After enjoying a period of fame in the 16th century when Henry the Navigator set forth from its shores, the laid-back fishing village of Sagres, on the far south-western point of Portugal, has been growing old gracefully ever since. But for a handful of surfing enthusiasts and young Lisbonites, for whom the area has been likened to a Portuguese answer to Cornwall, this corner of coastline has hidden from the tourism spotlight that has beamed on the central Algarve over the past 40 years.
The reason for this is quite simply a lack of infrastructure. For years, only the very determined have been prepared to tackle the three-hour drive west from Faro to reach the end of the continent. Here, they got a glimpse of the Algarve before the trappings of tourism had taken hold?where goat- herders vied for space on the tarmac with scooters, where clusters of white-washed farm buildings congregate on the top of hills and where villagers discuss the price of sargot (sea bream) on their doorsteps; essentially, the kind of scene that is now almost impossible to find along the coast of the Iberian Peninsula.
But this time warp is about to be lifted. Although the upmarket Algarve resorts of Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo are continuing to flourish, driven by a seemingly unquenchable appetite that the British have for properties near?or preferably on?the 16th green of the latest golf course, more adventurous buyers are now looking farther west. The reason is the extension of the Via do Infante Highway, opened in June 2003, which has cut the journey time from Faro to Lagos?agreed to mark the border between the central and western Algarve?to just 45 minutes.
On the back of this improved access, a local consortium of businesses and government officials are collaborating on a plan to develop the restaurants, bars and boutiques in order to lure more tourists to Sagres. At present, the village is still very much a living, breathing fishing community: the basic harbour is home to a handful of small vessels, an old wooden boat is picturesquely suspended on a dry dock, waiting to be repaired, and there are a few washed-up surfers and local Portuguese patronising the handful of bars and restaurants.
The aged charm of Sagres is likely to be ramped up a few notches on the sophistication ladder, but before anyone volleys an accusation of greed in the direction of the local government, rest assured that measures have been taken to protect the area from the kind of sprawling developments that have blighted other Mediterranean seaside villages. More important was the creation of the Costa Vincentina national park, which prohibits any developments within its boundaries. This vast stretch of virgin coastline ?whose cliffs shelter empty swathes of sandy beaches, and boast a flora and fauna unlike anywhere else in the country?is to remain intact.
Slipping under the net of this plan-ning decree?permission was in place before the national park was established ?is the beach resort of Martinhal, half a mile or so to the east of Sagres. Boasting an enviable view across an enormous beach to the lighthouse at Sagres, it is due for completion in 2008. The complex is made up of a mixture of traditional Portuguese villas as well as town houses, cottages, apartments and a hotel operated by Four Winds Resorts. A sensitively developed high-end resort which has been designed, by Conran & Partners, to harmonise with the surroundings of the national park, it will also house a spa, sports club, tennis courts, restaurants and a children’s creche. These 129 or so properties, most of which will be bought on a leaseback scheme whereby the property owners are offered a guaranteed rental agree-ment through the resort hotel, are probably one of the last opportunities available to buy properties within yards of a beach in the Algarve.
Standing on the terrace at Nortada, one of two beach restaurants on Martinhal, on a balmy day in January, and blinking in that white Atlantic sunlight across the beach to Sagres, it is easy to imagine why people are captivated by the unique position of the Martinhal resort.
‘I don’t think there are many places like it left in Europe,’ says Victoria Walsgrove, who was so taken with the view that greeted her that she and her husband reserved a villa plot within only 30 minutes of arriving. ‘We arrived and just thought “Wow”. It was August and there were only about 15 people on the beach.’
Mr and Mrs Walsgrave, who own a property development company in Nottingham, have, in the past, rented villas in Tuscany and had only been to Portugal once before. ‘The scenery [of the coastline as it winds up north of Sagres] reminded me of where my family used to holiday in north-east Scotland.
Of course, the different weather is a giveaway but the ruggedness and emptiness is very alluring. Some of the beaches have been colonised by surfing enthusiasts, but I rather like that “kick-back and relax” lifestyle,’ explains Mrs Walgrave. ‘With three little ones, owning a house on a beach which is surrounded by good, simple restaurants who don’t mind sandy children scampering around is ideal.’
Properties in Martinhal are being sold off-plan and range from ?220,000 for a studio up to ?630,000 for a three-bedroom house with an ocean view. A 10-year leaseback scheme is available at 4% net per annum rental guarantee, rising to 7%.
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