One of the most significant keys used to unlock the geologic riddles surrounding Iberia’s distant past is located on Praia do Telheiro Beach. Telheiro is a geosite, i.e. a site of special geologic significance and interest. There, surrounded by a primordial and forsaken landscape, visitors will find one of the largest and clearest coastal unconformities in Western Europe.



Location: Praia do Telheiro, Vila do Bispo; Vila do Bispo municipality; GPS Coordinates : 37°01’43.3″N 8°59’15.8″W (decimal degrees);
37.028683, -8.987735; Grade: difficult; Type: linear trail; this trail is not signposted; Lenght: 6200 meters/ 3.85 miles; Average Completion Time: up to 3 hours; Best Time to Visit: all year round; may not be advisable on stormy days; Activities: nature walks and hikes; birdwatching;

topographic-profile-praia-do-telheiro-beach-trailGeologic ‘unconformities’ are abrupt and unexpected shifts between contiguous rock layers formed in very different periods, and under quite distinct conditions. In Telheiro, the formerly horizontal Carboniferous rock deposits at the base of the cliff have been violently warped so as to assume an inverted ‘V’ (chevron-like) configuration. Then, these almost vertically folded shale layers were covered by a thick stratum of horizontal Triassic sandstone. Therefore, geologically, there is a conspicuous ‘time void’ of about 50-90 million years between these two consecutive strata. This phenomenon can only be explained by the rising and subsequent eroding actions affecting the missing rock layers – these rocks have just been utterly weathered away, vanishing into oblivion. Why is that so important? Because it informs about the brutal geological shifts that have occurred throughout the eons, their origins and their present-day consequences. Besides nature enthusiasts, interested parties may include seismologists, government agencies, oil companies and so on. Aerial images by A Terceira Dimensão

The contrast between the dark shale bottom and the reddish sandstone top is very dramatic and eye-catching. This rocky walk starts in the vicinity of Cape St. Vincent (please check map below) and ends near Praia da Ponta Ruiva Beach, making headway along cliffs whose elevation frequently goes above the 50 meters mark. The scenery along cliff-tops and ravines is rugged and beautiful, but the walk is also quite rough and not at all suitable for everybody. Opposite the ocean, the landscape is mainly composed of traditional farmland and austere grazing areas where several birds of prey go about their hunting. Kestrels and Peregrine Falcons are relatively common sights; Warblers populate the coastal bushes, and there’s always the chance to observe Red-billed Choughs, Zitting Cisticolas, and Southern Grey Shrikes.

Praia do Telheiro itself is enclosed within a rocky bay offering a dramatic panorama to visitors; here, the rough seas pounding the stony inlet are not for the unfit or the too young. Jagged, daunting cliffs enfold a large sandy strip that is most frequently deserted, even during peak season. This secluded beach, which lies on a westerly direction, is also a great surfing spot – if any, the few other human beings around will probably be hardened, die-hard surfers. In winter, the beach’s ambiance conveys primeval feelings of remoteness and wildness. Stopping in Telheiro, or proceeding on to Ponta Ruiva Beach, provides visitors the perfect chance to contemplate the great forces of nature in a raw, untamed state.

Further Tips
If you’re not in the mood for demanding exercise, the best option is to reach Telheiro by car. Getting to the beach is somewhat difficult and there is no public transportation. To visit Telheiro, head northwest from Sagres along the EN268 road towards Cape Saint Vincent; a bit ahead of Praia do Beliche (please see map above), turn right onto the tarmac road heading north. Then turn left at the – seemingly – abandoned farm in Vale Santo, and then follow the rough road leading west to the shoreline; that will take you close to your destination (that road may prove itself to be beyond the capabilities of your particular vehicle). Finally, there is a footpath down to the beach, which is fairly difficult to negotiate. When at the beach, beware of loose rocks falling from above: please do not walk close to the base of the cliffs. Also, the edges of the cliffs are notoriously unstable – please refrain from getting too close to the boundaries. Low tide is the best time to observe the angular unconformity up close. The beach has no basic support facilities, nor any sort of supervision throughout the year. There are several tourist operators making this route, including Atalaia and Rota Vicentina.