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. Warm the Algarve may be, but the Vicentine Coast cliff-tops can become notable exceptions. Always bring extra 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 because 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, the now famous “Letzte Bratwurst vor Amerika” stall, meaning “Last Sausage Before America”) all contribute to a quite kitschy ambiance. Then, there’s also the 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 in the south, the Vicentine Coast is entirely made up of stunning cliffs and beautiful secluded beaches. Nearby places offering great panoramic views include Torre de Aspa and Castelejo (please check Castelejo Trail). Choosing the Fortress viewing point, however, probably means that you’ll have to walk about half a mile (800 meters) to reach the far end of the promontory (it’s the best location to watch the sunset); admission to the battered premises costs a few euros.
Because of the Earth’s curvature and the unimpeded distant horizon, as soon as the setting sun ‘touches’ the sea it then disappears very quickly – being so, 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 history because it was the place from where the Age of Discovery was launched. Together with the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery triggered the transition between the Middle Ages and the Modern Era. The Portuguese started to explore the Atlantic and Indic Oceans in order to reach India, China and the mythical ‘Spice Islands’. They eventually did, and the World forever changed: realizing how profitable the endeavour really was, 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 European powers: it was off St. Vincent that on the 14th of February, 1797, a young Commodore Horatio Nelson decided to 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: 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. 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 them. 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. If that’s 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. 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. There are several 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 are a few good examples. Besides Castelejo, the Amado and Bordeira promontories and beaches are also very beautiful places that definitely deserve an extended visit.