Stretched out to the west of Lisbon, the enchanting Cascais Coast (sometimes affectionately referred to as the ‘Portuguese Riviera’) is brimming with leisure activities and wide-ranging tourist appeal.
Embroidered by golden sandy beaches, and for the most part protected from the crashing Atlantic waves, it officially begins midway along the Tagus Estuary and extends well beyond Cabo da Roca, mainland Europe’s most westerly point.
Its climate is mostly temperate throughout the year and the region is rarely subjected to any harsh weather conditions, even during winter. This is largely because the whole area is blessed by a unique microclimate influenced by the biological structure of the nearby Sintra Mountains.
A 30-minute train ride from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré train station will take you to the resort towns of Cascais and Estoril, both charming and distinctive in their own right. The train ride alone, with the sea only metres away from the tracks, is a real treat, especially on warm, sunny days.
Alight at Estoril and walk the rest of the way to Cascais (about a 20-25 minute stroll) along the vibrant seafront promenade that connects the two towns, stopping en route for a seafood snack or a refreshing drink on one of the many outdoor terraces.
In Cascais – known as the town of kings and fishermen because, long ago, Portugal’s royal family adopted the then tiny fishing village as their summer resort — take time to roam around the old town (don’t miss the amazing Town Museum), check out the trendy boutiques lining the narrow lanes and enjoy fine views across its picture book fishing-boat-bobbing bay.
After that, soak up the town’s fascinating history at the Cascais Citadel before hiring a bicycle for an exhilarating ride further west along the shoreline to Casa da Guia, a wonderful leisure area atop the cliffs with shops, cafés, restaurants and spectacular sea views, most notably at sunset.
In a prime location overlooking Estoril’s renowned Tamariz Beach, the town’s world-famous casino opens its doors from 3pm-3am every day, giving you plenty of time to find out what inspired the writer Ian Fleming to create the greatest spy of them all – James Bond.
The ancient village of Sintra is another place on the Cascais Coast that needs no specific introduction. Its verdant landscape of lush, green forests, stately edifices and elaborate palaces (the latter built centuries ago as summer retreats for the royal family) is a must for lovers of history and architectural landmarks.
In Sintra’s ancient town centre you can visit the National Palace before dropping in quite unannounced for afternoon tea at Lawrence’s (one of the world’s oldest hotels) where Lord Byron was so overwhelmed by his surroundings that he immediately set about writing some of the best lines of his most famous poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
Nestling on the ridge of the Serra de Sintra, with stunning views right along the Cascais Coast, the town’s prominently-situated castle was built by the Moors in the 7th century and fell to the Christians sweeping down from the north in 1147, the same year Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, took control of Lisbon.
Not far from Sintra lies the point where, in the words of the Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões, ‘the land ends and the sea begins’. This is Cabo da Roca, mainland Europe’s westernmost point, and to prove you’ve been there you can purchase a wax-sealed certificate with your name on it from the local tourist office.