The same factors that originate those sunsets – a seemingly endless ocean, our position on the cliff-tops, a pristine atmosphere – also contribute to an increased exposure to strong and chilly ocean winds (you probably won’t notice the wind on the nearby Beliche or Mareta beaches). Warm the Algarve may be, but the Vicentine Coast cliff-tops are notable exceptions. Always bring extra, warm clothes to Cape St. Vincent, even in July and August; well protected from the wind, you then may turn your focus on finding the near-mythical ‘green flash‘, which Jules Verne called ‘the green from Paradise’. Green flashes occur one or two seconds before the sun vanishes into the ocean, and Cape St. Vincent is a great place to spot them. But please take care: don’t ever look at the sun through telescopes, binoculars, or any kind of camera – your eyesight would be irrevocably impaired.
Around the lighthouse, the presence of cars, buses, caravans and stalls (including an hotdog stall decorated with a giant smiling sausage, and encircled by a “Letzte Bratwurst vor Amerika” lettering) all contribute to a quite kitschy ambiance. Then, there’s also this large eclectic gathering of people looking out to the sea, first silent, then cheering and sometimes clapping their hands as the solar disk fades into the deep blue. If you think you would appreciate kitsch-awesome-spiritual experiences, Cape St. Vincent is the place to be; if not, the Fortress at Sagres offers the same experience without the summer crowds and giant smiling sausages. In truth, from Odeceixe in the north down to Sagres, the western Vicentine Coast is entirely made up of stunning cliffs and beautiful secluded beaches. Nearby places with great views are Torre de Aspa and the Castelejo lookout (please check Castelejo Trail). Choosing the Fortress viewing point, however, probably means that you have to walk about half a mile (800 meters) to get to the far end of the promontory, the best location to watch the sunset; admission to the battered premises costs a few euros.
Because of the curvature of the Earth and the unimpeded distant horizon, as soon as the setting sun ‘touches’ the sea it then disappears very quickly – do not be caught unprepared if you’re planning to take pictures. Take many photos, not just because of the natural beauty, but also due to the historical significance of these places. Many people visit the area without realizing its crucial role in History. You’ll have a much better experience if there’s meaningful context accompanying the sightseeing. Sagres is steeped in Portuguese history since it was the place where the Age of Discovery was initiated. With the Renaissance, it triggered the transition between the Middle Ages and the Modern Era. The Portuguese started to explore the Atlantic and Indic Oceans, and the African coast, in order to reach India, China and the ‘Spice Islands’. They eventually did, and the World forever changed: realizing how profitable the endeavour might be, the Spanish decided to sponsor the ‘go-around instead’ Columbus; his crew discovered the Americas (American Natives, Vikings and maybe J. V. Corte-Real and John Cabot notwithstanding).
The Dutch and then the British followed the Iberians about 100 years later. European expansion, geopolitical supremacy and widespread colonialism started to take shape. We all know the rest, for the better and the worse. Throughout the centuries, the strategically vital Cape has also witnessed no less than eight significant naval battles between those European powers; it was off St. Vincent that on the 14th of February, 1797, a young Commodore Horatio Nelson decided to almost simultaneously engage three major enemy ships, including the heaviest-armed ship in the World at the time (the Spanish Santísima Trinidad), showing, perhaps for the first time, all the unorthodox tactical acumen that would make him the most revered figure in the history of the Royal Navy.
Now, for birders and hikers: the cliffs and the plateau in Sagres and Cape St. Vincent offer many birdwatching opportunities. During the annual migration – late August to early December – birds like the Black Stork, the Honey Buzzard, the Griffon Vulture and the Short-toed and Booted Eagles can be easily spotted from the Cabranosa (‘P1’) trig point, among many, many other species.
There’s a large array of viewing points along the coast; please check the best of them on the Birding Hotspots page to obtain more information. Cape St. Vincent itself is a suitable starting point to watch a wealth of seabirds, particularly in the early morning; as expected, you’ll need good binoculars or a telescope to properly observe these marine birds. There is also the possibility of arranging a boat seawatching expedition from Sagres harbour (nowadays, Mar Ilimitado seems the best option to do this: generally well-organized, the owners are marine biologists who know their stuff). During summer, please be aware that there are more tourists than birds around the lighthouse in Cape St. Vincent proper. If that is the case, the surrounding headlands also provide good chances of spotting marine and soaring birds.
If you are trying to escape from the Summer crowds, there are countless options to choose from. Just head north along the coast, and hop out of your car on a regular basis if you’re driving. Walking or hiking along the cliff-tops, the plateau, the sandy coves and the narrow valleys within this region can be a very rewarding experience. It is just a matter of choice and desire to explore the Natural Park throughout paved and unpaved roads or paths. There are three noteworthy signposted walking routes a few miles north of the Cape: the already mentioned Castelejo Environmental Trail, the Trail of Tides and the Trail of Aromas*. Besides Castelejo, the Amado and Bordeira promontories and beaches are also very beautiful places that definitely deserve an extended visit. Please refer to this site to get more information on the Vicentine Coast.
* The Trails of Tides and of Aromas are yet to be described on WalkAlgarve.