Sagres, Portugal – Wilderness Discovered
The last time I visited Portugal was back in 2004 when I lived in Amsterdam with my boyfriend (now husband). At the pre-kids stage of our relationship, our two-week road trip of the Alentejo region of Portugal involved stays in chic, boutique hotels, late night bar crawls in Lisbon and lazy days soaking up the sun on gloriously deserted Portuguese beaches. Fast forward 14 years, add in a couple of kids and my most recent trip was certainly going to be a bit different.
I’d heard great things about Sagres in Portugal – the most south-westerly point of mainland Europe and the last stop before America – and was keen to explore the region. It really appealed as it’s got excellent surfing beaches, fabulous food, sunshine, is reasonably priced and has less visiting tourists than other resorts along the Algarve. Its remote setting and off-the-beaten-track feel was a huge draw for me too.
Flying into Faro with Easyjet, it’s an easy three-hour drive along the coast to Sagres. We stayed at the Memmo Baleeira, a contemporary four-star hotel – part of the Design Hotels group – overlooking the harbour. With 144 rooms, including family friendly suites and free mini bar, outdoor swimming pool, spa, restaurant, surf school and stunning views out to the Atlantic ocean, it was a little slice of luxury during our 10-day stay. There are cheaper accommodation options in Sagres – Sagres Time Apartments looked good if you want a more budget-friendly option.
When the kids weren’t bombing into the pool or using the gym’s running machine, they were playing ping pong in the stunning outdoor gardens, bouncing on the trampoline or tucking into the breakfast buffet, which generally involved eating as many Patel de Nata as they could stomach for the duration of our stay.
There’s a cosy lounge area if you feel like chilling out and watching DVDs (or football as my sport-mad son did) in the evenings. The restaurant is a popular spot (booking is necessary if you’re staying at peak times) – we ate there a couple of times but preferred to eat in the restaurants in town. Stand out places were Restaurant A Tasca in the port, serving beautifully fresh fish and Portuguese speciality Cataplana – a fish stew you won’t want to miss. The walls are adorned with plates and pottery giving it an authentic feel.
Rooms were clean and modern with some nice design touches. Not particularly luxurious, but pleasingly chic and well thought out with a small kitchen area so you want can prepare lunch or a light supper. We booked a one-bedroomed garden suite, which meant a double room for us and double sofa bed for the kids in the lounge area, which worked well. Waking up to the view and watching the sun set from the balcony was pretty special.
Sagres itself is a small, laid back surfing town with a really friendly, local feel. There’s a couple of supermarkets, handful of bars and some excellent restaurants, all within walking distance of each other. One of my favourite spots was a tiny fish restaurant called Restaurant Estrella Do Mar next to the hotel that served the most delicious Cataplana, fresh swordfish steaks that tasted like they were straight out of the sea and huge carafes of local wine. I also loved Armazem, a stylish but simple grill restaurant serving the best Piri Piri chicken, chips and Pudim, a traditional Portuguese vanilla flan. It’s so good we ate there three times.
There are lots of local beaches within walking distance, some great for surfing, others perfect if you prefer to swim rather than surf. Praia da Mareta is the most local if you’re coming from the centre of town. It’s a pretty bay with safe water and lovely sandy beach – it can get busy at times but head to the end of the beach to escape the crowds. Make sure you have a sunset drink at Chiringuito Praia da Mareta on your way back up from the beach. There’s a small beach below the Memmo hotel – Praia da Baleeira – and Praia do Martinhal a little further along the coast where you’ll also find Martinhal Sagres Hotel.
Praia do Tonel is where the surfing magic happens. Whether you want to watch the experts ride the waves (like me) or get involved (not like me), this is surfing nirvana. There are lots of surf hire shops in Sagres if you don’t have your own equipment. They can also provide you with a rather snazzy roof rack for your surfboard – nice touch. We chose to bodyboard on Praia do Tonel as the waves were death-defyingly massive the day we visited so we decided to leave it to the pros. It’s a magical spot as the sun goes down, backed by cliffs that turn a bright, burnt orange as the light changes and day turns to night.
Slightly out of town is Praia do Beliche, another beautiful beach where you can hang out at the tiny beach bar and enjoy freshly grilled sardines, ice cream and a glass of Rose. We spent a couple of days there bodyboarding and exploring the caves that have been cut into the back of the beach by the huge Atlantic rollers – it’s a gorgeous place and feels very wild and untouched.
Cabo Sao Vicente is a remote headland with an imposing lighthouse and the infamous Letzte Bratwurst vor Amerika (Last Sausage Before America), a rather unsightly hotdog stand that looks like it might possibly give you terrible food poisoning for the remainder of your holiday. The headland is easily the most tourist-filled part of Sagres as people come to witness the last stop before America whilst perching perilously close to the edge of the headland to secure the perfect selfie. Worth a quick look if you’re passing.
Wild beaches without the crowds
Head further up the Alentejo coast if you want to discover more wild and wonderful beaches: Praia da Bordeira is possibly the best beach in Portugal, Praia do Amado is considered to be the best surfing beach in Portugal and Praia de Odeceixe Mar near Aljezur feels like you could be in Cornwall, but warmer and without the rain.
It’s the perfect place to fly a kite on a huge, sandy beach, surf the waves, explore the rock pools and enjoy a coffee in the tiny beach shack overlooking the sea. Watch out though, you might bump into a nudist on your walk. It’s easy to reach the west coast beaches in a day with a car.
We also took a trip to Lagos, which was a lovely surprise. There’s a really nice feel to this buzzy Portuguese city; the port area, old town and modern shopping area are all worth exploring. We stopped of for (very British) fish and chips at Ol Bastards in the Old Town. Expect huge portions and a lovely seasoned salt that comes with the fish and chips. This is the place If you fancy a break from Portuguese cuisine.
Would I go again? YES. In fact, I loved it so much we booked again. Second time around we flew into Lisbon (a three-hour drive to Sagres) so we could explore one of the coolest cities in Europe. We sought out the tiny cherry brandy bars that are hidden throughout the city, treated the kids to a ride on Tram 28 and Patel de Natas from Pasteis de Belem, a Lisbon institution where the first natas were sold in 1837. De nada.
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