This is another post about the time I spent in Portugal earlier this year. To read the first post in this series please click here.
A definite highlight of the study tour was exploring Cape St. Vincent. This was not part of the itinerary, our last day in the Algarve was free to do whatever we fancied before heading to the airport. We agreed as a group that it would be criminal to be in the Algarve without visiting one of its most famous areas with one of the richest floras in Europe. So we set off early and had most of the day to explore.
View of the cliffs
One of the beaches
The dramatic, 100 metre high cliffs at Cape St. Vincent consist of hard dolomitic limestone very unlike the sandstone cliffs with which the Algarve region is generally associated. The numerous plants that live on the limestone cliffs have capitalised on the sand which, as a result of filling the cracks and fissures in the rock, maintains a higher level of moisture than would generally be found in this inhospitable and windswept environment.
Although the ocean that pounds the coast of Cape St. Vincent is the Atlantic, the warm wet winters and long hot and dry summers are far more reminiscent of the Mediterranean region. As a result the plants, birds and animals found are far more typical of the Mediterranean than they are of the northern European countries, the coasts of which are also dominated by the Atlantic ocean.
Colourful ground-covering plants
As soon as we stepped out of the car I was in heaven. Plants were littered along the roadside right to the clifftops, we literally stumbled across Ophrys fusca which was growing on the verge!
The combination of whites, pinks, yellows and blues patterning the clifftops like a vivid carpet was a joy to behold. I noticed typical plants growing together like Matthiola sinuata with the purple pimpernel Anagallis monelli which is one of the most common and memorable plants of the Algarve and found almost anywhere close to the coast. One of the prettiest of the wildflowers was Iberis procumbens, which forms brilliant white pincushions.
I couldn’t get over seeing snapdragons growing wild. The red Antirrhinum majus blooms were everywhere, any yellow ones are likely to be escapees from nearby gardens!
The Hottentot fig, Carpobrotus edulis, was out in full force, a highly invasive weed from South Africa which smothers and suffocates the native plants. It has very pretty flowers for such a thuggish plant!
Wild snapdragons, Antirrhinum majus
Astragalus tragacantha subsp. vincentina, a low-growing leguminous shrub and both the creamy-yellow and purple-flowering types of Honeywort, Cerinthe major, were also common.
Cistus palhinhae dominated the clifftops, a rare endemic to Cape St. Vincent. It closely resembles Cistus ladanifer which is found throughout the rest of the Algarve except that the flower petals of this species don’t have the maroon spots that occur on the petals of C. ladanifer.
The cliffs covered in cloud
I loved how there were no fences or barriers along the cliffs, just a sheer drop! I can see why it was known as ‘The End of the World’ in the Middle Ages. At one point the cloud rolled inland and we could barely see in front of us, it was a very eerie atmosphere. We retreated until the skies cleared again as we didn’t fancy losing our way in the fog!
Although I took plenty of photos I realised no camera would ever do it justice. The atmosphere was enchanting, like an energy was inviting me to stay. It was a privilege having time to sit down and take a moment to just absorb it all and be as one with the surroundings – it was hard to tear myself away.
Close-up of the ground-cover plants
The landscape combined with the flora made it the most beautiful, amazing place I’ve ever seen. We saw some spectacular sights throughout our week in the Algarve, Cape St. Vincent was a personal highlight for me. I hope to return again in the future. . .
Cliffs with the lighthouse in the background
Lotus creticus in focus with cliffs in the background
- Allium subvillosum
- Ammophila arenaria
- Anagallis monelli
- Antirrhinum majus
- Armeria pungens
- Asteriscus maritimus
- Astragalus tragacantha subsp. vincentina
- Biscutella vicentina
- Carpobrotus edulis
- Cerinthe major
- Cistus palhinhae
- Corema alba
- Crucianella maritima
- Daucus halophilus
- Dipcadi serotinum
- Euphorbia paralias
- Halimium calycinum
- Halimium halimifolium
- Iberis procumbens
- Juniperus phoenicea
- Lavandula stoechas
- Lithodora diffusa
- Lotus creticus
- Matthiola sinuata
- Narcissus bulbocodium
- Ophrys fusca
- Ophrys speculum
- Paronychia argentea
- Phagnalon rupestre
- Polycarpon tetraphyllum
- Rosmarinus officinalis
- Sedum sediforme
- Silene rothmaleri
- Stauracanthus genistoides
- Stipa gigantea
- Thymus camphoratus