The dramatic, cliff-fringed Cabo de São Vicente – Cape St Vincent – is the most southwestern point of mainland Europe. The Romans called this Promontorium Sacrum and thought the sun plunged nightly into the sea here – it later became a Christian shrine when the relics of the martyred St Vincent were brought here in the eighth century. Today, tourist stalls selling trinkets line the approach road to a lighthouse, one of the most powerful in Europe: there’s a small museum tracing the history of the lighthouse, from an original structure in the sixteenth century to the current one which dates from 1908. The other building is a ruined sixteenth-century Capuchin convent, which survived the 1755 earthquake but not the dissolution of the monasteries in 1834: its remaining walls today shelter a small shop and café.
The sea off this wild set of cliffs shelters the highest concentration of marine life in Portugal, including rare birds such as Bonelli’s eagle – there’s a birdwatching festival here in autumn. If you can, it’s worth visiting the cape at sunset, when the views are breathtaking.