Sunday 23rd to Sunday 30th August 2015
My last post was from Cascais, just outside Lisbon. We are now 130 miles further south in Lagos on the Algarve, Portugal’s southern coast. This part of Spain was occupied by the Moors from nearby North Africa from the 8th to 12th centuries. It also played an important role in Portugal’s ‘Age of Discoveries’ in the 15th and 16th centuries as ships set off on long voyages of exploration, particularly from ports in this area, and Portugal achieved great power, wealth and colonial expansion.
From Cascais it is a 30 minute bus ride into the hills west of Lisbon, and to Sintra. It is a delightful, exotic place with wooded hills and forests and around them castles, palaces and grand houses with parks and gardens. If you were a member of the Portuguese nobility, a wealthy English merchant or had made a fortune in Brazil from coffee or diamonds, you could afford to build a palace or grand house, rent a residence, or design a garden here, near enough to Lisbon, but cooler in the heat of the summer. The Moors built a hilltop castle in the 9th century, the kings of Portugal expanded the originally Moorish Palicio National de Sintra with its twin white conical towers. We visited the particularly wacky Palicio de Pena, a riot of pink and lemon towers, domes and ornate gateways. If you are in Lisbon I would definitely recommend a visit to Sintra if you have a day or two to spare.
We sailed the final 12 miles into Lisbon, having to make way for a large cruise ship leaving Lisbon, and passing a rather strange tourist bus motoring along the river. We also passed the pretty Belém Tower, built in the early 16th century as part of the defences at the mouth of the Tagus river and the Monument to the Discoveries. We passed under the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge (built by the same company that built the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco) and berthed in the Doca de Alcantara Marina, next to where huge container ships were loading and unloading. Despite the noise we enjoyed being so central and the obvious attempts to revitalise the rather bleak dock area.
We had a couple of days in Lisbon and Hugh organised a day of sightseeing around the city, a ride on a very ancient tram, rattling up and down the hills and through the narrow streets of Lisbon, climbing up to the Castelo de São Jorge, a Moorish castle on the hilltop with great views over Lisbon and the Tagus River, then exploring the Alfama area of Lisbon with supper in an outdoor restaurant. The day was supposed to end with a night out in a bar listening to Fado music, but we were in bed by 10pm.
The next day we sailed the 130 miles to Lagos overnight, arriving in Lagos on the Algarve on the afternoon of the next day. Boats with day trippers were anchored off little beaches along the rocky sandstone coastline. Lagos is a small port which played an important part in Portugal’s naval history, as Henry the Navigator’s small ships set off to explore from here. More of that in another post, maybe. I was pleased to find that it has a 17th century fortress guarding the entrance to the port, and a castle built by the Moors, the Castelo dos Governadores.
The town is pretty with cobbled streets but very full of tourists. We really feel as if we are on the Algarve now, it’s much hotter and teaming with proper holiday makers. We have been to the supermarket and before we get seduced by the sun, sand and sangria here will be moving on and looking for some quiet bays along the coast to escape from the crowds. We have been told that they exist.