With its picturesque beaches and quaint fishing boat-bobbing waters, Cascais is far removed from the hustle and bustle of nearby Lisbon. Once a small village, the town has grown in size and popularity in recent years to become one of the most attractive beach resorts in Portugal.
It is a sophisticated setting with many elegant shops and a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. A wide variety of bars, cafés and restaurants cater for the throngs of summer holidaymakers, who fill up the town’s main square by night after meandering through the narrow lanes and upmarket shopping arcades during the evening.
The town’s 16th-century parish church is popular for its carved and gilded woodwork round the altar and walls panelled with Portuguese azulejo glazed tiles. Visitors can also see paintings by some of Portugal’s most famous artists, most notably Josefa de Óbidos.
Located close to the sea, the Cascais Municipal Museum housed in the Palace of the Counts of Castro Guimarães features rare Indo-Portuguese-style furniture, a library with over 25,000 books (including some 17th century editions and a 1505 illuminated manuscript) and a small zoo.
The Cascais Sea Museum illustrates the town’s close association with the Atlantic Ocean with a vast range of related exhibits including old maps, articles of fishermen’s clothing, model boats and pieces of treasure salvaged from ships wrecked in the surrounding waters.
Now housing a modern pousada hotel, the 16th-century Fort of Cascais known as the Cidadela was built to protect the Bay of Cascais. It is part of a whole line of fortresses along the Tagus estuary which were built to protect Lisbon from being invaded. There is a beautiful view from the fortress and a small open-air artillery museum.
Nearby, Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell) 3 km west of Cascais is an unusual crater-shaped rock formation constantly under attack from the pounding Atlantic waves. Further along the coast is the magnificent sandy beach of Guincho, a favoured spot among surfers and windsurfers from all over the world.
Another major attraction close to Cascais is Cabo da Roca, mainland Europe’s most westerly point, where visitors can buy a certificate to prove that they’ve been to the place where ‘the land ends and the sea begins’, to quote Luís de Camões, Portugal’s most celebrated poet.