Breathtaking. There is no other word for what awaits at Cabo Espichel. Can there be a more extraordinary sight along this coast than the ornate Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel, and the rows of pilgrims’ lodges that stretch along the sides of the wide courtyard in front of the church? If the buildings aren’t enough, they sit dramatically on a headland above towering cliffs that plunge to the ocean below. Truly breathtaking.
Constructed in the 18th Century, the church and lodges are a surreal addition to this desolate, brooding landscape. Inside, the church is decorated with the most sublime paintings – no photos allowed, so you’ll have to take my word for it. The grandeur of the buildings is more than matched by the grandeur of the landscape. Yet it is impossible to escape the thought that this was an enormous piece of human folly – it is only a matter of time before the ocean reclaims the land the church is built on.
Adding to the sense of the surreal is the story of Our Lady of the Cape. This area of Portugal is home to an unusually large number of dinosaur tracks dating to the Late Jurassic period. In the 13th Century a local fisherman is supposed to have discovered the tracks; lacking any other possible narrative for what they were, it was decided that they must have been made by a giant mule which carried Our Lady of the Cape to this place.
Around the back of the church is a shrine, the Ermida de Memoria, which houses an image of Our Lady of the Cape and the Virgin Mary; the latter apparently made an appearance on this very spot in the 15th Century. An unfortunate choice, the Atlantic Ocean is slowly eating away at this coastline and soon everything will be in the sea.
A short distance from the church is the Cabo Espichel lighthouse. A pleasant walk along the cliffs, you can stroll to the lighthouse and then down to some abandoned buildings on the very edge of the cliffs. These look like they were once houses and also an industrial workshop. They may have been the original lighthouse – this area had the earliest lighthouse on this coast in 1790 – but I couldn’t find any information on them.
The views all along this strip of coast are spectacular; they alone make a visit here worthwhile, but being able to explore abandoned buildings on a cliff edge really makes it doubly special.