Western Algarve – Introducing the Region

The Western Algarve, covers the westernmost 20 km of the Algarve region. It is a rugged coastline with pleasant beaches and towns. This coast was for centuries an uninhabited area between Armação de Pêra and Faro where sheep rearing prevailed. It became populated at the end of 19th century by a wave of immigrants from the former Portuguese colonies of Angola and Brazil.

Climate of Western Algarve

The climate is Mediterranean influenced, with temperatures that range from 16° to 30 °C in January and 24 °C and more in July. The average annual rainfall varies between 500 millimeters (Portimão) to 1,000 millimeters (Carvoeiro) mostly during the winter.

Municipalities in Western Algarve

The region includes 11 municipalities: Alcoutim, Aljezur, Armação de Pêra, Castro Marim, Loulé, Monchique, Olhão and São Brás de Alportel in Portugal and Vila do Bispo and Tavira in Spain.

Hiking in Western Algarve

The coast of the Algarve has long stretches of unspoiled and wild coastline with rocky coves, small beaches and rocky islands.

Starting points for coastal walking trails are the fishing villages of Carvoeiro, Portimão, Lagos, Silves and Sagres and the mountain resort of Monchique.

The Algarve coast offers several marked coastal walking trails, with departure points resting areas and overnight accommodation. The trails are not only for hikers but for anyone who loves to walk along unspoiled beaches, admire dramatic coastlines and stunning rock formations.

The Algarve coastline has long stretches of unspoiled and wild coastline with rocky coves, small beaches and rocky islands. Coastal walking trails cross through the Rota Vicentina (Portuguese Way) across cliffs, past remote secluded coves and beach paradises.

The Rota Vicentina (Portuguese Way) is marked with a red stripe painted onto rocks, walls or on the ground. The Rota Vicentina (Portuguese Way) is part of the European Ramblers’ Association network of walking trails.

Top destinations in Western Algarve

Some of the top destinations in Western Algarve include Lagos, Portimao, Silves and Sagres.

Lagos

The name Lagos derives from its founding—it had a lagoon (alojamento) that was a safe port for ships. The town developed around the harbor and has narrow streets lined with houses painted white with red tiles.

Lagos is on the sea-lanes between Spain and Africa. The town was also the main port of the Algarve during the Moorish occupation, and for a time it controlled all commerce with North Africa.

Lagos has beautiful beaches on each side of its long curving harbor as well as in front of the old town. Fishermen still cast their reels on the harbor.

The town has a lively nightlife and two large open-air concerts are held each summer at the municipal square, one known as Festa de Lagos, lasting three days, and the other as Festival Vilar de Mouros. They are attended by thousands of people

Fishing boats can be viewed at the harbor or at Fisherman’s Wharf. The Marine Museum on Largo Duque de Cadaval has several interesting old boats, including a glass-bottomed boat to see under the sea; it also displays marine fossils and shells.

The 15th-century Santa Maria Church contains an elaborate gold altarpiece donated by King João V in 1742. The church of Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe was built in 1511 on the site of a former mosque and is noted for its ornate ceilings.

The historical center of Lagos with narrow streets, houses painted white with red tiles and many shops

Sagres

Inland village of Sagres is the westernmost point in mainland Europe, next to Fóia peak at 986 meters (3,232 ft).

Sagres has a history dating back to the 15th century, when King John I of Portugal had a lookout built here on an offshore rock called Ponta do Altar as part of his efforts to find a maritime route to India. The coastline is now watched from the Portuguese Navy’s Forte Real at São João.

Some say that it was here that Henry the Navigator built a small chapel to Nossa Senhora das Candeias and established a settlement called Santa Cruz. Archaeological excavations in the area have located remains of forts, houses and chapels, as well as many artifacts from the 15th century.

There is a large monument to Henry the Navigator in Sagres that was built in the 18th century. The village has some nice beaches, like Praia do Martinhal and Praia das Conchas.

Sagres is also famous for its finest sand which gives it a particular beauty. It can be found on the shores of Praia do Sul and Praia de São Lourenço. The most famous beach is Praia da Marinha which is very popular among surfers, swimmers and naturists due to the quality of the sand.

Sagres castle

On the tip of a rocky hill was built by the Moors in 989 AD and used as a lookout to spot approaching ships. However, the castle is more famous for its association with Prince Henry the Navigator (1394 – 1460), who founded an astronomical school here in 1417. The School of Sagres ran for over sixty years, and made Portugal into the “nautical nation” of the world.

The castle is tiny, with only two rooms and an octagonal tower in which Henry kept his navigational instruments. A small museum has exhibits about life in the 15th century and a wall mural by Carlos Alberto Oliveira illustrates Henry’s achievements. Guided tours are available.

A little way past the castle, on Praia de São João, are the ruins of Henry’s Torre do Mar (“Tower of the Sea”), built in 1433, and visible as a small rectangular structure with seaweed washed against it. This tower was once connected to the main building by an underground passage.

It is possible to walk from the castle along Praia da Baleeira to Praia de São João, and then past Fortaleza de Sagres, a ruined 17th-century fortress with spectacular views. The path ends at the lighthouse of Ponta de Sagres (15th century), which was once used as an observatory by Henry, and more recently as a base for the first transatlantic telegraph cable.

Silves

The castle in Silves was constructed during the middle of the 13th century by order of King Denis, to control and protect the town’s lands that were dominated by Moura and Tavira. The first fortification on this site was a watchtower, constructed in 1189 to protect the territory. By 1242 the castle was conquered by forces loyal to King Sancho II and incorporated into Portugal.

The existing masonry fortification was begun during the reign of King Dinis I (1261-1325), which included towers and walls, creating an irregular pentagonal shape, protected by double walls. The castle was further reinforced during the reign of John I (1357-1433), who ordered the construction of a main keep and entrance gate. Together these expansions resulted in an irregular pentagonal structure with large cylindrical towers at each corner and two principal gates, one facing south towards Tavira and Sagres, the other opening to Olhão and the interior of the island.

In 1418 Henry the Navigator founded a school of navigation in the castle’s chapel (afterwards known as Santo António dos Pilões) which operated until 1551. The school was sponsored by Portuguese nobels who supported Henry’s efforts to explore the world. The school’s first director was Fernão Veloso, who set up a nautical chart room with space for more than twenty students and a library of maps and charts.

In 1460 King Afonso V gave the castle to one of his supporters, but it was shortly thereafter seized by Fernando II de Aragão

If you enjoyed this article you might also like to read about Eastern Algarve – Sotavento and Cycling the Algarve Coastline

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