"Lagos - the most attractive town in the Algarve!" Top 5 Page for this destination Lagos by dlytle

Lagos Travel Guide: 244 reviews and 631 photos

Lagos, situated in the extreme southwest of the Algarve region of Portugal; was the area’s former capital and, I have no doubt, the most attractive small town in the Algarve.

Lagos remains a small fishing port of roughly 22,000 people located near the western end of southern Portugal. In the Middle Ages whales were brought ashore at many points along the coast, as is indicated by the place-name Baleeira, derived from the Portuguese for whale. As whaling declined, the fishermen’s attention turned to tuna. As the tuna became scarce and their runs made further out to sea, the next harvest to be exploited was that of the sardine. In the late 19th century there were four sardine-canning factories in the vicinity. The chimneystacks of these remain, to provide nesting platforms for the White storks.

Fiercely contended for over the centuries by many ancient cultures, today it has a bit of everything – a sheltered marina, beautiful bay and wonderful small beaches; unbelievable natural scenic beauty; a relaxed and leisurely lifestyle; abundant good weather; some historically interesting sites; and good shopping.

In this area there is still plenty of evidence of its historical past - the ancient town walls, Prince Henry the Navigator's fortress from which the caravels set sail on their great voyages of discovery, the old slave market and the Golden Church.

Although the earthquake of 1755 caused great damage, the streets and squares of Lagos have retained much of the charm of a city hundreds of years old.

The restoration of the town center has been tastefully done, retaining the narrow cobbled streets and lovely squares which bustle with open-air cafes, restaurants, smart boutiques, antique shops, pavement artists and street entertainers.

Sitting on the site of the old medieval town – an area defined by the city walls and two streets (Rua de Sao Goncalo and Rua 5 de Outubro) - the houses preserve much of their former charm in the stonework around their windows and doors, in their wrought iron balconies, in the cool, shady areas created by the narrow streets, and in the patios where flowers, fig trees and vines are to be found growing.

Lagos is popular with visitors for a number of reasons. It has a relatively small population, making it large enough to foster abundant activities yet small enough to feel like a resort. It offers accommodations in all price categories, from campgrounds and private rooms to resort hotels and rental villas. It has a variety of beaches, ranging from the long, broad Meia Praia on the eastern edge of town to the secluded coves beneath the towering cliffs of the Ponta da Piedade. It has a varied nightlife with rock bars, a jazz club, fado restaurants (restaurant with sorrowful fado music), classical concerts, and other activities for the full spectrum of tastes and age groups.

Fortunately, Lagos is far enough west to have escaped - thus far - the frantic over-building that has marred much of the central coast. While population growth has brought many modern homes and apartments outside the old town, there is only a limited amount of accommodations for tourists. In fact, when last we visited there were only a couple of large tourist hotels, located at the eastern and southern ends of town. This is one place that seems to have preferred to retain its tranquil way of life, while letting others to the east compete for the tourist business, with all the congestion it entails.

Enclosed within 5th-century walls, with its Manueline window, are the magnificent churches of Sao Sebastiao (Renaissance portais and 17th-18th century tiles), Santa Maria of Misericorida (16th-19th centuries), Santo Antonio (Baroque) and the very old Sao Joao Hermitage (8th-9th centuries). Other points of interest: Regional Museum, Governors' Palace, Forte do Pau da Bandeira and the Old Slave Market. Charming marina.

But I just have a feeling that very few tourists go to Lagos wanting to know its history. Rather, I suspect that their intent is to drink deeply of the pleasures of table, the beach, the weather and the shopping.

A brief history lesson about Lagos

I do however think that the history of Lagos is interesting enough to at least hold your interest for a few paragraphs.

The Phoenicians had a settlement on or close to the present town of Lagos followed by the Carthaginians, Romans and Moors, whom the Portuguese expelled for good in the mid-1200s.

But its basic roots come from the ancient Roman settlement of Lacobriga. The remains of the Roman period lie beneath the oldest part of Lagos. The foundations of the bridge leading over the river to Meia Praia are Roman. During Roman times the principal industry was that of salting fish, and making the special Roman condiment of Garum. The Garum of Portugal was so highly prized that it was shipped direct to Rome. Roman remains have been found throughout the Lagos area and at Praia da Luz, Boca do Rio and at Martinhal, on the north shore of the Bay of Sagres.

The Moors were the next to influence the town. They called the site Zawiya.

During the 7th Century AD, Islamic tribes emanating from North Africa and the Middle East conquered the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula including the Algarve. These people were known as "the Moors" or "Arabs", but, in fact, their origins were as diverse as Syria, Persia and Judea, a fact visible even to day in the names of many Algarve villages and towns. Those who settled in Lagos contributed to the development of the nascent city walls and defenses. The modern town center lies within the high stonewalls built first by the Arabs when this was the capital of their kingdom in Portugal.

After the knights of the Re-Conquest had regained the Algarve in the 13th Century, nothing much of note happened here, until the end of the 14th Century. Then the Bay of Lagos became a gathering point for the fleets coming round Cape St. Vincent from Lisbon, before leaving to fight the Moors at Cueta, in Africa.

The Infante Dom Henrique (better known to history as King Henry the Navigator), the third surviving son of King Joao I of Portugal and his English wife Philippa of Lancaster, happened to be one of the Princes on board these ships. Later Prince Henry was given grants of land at Sagres, Raposeira and Lagos. He chose the harbor at Lagos as the most suitable place for the construction of his Caravels; the lateen sailed ships which were to take the Portuguese on their fantastic voyages of discovery. The merchants put their money into Prince Henry’s projects, and many a young man from the district became a navigator or pilot. The town entered a period of great prosperity.

All that ended with the death of Henry the Navigator.

In the 16th century King Philip of Spain became the King of Portugal. During his reign he entered into war with England, and Lisbon was one of the muster points for the Spanish Armada. This made the Algarve a target for Sir Francis Drake, who would harass the coast on his way to and from his inspections of the Spanish fleet lying in Cadiz. On one such raid Sir Francis attacked Lagos, but the citizens put up such a good defense that he left empty handed and made his way to Sagres. Here resistance was much weaker, and he set fire to the town and captured the fort, taking the cannon for his ships.

The Algarve coast was left to the mercy of several groups of pirates, such as the English and Dutch freebooters, and the most feared of all, the slave-taking Corsairs. To help in the defense of the land a series of small forts (Fortelezas) were constructed all along the coast from Castro Marim to Cape St. Vincent and on up to Lisbon.

The Great Earthquake, on November 1st, 1755, caused almost total destruction, and many buildings were never to rise again. Others, such as the church of St. Antonio, were badly damaged, but were renovated and still retain some of their earlier features.

As the death of Prince Henry had removed the commercial opportunities of the town, the Earthquake of 1755 removed the political importance of the city. With his castle and all the principal buildings in ruins, the Governor of the Algarve moved to Tavira.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:A beautiful resort town with a lot of history. A good central location to look around the area.
  • Cons:I didn't get to spend enough time here.
  • In a nutshell:Well worth a visit.
  • Last visit to Lagos: Jul 2003
  • Intro Updated Nov 20, 2003
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dlytle

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