We lied to you before. Don’t get me wrong, Sintra is wonderful for a lot of reasons, but in our opinion, if you go to Lisbon, a trip to Cascais (kush-kais) can’t be beat.
*Disclaimer: the weather wasn’t great when we went to Sintra, and we are HUGE beach lovers, so Cascais is just more our style. If you have time, your best bet is to visit both and decide for yourself 🙂
Departing from the Cais do Sodré train station, Cascais is an elegant beach town about 19 miles west of Lisbon. It’s a spectacular journey along the coast, passing through progressively more upscale neighborhoods along the way.
[For the best views, sit on the left side of the train on the way from Lisbon, and vice versa on the way back.]
Known as the ‘Town of Kings and Fishermen,’ Cascais is the culmination of two extremes. There’s fleet of private yachts bobbing alongside colorful, decades-old fishing boats. Family-owned food stalls next to high-fashion boutiques. Five-star hotels provide the backdrop for fishermen mending their nets and auctioning off the daily catch. Despite having grown tremendously with its reputation as Lisbon’s summertime playground, Cascais certainly hasn’t lost any of its ‘small town’ charm.
There’s a lot to love about Cascais aside from the beach. The pedestrian-only downtown area is lined with a huge variety of boutiques, bars and ‘alfresco’ fish restaurants. You can get lost wandering down beautiful, winding lanes that lead to tropical gardens and small museums. Or, perhaps take a stroll down the seaside promenade that connects Cascais with nearby Estoril.
Fun fact: James Bond is a fan of Cascais – 007 stopped by in the 1960s while shooting scenes for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. If that’s not enough to convince you, I’m not sure what will.
There’s no shortage of things to do here, but THE thing you must do, if nothing else, is a bike ride to Guincho Beach. It’s about 9km each way on a well-marked cycle path that runs alongside the coast with fantastic views the entire way. Bikes can be rented at a kiosk right across the street from the train station. I would say you can’t miss it, but we did. We spent a half hour looking for this mythical place, but it’s there. Follow the delicious curry smell from the Indian food stall next door. Despite what people tell you, there aren’t any free bike rentals, but they’re still really inexpensive from the kiosk…under 10 euros. Fair warning – they are REALLY basic bikes. Your butt will hate you sooner than later and not having gears makes the uphill climbs especially special.
The Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell), is an interesting cliff formation about 20 minutes into the ride, and it’s a great place to stop and catch your breath before you hit some of the steeper inclines. Incessant pounding from an angry Atlantic carved out a small cave over time, which eventually collapsed to form an arch. It’s awesome at any time of day, but if you time it right to stop when the tide is coming in, the ‘blowhole’ will not disappoint.
*PSA- there is a gas station with POWERADE about 5 minutes up from the Boca do Inferno. You have no idea how hard it is to find Powerade here.
The road to Guincho Beach is like a European version of the Pacific Coast Highway, with beautiful sandy beaches sporadically strewn about the otherwise rocky coastline. By this time in the ride, you’ll be trying to figure out how to move to here and never leave. I promise.
With some of the best waves in Europe, Guincho is one of the most popular surf spots in Portugal. Not for the faint of heart, as it’s said to have a dangerously strong undercurrent, but I could definitely see how it’s paradise for more experienced surfers. If you’re not seeking out some ‘tasty rollers,’ the view from a lounge chair will do just fine.
When we got back to Cascais and got off our bikes, we found out just how out of shape we’ve become since leaving our daily gym routines back home. I wish I could say I felt bad about it, but I’m done with the guilt and ready to buy bigger pants!
We rewarded ourselves for the day of hard work with our usual afternoon champagne and cheese plate. Part of every traveler’s balanced diet.
To a lovely seaside getaway,