Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lagos , Portugal

Once a quiet little town, LAGOS is now a thriving fishing port and market centre as well as being one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Algarve. Within walking distances of some superb beaches, the town is also an interesting historical centre. It was a favoured residence of Henry the Navigator, who used Lagos as a base for the new African trade - the richest of which was in slaves. Europe's first slave market was built here in 1441 in the arches of the Customs House which still stands in the Praça da República near the waterfront. In this same square is the Church of Santa Maria , from whose whimsical Manueline windows the youthful Dom Sebastião is said to have roused his troops before the ill-fated Moroccan expedition of 1578 - he was to perish at Alcácer-Quibir with almost the entire Portuguese nobility. He's commemorated in the centre of Lagos by a fantastically dreadful statue. On the waterfront and to the rear of the town are the remains of Lagos' once impregnable fortifications, devastated by the Great Earthquake. One rare and beautiful church which did survive for restoration was the Igreja de Santo António ; decorated around 1715, its gilt and carved interior is wildly obsessive, every inch filled with a private fantasy of cherubic youths struggling with animals and fish.

To the east of Lagos is a splendid sweep of sand - Meia Prais - where there's space even at the height of summer, while the promontory south is fringed by extravagantly eroded cliff faces that shelter a series of tiny cove beaches . All are within easy walking distance of the old town, but the headland is now cut up by campsites, hotels, roads and a multitude of tracks, and the beaches all tend to be overcrowded. Of these Praia de Dona Ana is considered the most picturesque, though its crowds make the smaller coves of Praia do Pinhão , down a track just opposite the fire station, and Praia Camilo , a little further along, just as appealing.