Cabo da Roca – The Very Edge of Europe

With a bonus hike over the hill to see Praia da Ursa…

Won, Sweet Pea and I have been good citizens by staying within the boundaries of our town in order to comply with confinement restrictions to help reduce the spread of the virus. Our sacrifices, and those of the rest of the population, have been paying off. Portugal has significantly reduced the rate of transmission and, as a result, has begun to slowly (very slowly) lift restrictions on movement. Last week the government announced that between Monday and Friday citizens can move between municipalities, but on weekends everyone needs to stay put. This welcome news meant that we could finally get Sweet Pea groomed! (Yes…that was the very first thing on our to do list.) It had been four months since she last saw her stylist, Luis. Sweet Pea is typically groomed every six to eight weeks which meant she was long overdue. The primary reason? Luis’ business is located in Rio Maior, a one hour and fifteen minute drive away, but he is worth it. Luis knows the wire fox terrier breed, trains/judges other groomers, and shows the breed in competition.

Sweet Pea went from sheep dog…

…to wire fox terrier. Yay! We rewarded her with a trip to the beach where she could chill and show off her new beach bod.

Now that we had that important task completed we started to think about where we might go next. Last Sunday we spent the morning discussing possibilities. Initially, I thought it would be fun to drive south to see the stunning coastline, but we had heard that the GNR (National Republican Guard) were still monitoring cars crossing Pont 25 de Abril, the main bridge leading south out of Lisbon. We didn’t want to tempt fate and be turned away so we decided to put that trip off until a later date and looked for places to the north where no bridges were involved.

Since I was already thinking about coastlines, we both agreed that now was a good time to visit Cabo da Roca (Cape Roca). What is so unique about Cabo da Roca you ask? Well…it’s very special because Cabo da Roca forms the westernmost point of the Sintra Mountain Range, mainland Portugal, continental Europe, and the Eurasian land mass. That’s pretty unique in my book. It is situated in the municipality of Sintra near Azóia, a 25 minute drive from our house.

This past Monday, we jumped in the car and headed that direction. It was a beautiful day. The temperature was comfortable and the wind was calm. There were some clouds in the sky, but they only added to the beauty and drama of the views and overall experience.

The most prominent landmark on the cape is the Farol de Cabo da Roca (Cape Roca Lighthouse), a beacon/lighthouse situated 165 meters (541 ft) above the Atlantic Ocean. It is a third order lighthouse, which originally began operating in 1772. [I had no idea what a “third order lighthouse” was either, so I looked it up. A Third Order lens is used in coastal lights to lead mariners from one point to another along a coast.] This lighthouse was the first new purpose-built lighthouse to be constructed in the country: the older lighthouses in existence at that time were constructed on existing platforms or from pre-existing beacons.

Due to the lockdown, the lighthouse, a nearby café, toilets, and souvenir shop were all closed to visitors, but it was still possible to walk along the promontory, take in the gorgeous views, and look at the monument marking the importance of the location.

We peered over the edge to look down at the ocean below – and let me tell you, 165 meters (541 ft) is a long way down! Yikes! We scrambled over the rocky pathways and drank in the views. While exploring, I came across a kind of miniature, sad imitation of the Pont des Arts (the bridge in Paris with all the “love locks”). Come on, Portugal, you can do better than this! If those aren’t love locks then there is something really, really, valuable in that pit. Things that make you go hmmm….

Cabo da Roca didn’t disappoint. We were glad we went. And since it was such a nice day, we decided to hike over to Praia da Ursa (Bear Beach). The Michelin Guide considers Praia da Ursa to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It is certainly considered one of the most beautiful in Portugal, however, access is very difficult and dangerous via a dirt track down a twisting, steep route. Our path kept us high up on the bluffs for our first hike in the area, but we plan to return and try hiking all the way down to the beach another day.

I’m so glad we went during springtime. The ground was covered in lush, green vegetation and everything was blooming.

Even the textures, colors and variations of non flowering plants were fascinating to look at.

As we hiked across the top of the cliffs the views kept us mesmerized and then, bam!! There she was…Praia da Ursa.

I’ve read that the strains of the route down to the beach are more than justified by the superb landscape that awaits. From our vantage point we could see the enormous rocky formations dominating the beach. These colossal stones are called Ursa and Gigante (ursa/urso is the Portuguese word for bear). One of these formations resembles a bear, which is how the beach got its name, but I couldn’t see it from our angle. Apparently, during low tide you can explore contiguous coves – Palaia, to the south, where perch fishermen frequent, and Pesqueiro do Abrigo, to the north. 

I think you can see why it isn’t easy to get down to the beach. I even took a bit of a stumble as we followed the dirt track down as far as we dared to go. While I stood looking at the beautiful beach below, I thought I could see people so I maxed out the zoom capability on my Google Pixel phone and sure enough…there they were.

Every which way I turned, there were beautiful vistas and natural delights.

Since we didn’t hike down to the beach, I thought I would show you some images of what it looks like at ground level. I grabbed the following images from the Internet.

What a memorable afternoon. We were happy, tired, and dusty as we drove home. This country continues to surprise and delight us. I know there are more stunning coastlines to be explored, but until then, this little outing will keep me happy for now.

Next week Portugal is reopening all its historical monuments. One of the most recognizable palaces in the entire country has escaped us…until now. Next week we are headed to see the fanciful and colorful Palácio da Pena (Pena Palace) in Sintra. If time permits, we might even get over to see the ancient Moorish castle nearby. I can’t wait!

Until next time, please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch.

From Portugal with love,

Beth

Published by Beth Thomas-Kim

After working in corporate America for companies like Mattel, Nestlé, and Johnson & Johnson, I retired and moved to Portugal in January of 2020 with my husband Won and our 12-year old wire fox terrier, Sweet Pea. We now live in Monte Estoril, a lovely seaside town just outside Lisbon. We spend our days happily exploring this beautiful country and learning about its fascinating history, engaging culture, warm and welcoming people, delicious food and wine, and stunning architecture. This blog was started primarily as a way to keep family and friends updated on our transition from the US to Portugal. Now, my subscribers include people from all over the world. Enjoy!

9 thoughts on “Cabo da Roca – The Very Edge of Europe

  1. Beth, this is fantastic! We have changed our “get out of jail” plans next week from the Algarve (due to rise in Covid cases in the area) to Sintra. Kirk and I will definitely head up to this region outside of Sintra. The timing on this post is perfect for us.

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    1. Good idea! If you haven’t been to Quinta de Regaleira, I highly recommend it. It’s also someplace you should go when it isn’t too busy (like right now). It is simply magical and this time of year, the gardens and landscape will be gorgeous. Wear sensible shoes and prepare to deal with some elevation changes, but I think you guys will be fine.

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