We were heading out to our final destination at the mouth of the Sado with stops along the way. Our first stop was the Cabo Espichel where legend has it that local fishermen spotted Mother Mary riding on the back of a donkey up the hill. The news brought in thousands of devotees who found footprints that seemed to prove the story of the fishermen. Around the Santuário de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel pilgrims built with their own hands rooms where they could stay and the place remained popular until the nineties when scientists proved that the footprints were actually dinosaur fossil tracks – and the devotion at the Church waned away. The Church though small is built in the Baroque style with some beautiful frescoes that still retain their original integrity. On a clear day, one can see as far as Sintra, and the views of the coastline are beautiful.
We left the Cabo and headed to Castelo Sesimbra – a Moorish castle that houses a little church adorned with beautiful azuleijos.
From there we moved through the UNESCO heritage reserve of Arrabida. Located next to the sea, between Setúbal and the fishing town of Sesimbra, the Parque Natural da Arrábida has incomparable natural beauty, where the blue of the sea alternates with the imposing white chalk cliffs and the depths of the green vegetation that covers the mountain range. These chalky hills have the only surviving example of primitive Mediterranean vegetation, whose formation goes back 180 million years. The soil and mild climatic features, considered the best in Portugal, have produced a lush vegetation rich in species. The park covers the Arrabida Hills, which mediterranean-like vegetation and microclimate resemble Adriatic locations. Although the ridge is not really high, the views as you ride its winding roads are truly spectacular offering a panoramic vista of the Atlantic Ocean. The ravages of time and the action of the sea against the mountains has caused the formation of beautiful beaches, many of which are accessible by steep curving roads or by foot such as Figueirinha, Galapos and the Portinho da Arrábida. Around the 16th century the Franciscan friars built a convent that still stands in the area and the many isolated chapels where they would spend their days in meditation.
We drove down to Portinho for a delicious lunch of grilled sardines, fresh dourada and porca grelha. The beach was packed with sun worshippers and city folk getting away from the hum-drum of city life and although we chose not to take a dip, we learnt later that Rui used the time off to dive of the rocks into the cool Atlantic waters and visit a small chapel housed in a cave accessible only from the sea.
Our target was to get to Setubal where a privately owned catmaran would take us either up the Sado estuary or out to sea looking for a family of 22 rare bottlenose dolphins, one of who had just given birth to a little baby – that day just 20 days old. Sailing with the Esperenca is a smooth ride out towards the sea, flanked by the Troia Peninsula and the Arrabida coast, and we soon located the dolphins out at sea. The boat crew know each of the dolphins by name, identifying them by their dorsal fins.
Unfortunately for us the dolphins were not too playful, but we did see them very close and a couple of them did perform some dramatic leaps out of the water, though at a distance. The captain was kind enough to let everyone jump into the cold Atlantic waters after taking the boat into a protected bay off Galapo.
It was a great experience out at sea with the Vertigem Azul and we rushed backed hoping to get to Lisbon in time to visit the Christo Rei. That though was not to happen but Rui managed to convince the security to let us get in and take pictures from the base of the monument. A wonderful spot to take in the city of Lisbon, especially as the sun was dipping over the mouth of the Tejo.