Cascais, Portugal: Travelogue Pt 1
This was going to be a holiday with a difference. The first family holiday with my wife and our daughter who was 8 months at the time. The destination that we picked was Portugal although we decided to mix it up with 10 days on the beach and 4 days in the city. The town of Cascais filled this role perfectly for us. Located down the coast from Lisbon, this Atlantic seaside town is easily accessible from the main airport in Lisbon and is a 45 minute train ride from the city itself.
The city of Lisbon and its suburbs sprawl down the coastline with Cascais and Estoril the last stop before the reaching the Sintra-Cascais National Park and the Atlantic Ocean. The boundaries of these surburbs are often indistinguishable with the gaps between towns such as Cascais and Estoril infilled over the decades with hotels and residential properties. The town has a rich history with Glitterati and Kings. The nearby Casino Estoril and Hotel Palácio Estoril, provides tales of world war II espionage, the brief home of Ian Flemming and the alleged inspiration for his first book Casino Royale. James Bond also stays the hotel in the movie 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'.
Today, the town is still a popular destination for tourists and the Portuguese alike retaining its past reputation as the wealthy playground of the Portuguese. Despite this tagline, the town retains its charm. Just behind the main tourist drags lie cobbled lined streets with decorative street lanterns and wooden shuttered buildings adorned with the blue and white porcelain murals of saints and religious icons. The decay and wear on some of the buildings add to the charm and don't detract from experience.
With the baby our requirements for accommodation were different for this holiday and we felt a private apartment would suit our needs best. Two bedrooms, a kitchen and separate living area would provide us ample space for the baby particularly at night when the baby was in bed. We thought our luck was in when we found an apartment on AirB&B with a small private pool and promptly booked. Unfortunately, a few weeks later the "owner" cancelled on us, leaving us in a difficult situation. Flights and Lisbon accommodation booked all on non-refundable deposits. Feeling a little shaken by the experience, we opted for the safety of a hotel and ended up booking a junior suite. Not ideal as we had no cooking facilities, but at least we had our own bedroom and balcony, while the baby was asleep in the other room. To be fair to AirB&B, this was an issue with the renter, and they resolved the matter quickly and we received a full refund without much delay.
Our hotel was a short walk from the main centre of the town located in front of Parque Marechal Carmona and looking out onto the Atlantic, the Marina de Cascais and the Santa Marta Lighthouse. The location made it easy to relax by the pool by the day and then stroll into town for lunch and dinner. We tried to time meals with naps time for the baby. The restaurants were accommodating and made space for the stroller at our table. We purchased a black-out cover for the stroller which was ideal for this trip serving dual purpose. With the front zipped down, it provided a cocoon of shade for during the day. In the evening, we zipped up the front to black it out and allow the baby to sleep while we had our evening meal. The warm evenings allowed the baby to sleep in her grow with a blanket in pram while we were out for meals. On our return to the hotel, we simply transferred her to the cot for the remainder of the evening.
Unsurprisingly, fish was order of the day with a number of good fish restaurants situated around the town serving grilled fish, octopus and much more. O Pescador was a particular favourite serving a number of simple fresh fish plates and platters at a reasonable price. Restaurant Mar do Inferno was also a surprising success. Located just outside of the town at the tourist site, Boca do Inferno, the restaurant had all the makings of a tourist traps, but thankfully was the opposite. Quality fresh fish and not overpriced, our lunch platter of grilled prawns and fish with plump juicy mussels was a standout of our stay in Cascais. Unfortunately, not all restaurants lived up to this billing and in particular Restaurante Cervejaria Luzmar. Listed in the Michellin Guide, the food was overpriced and disappointing. My wife order the bisque had a distinct lack of depth and seafood flavour leading my wife to describe it as packet soup. Breaking from the fish, Jardim dos Frangos offers no-frills, no-fuss, deliciously moist piri-piri chicken and chips while Os Bardallos serves a range of gourmet burgers.
The influence of fishing and the ocean is very visible through out the town. The luxury cruisers and yachts may be berthed within the marina, but it the small fishing boats and yacht anchored in the natural harbour of the bay symbolise the past and everyday life of the town. The small pier is stacked with fishing paraphernalia including lobster pots, nets and rowing boats. Small pens and blue and white stripped sheds provide storage and working areas for fixing nets and preparing pots for the next trip to sea. The town is watched over by the Cidadela de Cascais and several martime theme statues , looking out to the waters sailed in the Portuguese maritime heyday by heroes such as Vasco da Gama.
The Cidadela is now home to a luxury hotel and an art district of galleries and studios. The large courtyard is an gallery in itself featuring a number of large art pieces including a pair of binoculars. Looking through the binoculars reminded me of the iconic gun barrel opening sequence of the James Bond movies. This photograph is a nod to the James Bond history of the area which I described above.
I'll end this Part 1 travelogue from Cascais with a selection of photographs which show some of the architectural details that I felt gave the town its charm and beauty. Part 2 of this travelogue from Cascais, Portugal will take us to the Boca do Inferno (Hell's Mouth).