The Moors, Romans and Phoenicians helped create the charming seaside town of Lagos in the western Algarve and parts of its ancient wall still stand guard. A modern statue of Henry the Navigator holding a sextant and gazing out to sea recalls the port’s most memorable role in Portugal’s history.
Henry was Governor of the Algarve and this was his capital. He designed and built his caravels in Lagos and sailed them from its shores into the unknown.
Captives brought back from Africa were put up for auction in a small arcade marked as the Mercado de Escravos (slave market) located on the north-east side of what is now Henry the Navigator Square.
With its gilt walls and altar, the interior of the magnificent Igreja de Santo António (St Anthony’s Church) all but explodes with 18th-century rococo art.
The museum next door has displays of archaeology, crafts and ethnography including African sculptures caricaturing Portuguese colonial officials. Visitors can also see the 16th-century vestments worn at a mass said for King Sebastião just before his ill-fated crusade to North Africa.
An unusual statue of Sebastião by João Cutileiro in the central Praça Gil Eanes portrays him as an astronaut with a mop of hair and very young features.
Nearby, Praia da Luz exploits the town’s big, curving bay for beach holidays and water sports throughout most of the year.
Burgau and Salema to the west are peaceful fishing villages where freshly-caught fish is the dish of the day in many of the local restaurants.
East of Lagos are Meia Praia and Alvor with long sandy beaches favoured by windsurfers. The latter’s parish church features an intricately-carved portico in the Manueline style.
At Ponta da Piedade between Lagos and Luz, the wind and waves have sculpted evocative rock formations both free-standing and attached to the cliffs creating a striking scene from above.