Wonder back in time to the era of the Portuguese Discoveries. Start in Silves, Algarve's first capital, and finish in Sagres, Europe's most southwest place.
We start our tour in Silves. The Moorish Shielb appears clustered around the castle which dominates the surrounding countryside. It is the Algarve city where the Islamic heritage is most striking. Here lived scholars and poets of the Al Garb (the West) of Al Andaluz, the powerful caliphate which dominated the Iberian peninsula for centuries. The gates of the city open on to the walls which, even today, guard the castle, whose battlements provide us with a kind of winged walk, with a view over the River Arade flowing lazily down below.
In the Archaeological Museum, centuries of history are on display. But the most unusual feature is its modern architecture, around the 12th century cistern well which is more than 20 metres deep and has a staircase at the side for going down to the bottom.
At night, cleverly lit, the castle takes on mysterious shapes, and the legends of enchanted Moorish maidens suddenly make sense. The legend of the Great Cistern of the Castle tells of the misfortune of a princess who, on the night of S. João (summer solstice) sails over the deep waters in a boat of silver with golden oars. Disconsolate, she sings sad songs. And she can only escape from there when a Moorish prince pronounces the magic words that will break the spell.
We cannot leave Silves without trying a “morgado”, one of the best recipes for this cake which is so typical of the Algarve Mountains.
It was from the bay of Lagos that the caravels set off on the great saga of the 16th century, in search of new worlds. Today the old cosmopolitanism is preserved, along with the long-standing intimacy with the sea, in one of the most beautiful cities in the Algarve. The friendliness and welcoming nature of the people of Lagos are part of history: King D. Sebastião elevated it to the status of a city, after a journey to the Algarve in 1573, because he was so impressed by the warm welcome from the populace. It is well worth visiting its churches, museums, the castle and the walls.
Finally we get to Sagres, the legendary promontory. In 350 A.D. it was described by the Roman Rufus Festus Avienos in the following way: “the Cynete Cape, where the sidereal light goes down, emerges proudly as the extreme point of the rich Europe and goes into the salt water of the ocean, inhabited by monsters. There is then a promontory with frightening cliffs dedicated to Saturn. The choppy seas boil and the rocky coast stretches for a long way”. Almost 22 centuries later the magic and imposingness continue.
In the fortress, the presence of Prince Henry the Navigator can be felt: this is where he dreamed up the magnificent epic of putting to sea and finding New Worlds, an adventure that was without parallel until five centuries later when astronauts went to the moon.
Just a stone's throw away is the Cabo de S.Vicente, with its chapel, convent, fortress and lighthouse, the most south-westerly point in Portugal and in Europe. The cliffs are 60 metres high, dropping down into the furious spray of the waves and often hiding many tiny beaches, almost empty, where that paradigm of the perfect beach can be found, that we yearn for in our imaginations.
Keen botanists, for their part, will find here several dozen plant species which are unique to this area, and, as Sagres is on the migratory route of a large number of birds, sometimes, given a bit of luck, you can watch their arrival or departure, a unique spectacle which can take several days.
Find secret places and special moments off the beaten path and discover the Algarve others do not know about!