The Phoenicians first arrived 3,000 years ago and set up trading posts along the southern coast of Portugal. The Romans held sway over the region for over 400 years and used the land to grow wheat, barley and grapes to supply their Empire with food and wine. They left behind paved roads and fine palaces. The Moors arrived from North Africa in AD 711 and ruled for 500 years, but the Christians drove them back across the sea and wiped out most of what they had succeeded in building. However, the place names often reflect this Moorish heritage. Much later Prince Henry the Navigator chose Lagos (pronounced lah-goosh) for his shipbuilding port and it was from this base that his sailors began to poke their ships around the coast of West Africa.
It wasn’t enough that they explored the coastal regions of Africa; they brought back a different kind of treasure along with the ivory and gold, slaves. The first auction of black slaves to Europeans was held in Lagos in AD 1444, establishing the town as a slave-trading center. The region flourished until the AD 1755 earthquake that flattened the city.
The coastline from Sagres to Lagos is rough and rugged but here and there one finds fishing villages and sandy beaches. The developers have started to move in here now that much of the region further east has succumbed to overbuilding. For the time being, travellers can enjoy the peace and calm that exists out of season.
Today visitors, primarily British, flock to the Algarve and particularly Lagos along the banks of the Rio Bensafrim. High, fortified walls surround the old town and much of the center has been adapted to service the throngs of tourists that arrive to shop and dine. Modern Lagos sprawls in all directions, but doesn’t have the feel that can be found further east along the coast. There are several good beaches nearby and the nightlife is said to be lively.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
The sun was getting very low as we approached Lagos, but we had made a booking at a small guesthouse listed in our guidebook. It would have been more interesting to stay within the city walls, but the only place that appealed to us was located a couple of kilometres away from the center, in one of the modern neighbourhoods. As it turned out, the guesthouse was more of a B&B, except that the owners had expanded their house to accommodate a number of guests and had even added a small swimming pool to their yard.
We settled into our room and then set out to walk to the center to have dinner. The route was unremarkable, but it was dark by the time we approached the fortified walls and they looked decidedly beautiful lit up with floodlights. We were more than a little surprised to see so many foreigners eating in the many restaurants, throughout the small narrow streets, and along the squares, because we had become quite used to seeing few other tourists along our route south of Lisbon.
We had to remind ourselves that this region is decidedly sunnier and the coastal waters warmer, now that we were away from the Atlantic Ocean and nearing the Mediterranean Sea. These selfsame sunny skies and warm seas are the magnets that draw Europeans to the Algarve for the winter months and entice many to purchase properties and stay year-round once they retire.
We wanted to avoid the crowds and looked for a quiet eatery along a side street, but the one that sounded most appealing in the Lonely Planet was closed, lock stock and barrel. It seems that here, as in so many places around the world, it’s a tough slog to survive in the restaurant business. You would think that those with a good review in such a successful travel guide would flourish more than others, but we are beginning to find out that this is not always the case. More than once, we have been disappointed to finally locate a restaurant with an appealing menu, only to find it shuttered.
Instead, we decided to try the Lonely Planet’s ‘Our Pick’ and to our surprise, we were able to grab a seat without waiting too long. The place was buzzing with activity, the food was delicious, but because no one lingers long, the tables free up pretty quickly. We had such a great meal and enjoyed the attention of our waiter so much that we returned again for lunch the following afternoon before leaving to head further east towards the Spanish border.
The highlight of our visit to the Lagos region of the Algarve, was our visit with new friends Tony and Ann Becks in the tiny town of Luz, just 6km west of Lagos. We met the Becks when we stayed in Meknès, Morocco earlier in the year. We were just winding up our ‘Circle the Mediterranean’ trip, and Morocco was our last country to visit before we crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and returned to Spain. We were having dinner in our ‘riad’ guesthouse, and we started chatting with Tony and Ann, sitting at a nearby table.
We learned that they were originally from England, but had visited the Algarve and made the huge decision to sell their home and purchase a condo near Lagos, Portugal. They were enjoying their new home immensely, but had decided to pay a visit to Morocco and we met them shortly after they arrived in Meknès after a brief stay in Tangier. As we were heading towards Tangier ourselves, they were kind enough to suggest we try the La Tangerina guesthouse where they had recently stayed.
We exchanged contact information, as it seemed they were interested in our nomadic lifestyle and we were equally interested in the fact that they had made a permanent move to Portugal and the Algarve. We mentioned that we were thinking of visiting Portugal in the autumn, and they asked us to keep in touch and perhaps we could meet again if we were close to their village of Luz. I had written to Tony and Ann and thanked them for recommending La Tangerina, as we had enjoyed it as well.
As luck would have it, Tony and Ann were at home when we made our plans to visit the Algarve and we made a date to meet for coffee and a morning visit. It meant that we had to back track from Lagos a little, but it was a short distance to drive and it was terrific to see their friendly faces once again. They showed us around their lovely home and then they asked if we were interested in strolling over to the village to see what had attracted them to this part of Portugal in the first place.
It was a quiet morning, and we had a lovely walk to the center of the village, with great views of the surrounding area and the inviting beachfront. We caught up on each other’s lives over a coffee in the outdoor café and then we strolled back towards their condo development, learning more about their family and their choice to make a complete break with life in England. They couldn’t have had a more understanding audience. Although we enjoy the wandering lifestyle, we’ve maintained for the past 5+ years, we can certainly see the advantages of the choice they have made for themselves.
It was a very short, sweet visit, but it was time for us to be off, as we wanted to drive along the coast and see more of the Algarve, further east towards Spain. We promised to keep in touch, and when Tony and Ann expressed interest in the travel journal I’m keeping, I provided them with the website address before we left. It has taken some time for me to get around to writing these 10 journal entries about our circuit around southern Portugal. I got so behind with my writing that I decided to put it on hold and focus on the places we were visiting after leaving Lisbon.
With time to spare here in Sri Lanka, in January 2011, I am finally getting back to Portugal in my mind. Though I seem to have trouble remembering names or committing new phone numbers to memory, I have a vivid recollection of the places we visited and the sights we explored. I do have to admit that my photos help immensely, but they only serve to jog the continuous ‘video’ that runs in my mind’s eye.