It’s amazing how different the world can be after only a short train ride. A cool ocean breeze lifts my spirits (and messes my hair) as I sit in the sun along one of Cascais’s many beaches. Sunglasses on, I alternate my gaze between the blue waters and the volleyballers – though they play with soccer rules, no hands allowed. The sound of the surf on nearby rocks fills my head, calming me from the last few weeks of city living in the middle of Lisbon.
This is where, for centuries, Lisbon’s elite have come to play. Palatial homes dot the shoreline and some of the roads; some are museums while others are private homes for celebrities, royalty, and others of the upper crust. Restaurants line the boardwalk, while other vendors sell everything from ice cream to kayaking tours. The nearby Casino Estoril – inspiration for Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale and one of the largest in Europe – adds elegance and old-world charm.
I am just a short forty-five minute train ride outside of central Lisbon, but I feel as though in a different world, a private enclave removed from the worries of the city. With sandy beaches alternating with rocky coves, it feels like Malibu, a place where the normal peons of life like me can enter the world of the elite, if only for a day.
Cascais and some of its lovely homes
Of course there is a bit more to do in Cascais than hobnob with the 1%. First, there are the beaches. While Lisbon sits on the banks of the Tagus River, Cascais is on the Atlantic itself. There are sandy beaches here, not in miles long stretches like Southern California, but in football field sized chunks broken up by rocky crags. There also is actual surf here and, while not the immense waves of some of the Portuguese coast, enough to go surfing, or just to play in the waves.
Lovely beaches dot this area.
These waves give rise to one of the top attractions in the area: Boca do Inferno. It is a natural sea cave, open to the sky, that bubbles as the foam from waves enters, especially during high tide. It reminded early settlers in the area of the mouth of Hell, hence the name. It’s a roughly 30 minute walk (a bit longer via the prettier coastal road) from the train station, and well worth the effort.
Boca do Inferno is absolutely worth visiting, even at low tide!
If you like stately homes, a couple across the road from each other have been turned into museums: Casa de Santa Maria and the Museu Condes de Castro Guimaraes. You can also just walk past for a photo, as neither is free to enter. The citadel of Cascais has also been repurposed, though into a chic shopping district.
Casa de Santa Maria and the lighthouse of the same name
On a pleasant day like mine, consider walking down the coast a couple of train stops to Estoril. You’ll pass some lovely beaches with palatial dwellings – some are now government buildings – and ultimately cross under the road and train tracks to the casino. With the ocean behind and the casino in front, I actually felt a bit like James Bond, though I opted for ice cream instead of a martini, and a train ride back to Lisbon instead of gambling.
Cascais is a truly wonderful day trip from Lisbon if you have an extra day and the desire to spend some time on the sand in the sun. Or to be reminded of Malibu.
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