…Lagos, Portugal, not Nigeria.
The pandemic has been awful. We all agree on that point. However, there have been some oddly good things that have come from it – at least for Won and me. We have saved a lot of money. With limited to non-existent entertainment options, rarely eating out, and the inability to travel outside the country, we’ve racked up some nice savings. Also in the plus column, Won has fully embraced his inner chef during this time enabling us both to benefit from this new passion. Being forced to stay home has allowed us to focus on European football, which is always on TV. We have been learning about the governing bodies, dizzying league structure, top tier players, and league play (it’s more complicated than you might imagine!). But one of the most surprising, and appreciated, outcomes of this terrible pandemic has been the ability to see Portugal in a unique, once-in-a-lifetime way – with fewer people around.
Portugal is on the precipice of reopening its borders (potentially next month??) not only to residents of EU member states that meet certain virus-related criteria, but also to residents of countries outside the EU that also meet those same criteria. It will be a joy to see the streets, restaurants, bars, and beaches come back to life and finally welcome friends and family with open arms.
This long-awaited shift also means our ability to walk through palaces, monasteries, churches, and gardens, play on pristine beaches, or clamber along clifftops soaking in the spectacular coastlines nearly devoid of other humans is coming to an end. We don’t even know what our town is like during “normal” times. It will be an interesting adjustment.
With all this as a backdrop, Won and I are quickly prioritizing locations to see. This is why we decided to take a daytrip down to the Algarve to see Lagos. It is an easy three hour drive from our home – basically the same as my daily commute when I lived in Los Angeles. (OK, not quite three hours…but close.)
Lagos, pronounced “lah-go-sh,” is located along the southern border in the western part of the Algarve. I have embedded a map below to help orient you.
Quick tip…use the + and – navigation symbols on the map to zoom in and out. If you use your mouse to zoom out you will end up in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when you try to zoom back in. Trust me on this, I did it four times which required deleting and then re-embedding the blasted thing before figuring it out.
Lagos is one of the most visited cities in the Algarve due to its variety of tourist-friendly beaches, rock formations, bars, restaurants and hotels. It is renowned for its vibrant summer nightlife. Yet, there is a lot of history associated with Lagos too. It played a significant role in the Portuguese Age of Discovery, was a frequent home of Henry the Navigator, and, sadly, at one time, was the center of the European slave trade. Lagos, Nigeria, may have been named after it, since the town was the main center of Portuguese maritime expeditions in the 15th century when the Portuguese were focused on exploring the African coast.
Lagos is an ancient maritime town with more than 2000 years of history. So, let’s get started! Just kidding. No one has time for that so I’ve summarized the important points for you. Read this next part super fast, out loud; it makes it more fun.
Lagos got started as an early Carthaginian settlement, was colonized by the Romans, occupied in the 6th century by the Visigoths, and later by the Byzantines. The Moors arrived in the 8th century, renaming the settlement Zawaia (meaning lago, or lake). It became part of the much larger coastal region of al-Gharb, which eventually became known as the Algarve. Lagos was captured from the Moors by King Afonso III of Portugal in 1241 and eventually became an independent jurisdiction under the rule of King Peter I in 1361.
By the 15th century, Lagos had become the center of Portuguese maritime exploration. When Portugal came under Spanish rule, the Portuguese coast became a target for the English fleet and was attacked by Sir Francis Drake in the late 1580s, but was successfully defended. Eventually, the center of the Portuguese shipping industry moved to Lisbon. From 1576 to 1755, Lagos was a high-profile capital of the Algarve, until the old Portuguese town was destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami of 1755. Fishing was its primary economic activity until 1960 when the city embraced tourism.
Congratulations, you are all caught up. That wasn’t too bad, was it? I crammed roughly 2000 years of action into two palatable paragraphs. (Even I’m impressed!)
This past Tuesday, with Sweet Pea in tow, we decided to focus our time on a few of the beaches, the famous cliffs, and the old town. Our drive down was comfortable and easy. The highway infrastructure here is really good, because there are tolls to maintain it. It cost approximately 55,00€ in tolls for the day. Our route took us over the Pont 25 de Abril where I caught a perfectly framed image of the Cristo Rei through the cables of the bridge. Sweet Pea is becoming a more seasoned travel companion and chilled in the back seat. (Clearly, she was nonplused about the awesome picture of the giant statue I captured. She’s tough to impress. She is also looking a bit shaggy again…we are heading up to see her stylist next Tuesday.)
After making a few pit stops along the way to allow Sweet Pea the chance to rehydrate, stretch her legs, and do her business, we arrived in Lagos. We thought it would be good to take a quick spin around the city to get an idea of what it was like. Unfortunately, this resulted in us accidentally ending up inside the old town. Won successfully navigated the impossibly tight, ancient streets that were barely wide enough for a single car to pass through. After white-knuckling our way around, we finally found a way out and headed to the waterfront (we go back to the old town a bit later, but on foot). The marina was very nice, but it was the beaches and cliffs we came to see.
Here is an aerial shot I found online of the coastline. It shows the marina dissecting the area. The Marina de Lagos has 460 berths and has become an important center for long-distance cruisers. That long stretch of curved beach just beyond is called Meia Praia (Half Beach). It is a popular tourist beach with soft, white sand. The bay fronting Meia Praia is one of the largest open bays in Europe. It has calm seas which create great conditions for nautical sports.
On this side of the jetty is Praia da Batata. For anyone who is curious, batata means potato…draw your own conclusions on how that name came to be, but my personal, and completely unfounded, theory is that it is the origin of the term “couch potato” having stemmed from seeing people lie on the beach all day, where they were referred to as “beach potatoes.”
Praia da Batata is a small beach tucked between two cliffs (where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean), it is known for intimate music festivals that take place there during summer. It is also where you can rent a kayak or hire a boat to explore further. Just above Praia da Batata is a miradouro (viewpoint) with a bronze statue of São Gonçalo do Lagos (1360 -1422). São Gonçalo, The Blessed, was venerated by fishermen in the Algarve who prayed to him, seeking protection while they were at sea.
Just across the street is the Arco/Porta de São Gonçalo (Arch/Door of Saint Goncalo), the main entrance from the quay into the old town through the 14th century Islamic castle walls. As we walked along and admired the ancient castle walls, I spied a Japanese mock orange that was so old, it was essentially a tree!
Also next to Praia da Batata is the Forte da Ponta da Bandeira, a fortress complex from the 17th century which guarded the entrance to the harbor. It has a moat, drawbridge and chapel, and these days, provides space for art exhibitions.
Just past Praia da Batata are a couple of secluded beaches called Praia dos Estudantes (Students Beach) which are connected by natural and man-made tunnels through the rocks. We took a winding stone staircase down to explore more closely.
If you like to collect seashells, this is the beach for you. They are so plentiful in certain areas, you can’t help but reach down and rifle through them. You never know what you might find.
As we passed through one of the tunnels, we came upon a very small beach with an ancient, 3rd century Roman bridge spanning two large rock outcroppings. In order to protect it, the bridge is no longer open to the public.
We climbed back up to the top of the cliffs and drove further up the coast. We stopped to gape at the stunning rock formations cradling Praia do Camilo. This area is great for kayaking. To give you a sense of scale, there is a person in the water in the picture below.
Looking back the other direction.
We drove on to Ponta da Piedade (Mercy Point), an ecologically protected area. We parked nearby and got out to walk along the tops of the cliffs gawking at the views. There are hiking trails available, but there are also railed, wooden walkways to keep you safe. It was amazing how far up the coast you could see.
I honestly didn’t want to leave. I loved being up on those cliffs on such a bright, warm, sunny day. There was a light breeze keeping me comfortable. All I could hear was the sound of the ocean at my feet and the seagulls flying overhead. It was an experience of total peace and tranquility. Ahhh….
I could have stayed there all day, but we had to get going. We drove back to the old town, found parking outside the castle walls and proceeded on foot. The old town is super cute and filled a wide variety of cool and interesting stores, restaurants, bars, street art, Calçada Portuguesa (traditional Portuguese pavement), old architecture, and people watching. Here is a little sampling:
At one point in the middle of our walk through town, Won realized he did not have his cell phone. After a moment of panic, he said he was “pretty sure” he did not leave it at the ice cream shop where we had stopped earlier. He thought he had most likely left it in the car. While he retraced his steps, Sweet Pea and I plopped ourselves down in the shade. I finished my yummy coffee and vanilla ice cream cone and we both watched the world go by. Won returned about 20 minutes later, phone in hand (he had left it in the car after all), crisis averted.
Since we were in the Algarve, we decided to drive an hour east and take a quick look at Portimão. We didn’t stay long; just long enough to get a taste of the place and embed a desire to come back. It had a completely different look and feel from Lagos. We will definitely visit again and I’ll make that the focus of a future post.
We got home at 9:30PM, gave Sweet Pea a much-needed bath and then relaxed with a glass of wine. Sweet Pea was out like a light as soon as her blow dry was complete.
We really enjoyed Lagos. Even though we covered a lot of ground, being there for only a single day was not optimal. There is so much more to see and do. I would love to get a kayak and paddle around those spectacular rock formations along the coast. There are caves and even more secluded beaches you can only reach by water. I guess this means we will have to return.
I hope you enjoyed this quick visit to Lagos and that it helped you relax and forget about any stress you might be feeling. Until next time, please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch.
From Portugal with love,