Portugal’s first lighthouse entered service in 1515, at Cape St Vincent. The monks at the Monastery of St Vincent used the tower to shine a light to guide seafarers.
There are 60 lighthouses in Portugal, with six located in the Algarve.
Today’s Cape St Vincent Lighthouse, built in 1846, rises to a height of 28 metres and is the most south-westerly point of Europe. The cloister’s arches and the water tanks still remain, as does the wall of the fortress that protected the monastery.
Rising 51 metres above sea level, the cliffs at Ponta da Piedade are the highest on the south coast and atop them stands the Lagos lighthouse. Its construction was controversial, since it required the demolition of the centuries-old Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Piedade (Our Lady of Sorrows), a pilgrimage site for seafarers.
In Ferragudo the lighthouse at Ponta do Altar stands on the promontory and affords a view River Arade’s estuary and the city of Portimão.
Similarly, the Alfanzina, or Carvoeiro, Lighthouse (Lagoa), as it is called by the fishermen, stands on a rocky promontory, where it rises to a height of 23 metres above the Atlantic Ocean.
The whimsical shape of the coastline and its caves are used as nesting and resting places by numerous birds that fly or glide with infinite elegance before plunging into the sea in search of food.
An 18-metres high the orange lighthouse at Vilamoura’s marina control tower assists with the coming and going of pleasure boats to this cosmopolitan harbour for yachts and sailing boats.
The Cape Santa Maria Lighthouse, standing opposite Faro and Olhão, dominates the landscape of soft, light-golden sands on the barrier island of Culatra, part of the Ria Formosa’s dune system and stands at 46 metres.
Watching over the mouth of the River Guadiana stands the Vila Real Santo António Lighthouse. Cylindrical in shape, the tower is white with black bands and is topped by a red lantern. It is a marvellous viewpoint from which you can look out over the bay of Monte Gordo and across the border to Spain.
The lighthouses are open through the summer months on Wednesdays, from 2pm to 5pm. Entry to all lighthouses is free.
The Santa Maria (Faro) and Alfanzina (Carvoeiro) lighthouses are currently open until August 31 between 2.30pm and 6.30pm from Tuesdays to Sundays thanks to the Geração Z programme, instigated by the Portuguese Institute of Sports and Youth (IPDJ), whereby young volunteers are at these two lighthouses to welcome visitors.