One of the pearls of the Portuguese Riviera is the upmarket resort town of Estoril located 26 km west of Lisbon and just 3 km east of cosmopolitan Cascais. Estoril grew up in the 1920s as a resort modelled along the lines of the Côte d’Azur in south-east France. During World War II it was a safe haven for exiled royalty from all over Europe, including Italy’s last king Umberto II and Karl Hapsburg, the last Austro-Hungarian emperor. The majority spent their evenings gambling in the town’s ritzy casino (pictured above) which still ranks as one of the largest in Europe.
With its idyllic south-facing shoreline, Estoril is a majestic place with a succession of clean sandy beaches and a good range of distinctive hotels, most notably the Palácio which featured prominently in the sixth James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was first screened in 1969. The Palácio’s association with espionage had already been firmly established during World War II when spies on both sides of the conflict regularly crossed paths in the hotel lobby.
Hidden away behind thick hedges and large spacious lawns are the many turn-of-the-19th-century mansions for which much of the town’s immense glamour can be attributed. A major highlight for visitors is the Parque do Estoril, a beautiful garden of stately palm trees and purple-red bougainvillea crowned by the town’s world-famous casino, one of the Lisbon area’s main hubs of first-class entertainment.
A particular attraction for tourists during the hot summer months is Fiartil, the oldest crafts fair in Portugal and an excellent outdoor showcase of regional artisan products further enhanced with street food festivals and an extensive activities programme.
Estoril and its environs are also popular for many championship golf courses as well as the Estoril motor-racing circuit which lies in the foothills of the Sintra mountains a few miles inland and once played an integral part in the Formula One season.
Despite its status as a modern international tourist resort, Estoril is also blessed with several centuries-old attractions, most notably the Church of Santo António built in the 16th century on the site of an even older church. It was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake but was severely damaged by fire in 1927, although the church’s old azulejo tiles and delightful Baroque façade thankfully remain intact.
Estoril’s formidable coastal location offers visitors the best of both worlds because it is easily accessible from the great city of Lisbon just half an hour away along a scenic railway that runs parallel to the mouth of the Tagus Estuary, passing the eye-catching Bugio Lighthouse (built in 1775) and the iconic Tower of Belém and Cristo Rei monuments en route.
With its laid-back atmosphere and a buzzing night-life, nearby Cascais is a very pleasant 20-minute stroll from Estoril along the popular seaside promenade built in the region’s heyday.