Peaceful and elegant – this is what first comes to my mind when I think of Cascais.
End of the line – I’d also add, as Cascais is the last stop of the train connecting Lisbon to towns and urbanisations of the right shore of Tagus river up to the Atlantic shore. In between – as well, as it’s a lively resort between Lisbon with its vibrant city life and the natural park of Sintra with its unspoiled forests and windy beaches.
When you get off the train (it takes 20 to 40 minutes to get from Lisbon to Cascais, depending on whether the train stops or not in all stations) and exit the station there’s a small roundabout from where a maze of black-and-white-cobbled streets lead down to the main square of the town and its urban beach, or Praia da Ribeira.
From the beach, a nice promenade leads up to the former citadel of the town, now turned into a 5-star hotel and the Art District of Cascais.
The Citadel of Cascais is a set of fortifications built between the 15th and 17th centuries to defend Portuguese coast and the mouth of the River Tagus from French, English and Arab pirates. In the 19th century the Citadel became the summer residence of the royal family. In spring 2012, Pousada of Cascais luxury hotel opened within the citadel.
The complex is designed by architects Gonçalo Byrne, David Sinclair and João Gois (Jag) and includes (besides the hotel with pool and spa, restaurant and bar and 126 rooms, some of them in redesigned military barracks, some of them in a new building constructed inside the walls of the former fort) the Cidadela Art District (CAD) with 6 open studios and 5 art galleries, and a solidary bookstore (Déjà Lu). At the library there’s an entire room dedicated to reading and you also have the café of the Citadel right downstairs.
The Palaces and the Lighthouse
Continuing the walk in the town of Cascais, the Museum of the Counts of Castro Guimarães is housed in a castle of false Gothic style built in 1902 by an Irish tobacco millionaire. Upon his death, the building was ceded to the town hall of Cascais, which transformed it into a public museum that displays pieces of art and furniture from his personal collection.
The beautiful house is located in the Marechal Carona gardens, once the gardens of the house and today – a beautiful public park.
La Casa de Santa Maria is another lavish nineteenth century residence that is open to the public. From the windows of the upper floor, the house offers magnificent views of the marina and the Cascais coastline. The most remarkable feature of the interior are the decorative designs with tiles. In front of the Casa de Santa Maria is the blue and white lighthouse, which also contains a small museum.
Then the walk follows the shore up to Hell’s Mouth, or Boca do Infierno, a rock formation famous for splashes of water each time the ocean is agitated.
The West Coast
Further on, only 9 km away is the beach of Guincho, famous for its strong winds that turned it into one of the favourite spots for kite surfers.
The beach is easily reachable from Cascais by bicycle.
There are days when the wind is so strong in Guincho that it is difficult to walk on the beach. There are also perfect days with perfect days for surfing, and this is also the spot for the WSL Pro Cascais competition.
Back into Town
Cascais was actually a minor fishing village until King Luís I (1838 – 1889) choose it as his royal summer retreat. Trailing the Portuguese nobility were the high society of Portugal, who in turn constructed lavish villas, ornate mansions and exquisite gardens.
Today, Cascais is a fusion of decorative 19th-century architecture, traditional Portuguese charm and tourist facilities.
There are plenty of places to stop in Cascais, especially around the old town dotted with designer boutiques and the many al fresco restaurants serving fresh fish and seafood, Portuguese specialties but also good Indian and Italian food and many international choices.
My top choices include two places that are not at all among the mainstream choices, and the first one is The House of Wonders with their vegetarian menu, Mediterranean inspired, and served in meze or as main course.
The House of Wonders has three levels and two terraces so and you can dine inside at midday or choose the terrace and enjoy beautiful views of the Praia da Ribeira nearby.
Paulinha serves fresh fish daily dishes and some of the best desserts I have ever tried like the queijadas with figs and chocolate, or with mango and pineapple. Queijada is a type of sweet and the most famous is the one of the area of Sintra, Portugal – a small sweet prepared using cheese or requeijão, a Portuguese cheese similar to ricotta, plus eggs, milk, and sugar.
Paula Brito Nunes, the owner of the restaurant, is almost always there to welcome her guests and suggest from the menu, or just to work on her homemade desserts, so ask her about Joaninhas de Cascais (Ladybirds of Cascais) is a historical recipe of the town, a delicacy prepared from granulated almonds, eggs and sugar that does not leave anyone indifferent, or Leite Creme (Portuguese Milk Custard).
Random Cityscapes of Cascais
A graffitti festival, Muraliza, radically and colourfully transformed many of the city’s walls and houses a couple of years ago. The artworks were created among others by Paulo Arraiano, Samina and Mário Belém and the various facades they used as canvas are spread all around the centre of the town.
The typical cobblestone design of Portugal, calçada portuguesa, covers most of the streets and squares of the centre and the design above is known as mar largo, or the big sea.
Every year in September Cascais hosts the Lumina light festival with lots of light installations and video-mappings.