The best independent guide to Sesimbra
The best independent guide to Sesimbra
The Cabo Espichel is the bleak and wild-swept headland at the southwestern tip Setubal Peninsula. This is a dramatic coastline of towering cliffs, barren wind-blasted landscapes and massive Atlantic Ocean waves.
Contained within this bleak and rugged scenery are some fascinating tourist sights, including a pilgrimage church, a powerful lighthouse and two sets of dinosaur footprints. Meandering along the cliff tops are a series of scenic coastal footpaths, and these head north to the deserted beaches of the Costa da Caparica coastline.
The Cabo Espichel is a fantastic destination to visit if you appreciate nature’s raw beauty, and is an enjoyable excursion from Sesimbra or as part of a day trip from Lisbon.
Related articles: Sesimbra introduction - Costa da Caparica
Along with the coastal walks and views across the ocean, the four main sights of the Cabo Espichel are:
The Santuario de Nossa Senhora – An 18th-century church complex with two distinctive rows of accommodation buildings, constructed for pilgrims to the Cabo Espichel
The Farol do Cabo Espichel – The powerful lighthouse which illuminates this treacherous headland
The Ermida da Memória – A tiny chapel constructed on the site of an apparition of the Virgin Mary (the Nossa Senhora), and once an important pilgrimage destination.
The Pedra da Mua and Lagosteiros – Two sets of dinosaur footprints that have been exposed within the cliffs.
The Lagosteiros dinosaur footprints – without knowing what to look for they are very easy to miss!
Insider Tip: Another way to discover Cabo Espichel is to book a day trip from Lisbon, you will provide the opportunity to visit the region with a knowledgeable guide and provides the hassle of public transport
A visit to the Cabo Espichel is not going to be that long.
Within 1 hour, you could easily see the Santuario de Nossa Senhora church, the Ermida da Memória chapel and the lighthouse, which is a 10-minute walk from the chapel.
From the church, it is a 20 minute round trip to see the Lagosteiros dinosaur footprints. This route passes the only safe place to view the Pedra da Mua tracks, which are on the side of a cliff below the Ermida da Memória chapel. A two-hour visit to the Cabo Espichel is sufficient time to have seen everything.
A brief stop (less than 20 minutes) is enough to see the Santuario de Nossa Senhora and the cliffs, and is ideal if you are visiting as part of a tour or by the very limited bus service.
If the heat, cold or wind gets too much, there is a decent café (I Love Espichel) for refreshments and traditional Portuguese home cooking, and is located close to the Nossa Senhora church.
To greatly extend a visit, consider the hike along the Maravilhas do Cabo (PR2-SSB route) or along the cliffs to the deserted Praia das Bicas beach (details later in this article).
Below is an interactive map of the sights of the Cabo Espichel
Sights: 1) Santuario de Nossa Senhora 2) Ermida da Memória 3) Casa dos Círios 4) Casa da Água 5) Cabo Espichel lighthouse 6) Pedra da Mua (dinosaur footprints) 7) Lagosteiros (dinosaur footprints) 8) Maravilhas do Cabo (hiking route) 9) Praia das Bicas 10) Praia do Meco 11) Lagoa de Albufeira
Note: zoom out to see all of the markers
The southwestern tip of the Setubal Peninsular is one of the least visited areas of the Lisbon region, and has lots of other interesting sights to continue a day trip here.
To the north of the Cabo Espichel is the beautiful Praia do Meco, a wonderful beach so long as it’s not windy. Further along the coast is the Lagoa de Albufeira, a tranquil lagoon that opens out onto the ocean and provides a unique dual-facing beach. The Lagoa de Albufeira is one of the hidden gems of the Lisbon region.
To the east of the Cabo Espichel is the delightful beach resort of Sesimbra and the port city of Setubal. Between these two towns are the Serra da Arrábida hills and the scenic N379 road.
Related articles: Lagoa de Albufeira - The Serra da Arrábida - Praia do Meco
The remote cliffs of Cabo Espichel spurned superstitions and cultural rituals, which during the medieval era amalgamated into the Order of Our Lady of Cabo Espichel.
The Espichel coastline was the setting for multiple miracles and religious visions, which transformed the region into an important pilgrimage destination during the 13th-18th centuries.
The most fascinating vision occurred in 1410, when an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared riding a giant mule. The mule and Mary rose out of the sea and climbed the steep cliffs to the present-day site of the Ermida da Memória chapel. On reaching the chapel, Mary vanished, leaving just the footprints of the giant mule.
These giant mule tracks actually do exist, and are part of the Pedra da Mua dinosaur footprints, originally being formed by a huge Sauropod.
The mule was seen to be climbing these cliffs, to the small chapel at the top
As the fame of the Cabo Espichel grew, a larger church and accommodation for pilgrimage was built, under the orders of King Dom Pedro II in 1701. The Nossa Senhora church has a Baroque exterior typical of that era, but the main attraction is the ornate interior and beautiful painted ceiling.
Outside of the church are two symmetrical accommodation wings housed pilgrims to the Nossa Senhora. These rows of accommodation were called the Casa dos Círios but were often simply referred to as “hostels”. Sadly, the buildings have fallen into disrepair and are closed off to visitors.
At the far end of the courtyard is the Casa de Agua (water house), and this was where the water from the aqueduct flowed into.
The Santuario de Nossa Senhora
The Cabo Espichel Lighthouse was one of the most important lighthouses of the Lisbon coastline. The southwestern tip of the Setubal Peninsula was notorious for shipping, as there are few major towns to illuminate the coast, and the region experiences ferocious Atlantic storms.
The original lighthouse was constructed in 1430, but the current 32m tower dates from 1790. On a clear night, the light from Cabo Espichel Lighthouse can be seen 35km out to sea. The lighthouse is still in operation, and is closed to the public.
Within the exposed and weathered cliffs of Cabo Espichel are two sets of dinosaur footprints; the Pedra da Mua and the Lagosteiros.
The Pedra da Mua tracks are embedded within the grey cliffs, directly below the Ermida da Memória chapel. These tracks were created by a herd of Sauropods (colossal four-legged dinosaurs) and include juvenile footprints and the irregular step of an injured animal.
As the prints are on the side of a near-vertical cliff, the only place to view them (from a distance) is from the opposite side of the bay.
The footpath to the Lagosteiros track and Pedra da Mua viewpoint
The Lagosteiros tracks are much easier to view but are less impressive. The Lagosteiros footprints were formed during the Cretaceous period, by a herd of Theropod and Ornithopod dinosaurs. The most interesting footprints are from a dinosaur that is running.
Insight: The two sets of dinosaur footprints are only 400m apart but are separated by almost 50 million years.
Without clear signage it’s very easy to miss the Lagosteiros footprints
The small Chapel of Ermida da Memória was an important early pilgrimage destination in Portugal. This was the chapel that the apparition of the Virgin Mary on the mule vanished into.
Inside the chapel, traditional blue and white azulejos painted tiles depict the mule and its footprints. The chapel is closed off to visitors, but the tiles can be seen through the glass door.
Insight: The tile paintings in the Ermida da Memória is technically the world’s first-ever recorded existence of dinosaurs, even though it was believed to be a giant mule…
The Cabo Espichel coastline provides a series of hiking trails. The two most popular are the Maravilhas do Cabo and the trail along the coast to the Praia das Bicas.
The Maravilhas do Cabo is a 5km circular route that takes in the two sets of dinosaur footprints and the deserted coastline to the north of the Cabo Espichel. A link to a leaflet can be found here (this is an external website, and the PDF may download on phones)
An alternative hiking route is to follow the coastal paths to the Praia das Bicas 6km to the north. This path ends at one of the most pristine and remote beaches of the Lisbon region.
There is very poor public transport to the Cabo Espichel, and it is always advisable to drive.
There is a large free car park near the church and a second car park at the start of the Maravilhas do Cabo footpath, which leads down to the dinosaur footprints.
Public transport to the Cabo Espichel is very limited. There is just a single bus route to the Cabo Espichel, which departs from Sesimbra bus station. This service is the 3205 route and is operated by Carris Metropolitana, and a single fare costs 2.60€. The latest timetable can be seen on the Carris Metropolitana website:
The Cabo Espichel bus waiting at Sesimbra bus station
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