Coasting to Cascais

Food, Hotels, Things to Do, Travel Tips — By Paul Bernhardt on January 9, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Lisbon offers the tourist all sorts of sightseeing options. But why not combine your city break with an excursion along the coast? A favourite destination is the pleasant resort town of Cascais.

Cascais marina

This is a great day trip idea. Regular departures from Cais do Sodré railway terminal connect the capital with this cosmopolitan seaside bolthole, a place celebrated for its sandy beaches, a marina with world-class credentials and several quirky and unique visitor attractions.

One of the most attractive aspects of Cascais is its year-round appeal. High season defines the town’s holiday character – not for nothing is this part of the world known as the “Portuguese Riviera”. During the cooler winter months though, the town dozes but still greets guests with a sleepy smile. The pace of life is slower but the welcome just as warm.

Coastal Cascais

The town centre offers surprisingly good shopping. There are a number of fashionable boutiques wedged between the traditional artisan shops and pocket-sized galleries that line the main thoroughfares.

For the most part however, exploring Cascais is to amble through a maze of narrow, cobbled back streets passing colourful fishermen’s cottages and stumbling upon lush, manicured parks and spruce, fragrant gardens.

Cascais, though, is really about the sea. A coastal road stretches all the way from the marina to Guincho, and the best way travel this stunning coastal path is by bicycle. And here’s a tip. Opposite the railway station on the other side of the roundabout is BiCas, a cycle rental outfit housed in a kiosk that lends out sturdy two-wheelers all day for absolutely nothing. It’s one of the best deals in town!

Cultural Cascais

Cascais lighthouse

The Farol Museu de Santa Marta is reached by skirting the town centre and heading out towards the marina. Dating from the mid–19th century, the lighthouse rises over a museum building and small fort. The tower can be visited and the views from the top take in the entire Lisbon coast.

Cascais museum

Nearby is the remarkable early 19th-century Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães. The former home of a wealthy aristocrat, this beautiful castle-like villa stands on a small creek and is brimming with hundreds of rare books, antique furniture, porcelain and other decorative objet d’art.

Speaking of art, admirers of Portuguese contemporary artist Paulo Rego will be spellbound by the collection housed in the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego. This eye-catching gallery showcases paintings and prints from the 1970s onwards and Rego is known to make occasional personal appearances when exhibiting new work.

Culinary Cascais

Cascais restaurants

Eating out here is fun. For lunch mix with the locals and your fellow travellers at any one of the restaurants in Largo Luís de Camões, Cascais’ central square. Recommended is Duke Pub Restaurant and the John Bull pub, an expat institution that’s been serving them well since 1967. As you’d expect, the fish and seafood choices at these lively eateries are particular favourites.

A more refined dining experience can be had at the Albatroz Seafront Hotel. Here, the Albatroz Restaurant specializes in traditional Portuguese cuisine with a Mediterranean flourish. The cuisine is carefully prepared, beautifully presented and served with a recommendation from Michelin.

For lighter meals, snacks or just a drink, the vicinity around Cascais harbour is brimming with welcoming cafés and bars, many with outside terraces.

Cascais walk

This time of year the sun sets with haste and here’s a tip to round off your day. Instead of catching the train back into Lisbon from the town station, allow time to walk along the promenade and pick up your carriage at Estoril, two stops further down the line. The wide esplanade takes in several beaches and is fanned by a fresh sea breeze that is positively invigorating. Remember to look back over your shoulder now and again to watch the sun slowly set over the horizon.

All images © Paul Bernhardt

Tags: "contemporary art", "day trip", Cascais, excursion, lighthouse, museum, ocean, restaurants, sea, walk