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Cabo Espichel Sesimbra Portugal

The Cabo Espichel is the southwesterly headland of the Setubal Peninsula and the area makes for an interesting half day excursion. The headland is a wild and rugged landscape of massive cliffs that are pounded by the ferocious Atlantic Ocean.

Cabo Espichel

The main attraction of Cabo Espichel is the isolated, barren and uninhabited landscape that provides stunning views and demanding coastal walks. Cabo Espichel is ideal for tourists who enjoy raw stunning scenery, while other visitors may simply find the area empty and devoid of any major sights.

Travel to Cabo Espichel, Sesimbra

Most visitors to Cabo Espichel are based in Setubal (40km away) or Sesimbra (14Km away). To fully explore the region, the use of a rental car is highly recommended. The drive from Sesimbra takes 20 minutes and follows the N379, while Setubal is a 50-minute drive away.

Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel

The Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel

There is public bus from Sesimbra to Cabo Espichel and is the No.201 bus service (operated by TST). A single ticket costs €4.05 and the journey time is 35 minutes, with the bus departing from the bus station in Sesimbra. Certain energetic visitors may wish to hire a bike from Sesimbra and cycle to Cabo Espichel, just be warned there are some very steep hills...

Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel

The landscape of Cabo Espichel is wind blasted and barren

Sights at Cabo Espichel

At the Cabo Espichel headland there are four major sights; the lighthouse, the Santuario de Nossa Senhora, the small the Chapel of Ermida da Memória and the dinosaur footprints. The main draw of the region is the dramatic coastline and barren landscape, and one of the most popular activities is simply walking along the coastal paths, which skirt along the massive cliffs.

The Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel

The Santuario de Nossa Senhora is the baroque church which stands on the edge of the Cabo Espichel cliffs. The exterior of the church is unique as there are two long rows of small rooms that were constructed for pilgrims who traveled to Cabo Espichel. These rows of accommodation were called the House of Tapers but were often simply referred to as “hostels”!

Cabo Espichel church

The House of Tapers, the 18th-century version of backpacking!

The church was decreed to be constructed by King Dom. Pedro II in 1701 and was consecrated in 1707. The interior follows the simplistic baroque designs and most of the marble was mined from Arrábida hills. The small building at the opposite end of the courtyard to the church is called the Casa de Agua (water house) and was where the water from the aqueduct exited.

Cabo Espichel Lighthouse

The Cabo Espichel Lighthouse is one of the most important lighthouses along the Lisbon coastline. The south-western edge of the Setubal Peninsula is notorious with shipping, as there are few major towns that illuminate the coast and the region experiences ferocious Atlantic storms.

Cabo Espichel lighthouse

The lighthouse of Cabo Espichel

There has been a lighthouse on the site since 1430, but the current 32m hexagonal masonry tower dates from 1790. On a clear night, the light from Cabo Espichel Lighthouse can be seen for 22 miles out to sea.

Dinosaur footprints Cabo Espichel

There are two sets of well preserved dinosaur footprints retained within the cliffs and landscape of Cabo Espichel. The first set of prints are to the north of Cabo Espichel and lie directly below the chapel and scale the side of the steep cliff. These prints are referred to as the Pedra da Mua and were the evidence for the apparition the Virgin Mary that made Cabo Espichel an important pilgrimage destination.

cliffs Cabo Espichel

The massive cliffs at Cabo Espichel

The footprints are from a herd of massive Sauropod dinosaurs and are clearly visible in the dark stone cliffs. The second set of dinosaur footprints lie within the Bay of Lagosteiros and are more accessible than the first set, as they are not set into a near vertical cliff. This set of smaller footprints were caused by Theropod and Ornithopod dinosaurs, which inhabited the land between about 155 million to 145 million years ago.

Chapel of Ermida da Memória

The small Chapel of Ermida da Memória was an important early pilgrimage destination in Portugal that lies precariously close to the edge of the cliffs. The chapel was constructed on the site of an apparition of the Virgin Mary that was seen by local fishermen in the 14th century. The vision of Mary had her riding a giant mule that scaled the near vertical cliffs.

Chapel of Ermida da Memória

The Chapel of Ermida da Memória is very edge of the cliffs

The legend states that after the vision of May had disappeared the footprints of the mule could be seen in the cliffs, which later were identified as the Sauropod dinosaur footprints. Inside the chapel traditional blue and white painted tiles depict the vision of Mary and her giant mule. As the location became a popular pilgrimage destination the larger religious complex of Santuario de Nossa Senhora was constructed to provide lodging, kitchens and pray space for the pilgrims.

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