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Places to visit in the Algarve, Portugal

Cape St. Vincent - Cabo de Sao Vicente

Cabo de Sao Vicente is 6km along the cliff top road from Sagres and is the most southwesterly point of Europe.  The lighthouse was built on the site of a 16 century Franciscan convent in 1846 and was electrified in 1906.  There is plenty of parking and visitors are welcome to walk around the lighthouse grounds and climb the tower when it is open - there are no published opening times.  The lamps throw a tall beam which can be seen up to 6 km out to sea.  All the shipping from and through the Mediterranean to the west coast of Europe and much of the eastern seaboard of North America passes this way.

Cape St. Vincent Lighthouse, Algarve from Algarve Retreats LtdMany sea battles have been fought off Cape St. Vincent.  Sir Francis Drake was very active here harrying the Spanish returning from the Caribbean laden with treasure: Portugal was under Spanish rule at the time.  The French fleet defeated the British fleet here in 1693 and the British defeated the Spanish in 1790.  The Battle of Cape St. Vincent took place on the 14th February 1797 between the Spanish fleet and the British fleet under the command of Sir John Jervis.  During the battle, the commander of the ship "Captain", third from the end of the line, acted without orders to block the escape of the Spanish fleet.  Sir John approved of the young commander of the "Captain" who had acted with such courage, initiative and good judgement.  He was made a Knight of the Bath and promoted to the rank of rear-admiral shortly after the victory.  His name - Horatio Nelson.  Nelson passed Cabo de Sao Vicente many times during his naval career, the last time on his way to Cadiz and Trafalgar.

Cape St. Vincent, Algarve from Algarve Retreats LtdAt first glance the landscape in this area looks rather bleak, arid and stony but closer examination, particularly in spring, will reveal a different story.  There is a rich flora to be found here, including some unique species and some named after Cape St Vincent itself.  Remarkably, these plants cling to survival in small crevices on the cliffs.

In spring and autumn, the headland offers an ideal point from which to see the migration of huge numbers of birds flying north to the breeding grounds of north west Europe in Spring and south to their winter haunts in the autumn.  The gannet is one of the most recognisable seabirds which may be seen passing over.  Most of the world's gannets breed around the British Isles, for instance on St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides and most of the adult, young and juvenile birds over winter in the Mediterranean or Atlantic waters off the coast of the Algarve - only some of the juveniles try the fishing areas as far away as West Africa.  There are times when Cliff top at cape St. Vincent, Algarve from Algarve Retreats Ltdthe gannets are close to the coast and can be seen with the naked eye: at other times and for seeing most other birds, binoculars are needed to get the best out of the experience.  There are several species of land birds to look out for also.

The Cape takes it's name from a Spanish priest, martyred at the beginning of the 4th century.  According to legend, his remains were buried at the Cape and a temple erected which was watched over by ravens.  During the reign of Afonso Henriques (1139-1185), Vincent's remains were exhumed and taken by ship for re-burial in Lisbon to protect them from desecration.  The legend tells that a raven kept vigil from the rigging throughout the entire voyage.  The raven remains part of the insignia of both the city of Lisbon and Cape St. Vincent's local seat of administration at Vila do Bispo.

Would you like more suggestions?  Take a look at our Things to do in the Algarve and Places to go in the Algarve sections for loads of ideas of what to do and where to go

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