SAGRES village, rebuilt in the nineteenth century over the earthquake ruins of Henry’s town, is the most southwesterly harbour in mainland Europe.
Its small sixteenth-century Fortaleza de Baleeira was damaged by Francis Drake in 1587 and further ruined in the 1755 earthquake; the rest of the town is little more than a main road – Rua Comandante Matoso – connecting the lively fishing harbour and Praia da Baleeira at one end with the main square at the other, all backed by a new town of white villas and apartments. The small square, Praça da Républica, is the main focus of town, an attractive cobbled space lined with squat palms and whitewashed cafés, swooped over by swallows. From here, it’s a short walk southeast to Sagres’s best beach, Praia da Mareta
Henry the Navigator’s Fortaleza (daily: May–Sept 10am–8.30pm; Oct–April 10am–6.30pm; e3) dominates the whole village, with Rua da Fortaleza running directly up the headland towards its massive bulk; it is better to walk this way than to follow the road signs which take you on a detour to a giant car park set well back from the fort. An immense circuit of walls – only the north side survives intact – once surrounded the vast, shelf-like promontory, high above the Atlantic.
Rosa dos Ventos (wind compass)
After the formidable tunnel entrance is spread a huge pebble Rosa dos Ventos (wind compass), unearthed beneath a church in 1921. Wind compasses are used to measure the direction of the wind, but most are divided into 30 segments. This is unusual in that its 43-metre diameter is divided into 40 segments. No one is sure whether the compass dates back to Henry’s time, though the simple, much-restored chapel of Nossa Senhora da Graça besides the compass is accepted as dating from the fifteenth century.
The only other buildings inside the walls are a shop, café and exhibition space showing maps of Portugal and other nautical memorabilia – but, gracelessly constructed with concrete, they have done little to enhance the beauty of the site. Still, it’s pleasant enough to wander around the walls or out to Ponta de Sagres, a headland with a small lighthouse beacon offering fine views along the coast, past fishermen dangling lines suicidally off the immense cliffs.