It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes Cabo da Roca special. Is it the novelty of knowing that you’re standing on the very most Western tip of Europe? That all of the continent lies to one side of you, and to the other nothing but sea? Is it the shivery steepness of the cliffs or the watchful gaze of the red and white lighthouse tower in the distance? Or the singular obelisk of a monument capped by a stone cross that bears the lovely inscription “Aqui, onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa…” (a line from renowned Portuguese poet Luís de Camões which translates as, “Here, where the earth ends and the sea begins…”)? Perhaps it’s all of these things combined.
Truth be told, aside from these things there is little to see or do at Cabo da Roca. Tourists come, take photos, perhaps stop for a quick drink at the cape’s solitary café, and tick another item off their sightseeing agenda — to stand on Europe’s most Westerly point. Done. Dusted. Come and go. And to be fair, that alone is fine enough reason to visit. But if you do happen to stand for a moment and listen to the great heaving blanket of water and silence that extends beyond the cliff on which you stand, you’ll feel a glimmer of tranquility, awe perhaps. Maybe you’ll stop and imagine what it felt like to be an explorer in an age when vast chunks of ocean were still unchartered, and no-one really knew exactly what lay beyond that mysterious point where the earth ended and the sea began.
Cabo da Roca sits within the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, approximately 18km drive west of the Sintra township. Hiking from Sintra is possible via more direct mountain paths that cut the journey down to around 14km, however, at 3-4 hours each way this is not the most popular option except for those with plenty of time to spare and who have already had the chance to experience all the beautiful sights that Sintra has on offer. Those wanting to pack as much into their days as possible are better off going by car or bus, or opting for a Sintra tour that includes Cabo da Roca in its itinerary.
One route worth considering is to start at the Sintra historic township, make your way to a couple of Sintra’s best historical sites — like Pena Palace, the Moorish castle or Quinta da Regaleira — then in the afternoon travel across to Cabo da Roca for a stop on the cape before heading south along the coast to finish in the gorgeous seaside town of Cascais. That’s just one option, of course, but, given the proximity of those visiting spots to one another, we’d certainly like to think it’s a good one.