Within walking distances of some superb beaches and offering a lively nightlife, the town is also an interesting historical center. It was a favored residence of Henry the Navigator, who used Lagos as a base for the new African trade. 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 Sebastiao is said to have roused his troops before the ill-fated Moroccan expedition of 1578 (he was to perish at Alcacer-Quibir with almost the entire Portuguese nobility). He is commemorated in the center 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 Antonio. Decorated around 1715, its gilt and carved interior is wildly detailed, 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 Praia – where there’s space even at the height of summer. On the promontory to the south, the coast 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 Camilo and Praia do Pinhao (down a track just opposite the fire station) just as appealing.
Information courtesy of Travelnow and Rough City Guides Lda.