* Prices may differ from that shown
How to get to Cascais
Almost all international visitors to Cascais fly into Lisbon Portela airport, I found the airport to be bust but clean, efficient and on the whole well-managed. Departures and arrivals were easy to find and all of the information boards were in both English and Portuguese. From the UK various airlines provide daily flights to Lisbon, from London these are British Airways and EasyJet who also operate summer services from Bristol and Liverpool as well. I found that the Portuguese flag carrier TAP Air Portugal also were very competitive on price so it may be worth considering them if you don't mind departing from either Heathrow or Gatwick.
Unfortunately there is no direct link between Lisbon airport and Cascais. The airport does have a taxi rank although taxi drivers in Lisbon are known for being a bit, how can I put it, ropey at the best of times. Reports of over-charging are rife and there are no set airport fares. The best option is to get the airport bus into central Lisbon and get off at the final stop which is conveniently Cais Do Sodré train station. From the station there are signs directing you to the train which terminates in Cascais. It may sound complicated be the whole journey should take around an hour and a half and cost just about Euro7 which makes it far better value than a taxi.
Cascais is not only beaches, it has also played an important role in the history of Portugal, it was a favourite resort for the Portuguese royal family and has maintained its up market image generally. The downside of the resort town is that the beaches are small and can become quite crowded and noisy. There are opportunities to get away from the noise but you will need to travel to the larger and more secluded beaches of Estoril.
Nightlife is certainly not a mainstay of the town, indeed there is in reality very little of it and what there is seems limited to the hotels. There are several restaurants in which it is possible to eat outside but you will not find clubs and bars, these seem strictly limited to central Lisbon. If you want something a little different then visit the enormous Estoril casino which is the largest of its king in Europe, it offers every possible way to loose your money that you could think of!
The harbour at Cascais has many yachts and is a nice setting for a walk on a summer day but boat trips are not possible unless you are willing to spend a small fortune to hire a yacht privately. If you want to go on the water head to Lisbon where there are numerous trips on the river which are good value and can be family activities or romantic trips at sunset.
It is possible to rent villas in the area but for the majority of people myself included the best option is undoubtedly a hotel. There are options for all budgets and naturally everyone has a different budget but I have chosen what I believe to be the three best hotels within the respective price ranges below:
TOP OF THE RANGE
- Hotel Cascais Miragem: This is possibly one of the best hotels I have ever stayed at and fully deserving of its five star rating. The hotel has everything that you could possibly wish for and the swimming pool has stunning views out over the Atlantic ocean, but all of this luxury comes at a pice, starting from £1,300 bed and breakfast for a week during the high season to be precise. However if you fancy splashing out on a suite you will ned to shell out at least £3,500.
MIDDLE OF THE RANGE
- Hotel Baia: If location is your top priority this three star establishment is the perfect choice. All of the rooms are clean and come with good air conditioning systems and act as a great base for spending more time outside the room than inside. The food is very expensive for what it is and in my opinion the hotel uses its position to charge premium prices for food. Rooms in the high season for a week cost around £1000.
- Guincho Wind Factory Guest House: In my experience this guest house provides exceptional value for couples and families. The location isn't exactly central but the guest house comes with several perks such as free wi-fi as well as clean and sizeable rooms. Prices start at just £450 for a full week and just over £700 for a family of four.
Getting Around Cascais And Beyond
In my experience Portuguese public transport is superior to that of its Spanish counterpart, and Cascais is no exception. I used both buses and trains to move about and found both to be reliable and a pleasant and generally an uncrowded experience. Do not rent a car unless you plan on travelling the entire length of Portugal as it is really pointless, indeed the town of Cascais itself is very easy to walk and you get a far better experience of local life doing it this way.
In terms of going to other places, the train station, which is well signposted, is at the end of a local line which leads to Lisbon Cais Do Sodré station from where a connection to all of the main cities in Portugal is possible. The station at Cascais is well set out and there are plenty of ticket machines which can be operated in both Portuguese and English. Two stops down the line from Cascais station is the stop for Estoril and trains run frequently during the day time with one train in both directions roughly every half an hour. Prices are very cheap at around Euro3 to get into central Lisbon for an adult for a journey that lasts under an hour.
Buses are also cheap and operated by a company called Scott (website address detailed below the review), they have an extensive network which can be confusing but with sufficient planning it is not difficult see how it all works. The bus station is near to Cascais train station. Buses are typically clean and efficient and I found that the majority of drivers that I spoke to could speak at least some basic English although a few basic words of Portuguese may occasionally come in handy. Services to Sintra and Lisbon run hourly and both take in the region of thirty to forty minutes. Buses are an excellent choice and don't feel intimidated by using the local public transport, it is easy reliable and on the whole welcoming.
On the other hand I would urge people not to use taxis either in Cacais or Lisbon. There have been frequent reports to the tourist police of taxi drivers not using the metres and instead trying to over-charge people. This is common all over the world but Cascais and Lisbon seem especially prone to it, instead choose public transport unless it is absolutely necessary to use a taxi.
In terms of sports the predominant activity is golf. The region around Lisbon has some of the best of the best golf courses in Portugal and there are no shortage of them. My personal recommendation would be the golf course at the Lisbon Sports Club which apparently features some of the most beautiful and scenic golf holes in all of Portugal. Playing the course is not cheap with prices starting at Euro60 and going up to nearly Euro100 if you choose to play at peak time at the weekend. That said the course is well maintained and you can reduce the price by playing if the afternoon if you can cope with the heat.
For families I would highlight the many riding school situated around Cascais and Estoril as many of them can provide a fun-filled day out for a group of people for a reasonable price. If you are an experienced rider there is nothing nicer than strolling around the many quiet lanes of the region in gorgeous summer sunshine. For those without experience group lessons and also private ones are possible. I found that there were many riding schools and have detailed down a couple of highly recommended ones at the bottom of this review.
Cascais is ideally situated just a few miles from Portugal's capital city, Lisbon, and in my opinion it is very east to fill several days of a holiday with day trips. One tour company that I would recommend would be the Around Lisbon company (website details at the bottom of this review), they offer a wide variety of tours such the authentic city tours visiting sites such as the Belem Tower, Jeronimos monastery and the Monument To The Discoveries as well as different more unorthodox tours. I found the 'Atlantic Frontier' trip to be fantastic as I saw Belenga Island which for me felt like real off the beaten track tourism as it wasn't filled with hundreds of tourists. The island is home to an old fort as well as as well as a traditional lighthouse which you can climb up to. A word of practical advice would be that the sea can get quite rough and I found the return journey particularly bad in the evening, think carefully before booking the tour if you are prone to sea-sickness. In my experience on a calm day the snorkelling opportunities have the potential to be some of the best in the world as the water is so clear, so it is certainly worth bringing some equipment if you have any.
With regard to Lisbon itself most of the sites you will want to see are around the shore of the river Tagus, the historical sites of the Monument To The Discoveries and Belem Tower both offer great photo opportunities with the river running parallel to them. There is also a cable car that runs near to the river. The Lisboa Card is a decent idea if you plan on spending several days sightseeing in the city although you do need to cover a lot of attractions in order to make it financially worthwhile, the 24 hour pass costs Euro18,50 while the 72 hour option costs Euro39. Most of the major attractions are either discounted or free when you show the card.
My DO's and DON'TS when visiting Cascais:
* DO expect fairly high prices in restaurants, although Cascais isn't in the city it is home to a large contingent of city people as well as tourists all year meaning it isn't a heaven for the budget traveller.
* DO expect a taste of real Portugal and not just the touristy bits, I found Cascais to be home to number of good restaurants serving Portuguese cuisine to a combination of locals and tourists. This makes for a good atmosphere.
* DO leave Cascais and consider day trips to Lisbon, the beautiful yet small mountain village of Sintra and the resort town of Estoril.
* DO go and see Lisbon by night, it is a beautiful city to see in the evening with all of its lights and the spectacular suspension bridge. A river cruise in the evening is a really romantic idea.
* DON'T expect massive long beaches, the main beach in central Cascais is small and can get crowded.
* DON'T just spend all week on the beach despite how tempting it might be, Cascais has a very interesting history and you have Lisbon on the door-step as well.
* DON'T expect a holiday with only a little bit of walking along flat paths. Cascais and especially Sintra are hilly and this can become tiring in the summer heat very quickly.
* DON'T think that because it is situated on the Atlantic coast and not the Mediterranean that it will not be hot, temperatures in the summer are frequently in the low thirties although the Atlantic breeze can be nice at times.
I have awarded Cascais four stars because it is a superb and classy resort with excellent links to Portugal's capital city, Lisbon. However I took one star off because I don't think that the place itself has enough activities to keep someone occupied for a whole week without visiting other places in the region. Without doubt Cascais is a family friendly destination that is not apart from the beaches over-crowded and has a little bit for people of all ages. The town could do with more accommodation options for budget travellers although those that are there are a good standard for the prices that they charge. Think of Cascais when planning this years summer holiday.
Contacts And Links
http://www.miguelalveshorses.com/en/Home.aspx - Miguel Alves Riding School.
http://www.ridingestoril.com/ - Nuno Velloso Riding School.
http://www.golisbon.com/Lisboa-Card/ - Lisboa Card.
http://www.aroundlisbon.pt/index.html - Around Lisbon Tours.
http://www.scotturb.com/ - Scott Buses Poertugal (website in English)
When we had seen the most important sights of Lisbon during our stay at Easter this year we decided to discover a bit of the hinterland. We went to the train station Cais do Sodré and took the local train to Cascais (pronounced: Cash-ca-ee-sh, stress on the second syllable), it´s not necessary to know the timetable beforehand, one doesn´t have to wait long for a train. A return ticket costs 2.50 Euro.
It´s a pleasant ride of 35 minutes with the river Tejo on the left, many kilometres wide here at its mouth, and houses, gardens, parks on the right, it´s nearly impossible to find out where one village or town ends and the next begins.
Although Cascais is situated on the Atlantic, the vegetation is Mediterranean with palm trees, cacti, agaves and umbrella acacias, if we didn´t know better we´d feel like travelling in the South of Italy, my Sardinian husband felt at home.
Two stops before Cascais is the famous village Estoril (Eshtoril), both places are nicknamed ´regal retirement zone´ because of some exiled European royalty who had lived there when European countries turned from monarchies into republics in the 20th century. The last Portuguese King stayed in Estoril (before he escaped to London) as did the Rumanian King Carol II in the 1950s, the son of the last Italian King, Umberto I of Savoy, and his family lived Cascais after the end of fascism until they were allowed to return to Italy some years ago, and also the Spanish royal family stayed there for a while. In 1956 a tragic accident happened, 18-year-old Juan Carlos, now King of Spain, and his younger brother cleaned their guns and one went off killing 14-year-old Alfonso, who shot has never been cleared up or at least the public don´t know.
Estoril is the noblest and richest seaside resort with a famous casino (an ugly concrete box in a nice park just opposite the train station) and many stately villas, also called the Beverly Hills of Portugal. Well . . .
Cascais is completely touristy but a nice little town nevertheless, the centre is a pedestrian precint with narrow streets, all paved with small square stones in light and dark grey arranged in wide swinging waves which made me dizzy when I looked down but I had to look down because here - just like in Lisbon - stones were missing and I was afraid of stumbling.
We walked down to the small beach and looked at the fishing boats that give the place an air of authenticity, the first tourists from Northern Europe were already in the water! We had been in Cascais when we visited Lisbon the first time in 1984, one event had stuck in my mind and I wanted to experience it again: we had eaten in a simple fish restaurant directly at the seafront watched intently by some seagulls, when the waiters cleared the tables, they threw the fishbones into the air and the birds caught them flying. We didn´t wait for the waiters but threw the remains of our food into the air ourselves, this my not be the noblest behaviour, but I liked it and wanted to do it again, however, we couldn´t find this or any other simple fish restaurant at the seafront, only quite expensive ones in the centre.
In the end we landed in the Restaurante Reijos, Rua Frederico Arouca 35, which had affordable prices, five fat tasty fried sardines with potatoes and salad for 6.50 Euro. We were content when we saw that the other guests were not only Portuguese but locals welcomed by the waiters with a handshake, i.e., not passing tourists who can be offered anything. I´m convinced that the six men were the town council, they just looked it; I hope Cascais is run well, they guzzled litres of red wine during their lunch hour! So, all was well, even if the meal didn´t end with the throwing of fishbones.
One attraction of Cascais is the Boca do Inferno (the Mouth of Hell) out of town on the way to Guincho (a long hike or a short ride by taxi [taxis are not expensive in Portugal]), it´s a rugged rock formation of roofless caverns that roar like the devil himself when the sea is rough or so the locals say, although nobody knows if the devil roars like this or if he roars at all , the sight is quite impressive.
Adeus, Good-bye Cascais, and off to Sintra, we took bus No 417 at the bus station behind the train station (one-way ticket 3,83 Euro) and went inland and up for 38 minutes, the Mediterranean vegetation of the coast gave way to mountains covered by dense green forests, German Malu felt at home!
Sintra is a town of about 20 000 inhabitants situated on a slope with the ruins of a Moorish fortress on the top of the mountain. We got off at the highest point of the town, the National Palace which is in the middle of the slope with the town below, the palace and the town were classified by UNESCO as part of World Heritage in 1995.
Built on the remains of another Moorish fortress the palace was used for centuries by the Portuguese royal families as a refuge from the unbearable heat of Lisbon and outbreaks of the plague, the building was expanded several times, it´s not easy to walk through and not lose one´s way, there are frequent twists and turns (open from 10am to 5.30 pm, closed on Wednesdays and public holidays, entrance fee 4 Euro/concession 2 Euro).
It´s a small and ´liveable´ palace, not at all show-offy. I found two rooms outstanding: King Alfonso IV´s bedroom to which he was confined for nine years by his brother King Pedro II until he finally died there and the so-called Magpie Room, a private antechamber whose ceiling is decorated with magpies holding ribbons in their beaks bearing the King´s motto ´For the Best´. When King João I was caught by his English (!) Queen kissing a lady-in-waiting, he remarked ´It was for the best´; although his wife forgave him, he was so enraged by the continuous palace gossip that he ordered magpies to be painted above the scene of crime, as many as there were ladies at the court - 136!
After the visit of the palace we relaxed in the Café Paris opposite, it can´t be missed, the whole front is covered in blue tiles, it was built in 1800 in the classical Parisian café style, we took a café com laite (coffee with milk) and a queijada, a small sweet cake of almonds and cottage cheese, delicious!
We hadn´t been to Sintra when we were in Portugal the first time twenty-one years ago, it was nice to discover something new. I liked the national Palace but I was overwhelmed by the Palácio da Pena we visited next (approximately 5 km out of town). We had only our old guidebooks with us with ugly black and white photos, so we weren´t prepared for what we saw: we bought tickets in a booth beside the street (4 Euro/concession 2 Euro), came into a park where an odd vehicle was waiting, a kind of mini train in which one could ride up the steep mountain if one didn´t want to walk (1 Euro), we took it and when we had climbed up we saw the kitschiest castle ever! An irregular building with grey, pink and yellow walls and parapets, sugar-baker style ornaments everywhere, onion shaped yellow tops on the towers, pinnacles galore, a drawbridge, Disneyland come alive in Portugal!
´Kitsch´is a German word. Why am I telling you this? Well, the building as we see it today was thought up by Queen Maria II´s consort, the German (!) Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, aided and abetted by a German (!) architect, Baron Eschwege, they recreated a medieval castle in the middle of the 19th century, someone called the outcome a ´Wagnerian monstrosity´, but for me the whole thing was so kitschy that I liked it.
The rooms on the upper floor look as if the royal family may come back any minute, they´re complete with furniture, crockery and cutlery on the tables, soap and towel beside the bathtub, emroidery in tambour frames, pictures on the walls; I've never seen anything like that.
The Parque de Pena is one of the largest and loveliest parks in Europe, the Monserrate Gardens nearby are fascinating for botanists, they were laid out by the Englishman Francis Cook, also in the 19th century and contain over 3000 species of plants.
No wonder that for Lord Byron Sintra was ´Glorious Eden´! (The Portuguese have forgiven him that he called Lisbon shabby).