5 reasons to visit Cascais

Blame King Luís I (1838 – 1889) for the upturn in the fortunes of Cascais. He declared it his favourite summer destination back in the 19th Century and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cascais (pronounced Cash-caiish) is a blend of royal palaces, fabulous food, and outstanding tourist facilities. It’s the place where stories of Ian Fleming and James Bond mix with stunning 19th Century architecture. This highly accessible resort (only 1 hour from Lisbon airport) offers many reasons to make this your holiday destination and we have chosen the 5 that will most appeal to you.

The food

Seafood is plentiful as you would expect and the town is jam-packed with restaurants; many of which have views overlooking the Atlantic. Maria Pia is one such place offering a wide range of dishes. The food was excellent however it was the puddings that stole the show, with the chocolate fondant being one of the best puds any of us had tasted.  If octopus is more your thing and you prefer a more rustic surrounding then try the Polvo Vadio which is situated in Cascais town centre. The octopus is caught off the Cascais coast and it was indeed octopus-central with octopus served hot and cold, in both starters and mains in a variety of ways. This was one of those restaurants where the locals pop in for a chat, the staff are friendly and you really feel like you are part of the furniture. Call+351 21 483 0968 to reserve as they seat around 15-20 max.

Should you wish to try  a more upmarket menu then head to the 5 star Farol Hotel. This 19th century villa  mixes both old and new styles blending Philippe Starck furnishings with 19th century architecture. Fish soup with sautéed shrimps and coriander and ginger-infused risotto with lobster are some of the dishes on the menu. To whet your whistle, there is also an extensive range of cocktails. Another top-notch eaterie is the Hotel Real Villa Italia which boasts an impressive 4 restaurants. The Real Villa is a converted palace built for the exiled King of Italy in the 1960s, and is part of the Leading Hotels of the World group. The food lives up to its 5 star status with all tastes catered for. On offer in the La Terraza restaurant are local favourites such as Codfish “à Brás” (sautéed cod with egg, onions and potato straws). International cuisines are also catered for and the excellent brunch buffet covers all tastes from vegetarian to sushi and modern European.

La Terraza restaurant, The Grande Real Villa Itália Hotel & Spa

Heading inland to the nearby town of Sintra, we came across Casa Piriquita, a bakery which was founded in 1862.  It was actually King Carlos I who encouraged the baker to produce the famous Queijadas, a cake he enjoyed during his summers in Sintra. This proved an immediate success and these prized pastries can still be found today in the cafe. Mass production, thankfully, hasn’t touched the baking process with the kitchens being located around the corner and staff baking in small batches.  Another gastronomic find was the Cafe Paris whose menu include salted codfish (a local staple) and traditional cod with cornbread (Bacalhau com Broa).

The location

Cascais, on the Estoril coast, is just 20km from Lisbon airport and flights are around 2 hours from the UK. Located between the picturesque Sintra mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, the area also provides the most westerly point in Europe. If you fancy a dip then take your pick from any of the 17 well-maintained beaches but do remember it is the Atlantic so the sea temperature is rather refreshing, although nothing that a wet suit and a can-do attitude won’t sort out. The sea view is mesmerising so even if you’re not up to surfing the waves, you can watch whilst others get taken out by the Atlantic rollers.

The architecture

If architecture is your thing then you are in luck. Simply walking around the town admiring the buildings might be enough for some of you but if you want to see more then you could start with the 19th Century Casa Santa Maria, which was once the most luxurious residence in Cascais. This was built by Irish tobacco millionaire Jorge O’Neil in 1902. He also constructed the nearby Castro Guimaraes Museum which is located next to the Jardim Marechal Carmona gardens; famed for their many botanical features. In nearby Sintra there are a whole host of palaces and monuments. Not to be missed is Pena Palace which is considered one of the most important parts of Sintra’s UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Castro Guimaraes museum

Getting around the area is easy enough but to take it up a gear hire a car (and not just any old banger) from Top Emotions who hire out vintage cars. The choice is spectacular but the 1954 Rolls Royce Silver Dawn, once owned by the Duke of Windsor, is a firm favourite. Unfortunately (or not..) they have to come with a chauffeur. If you want to treat yourself (or someone else) then speak to Top Emotions on (+351) 918 135 669 or mail them at miguelmira@topemotions.pt

James Bond! 

Shaken not stirred..

Tying in nicely with fast cars, great architecture and the art deco vibe is the Hotel Palacio Estoril.  Aside from the stunning architecture, there is another very good reason why it’s on the tourist trail. Back in the 1940’s the hotel was a refuge for many a spy and part of that crowd was Ian Fleming. It was here that he came up with his famous martini containing Tanqueray Gin, Stolichnaya vodka and Lillet; and which is still served in the hotel to this day.

It is also rumoured that it was here that he got his inspiration for James Bond. This theory really took hold when the 6th James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, used the hotel as an integral part of many of the scenes. The film’s 2 stars, George Lazenby and Diana Rigg, stayed at the hotel whilst the nearby Casino of Estoril also featured in the film.  José Diogo, an 18 year old hotel employee at the time was an extra in the film, and is still in employment by the hotel today. Should you get the chance to speak with him he can tell you about his time at the hotel, and some of the famous guests that have passed through the doors such as Grace Kelly and various members of Royalty.  

Hotel Palacio Estoril

Rest and recreation

As mentioned, surfing is on the menu when you visit the Estoril coast but for those in search of a more relaxing time then there are plenty of golf courses inland. Tennis is also popular with the Millennium Estoril Open featuring on the ATP World Tour calendar. If you fancy turning it down a notch then you can indulge in a spa treatment. Both the Hotel Palacio Estoril and the Hotel Real Villa Italia have 5 star spa facilities.  The latter has 10 therapy rooms where you can indulge in a number of treatments including Thalassotherapy massages and facials. The staff are attentive to a fault so relaxation is definitely the name of the game. 

The spa, The Grande Real Villa Itália Hotel & Spa