of Prince Henry, the Navigator.” I wonder… how many padrãos did an explorer take with him?
The stark walls of the chapel, Nossa Senhora de Graça, support a cross silhouetted against the sky.
The most astonishing thing about the fortress is that the original was severely damaged by the earthquake of 1755. The resulting tsunami washed over this peninsula and everything on it. Can you imagine seeing a tidal wave coming toward you that’s higher than these cliffs?
We walk for an hour in the wind, following the road past the lighthouse to the farthest point of the peninsula. It feels like we’re in a never-ending journey of one-point perspective as the road leads eternally to the horizon.
A circular maze invites us in at the end of the peninsula. This is A Voz Do Mar, or the Voice of the Sea. A path around the concentric circles leads to the center where the sound of the ocean underneath travels up through a hole in the ground.
We return to the edge of the cliff. Although it’s a pretty color, the churning Atlantic does not look welcoming today. I’m happy to have my feet on the ground.
The path vanishes behind us as we head back to the entrance and find the mysterious Rose Compass interlaced with yellow wildflowers. Sundial or navigational tool? No one can say for sure, but it’s time to go. Where to next? Let’s try Carvoeiro.