Cascais: an alternative Portuguese proposition

The Cascais Lighthouse and O’Neill House.

The Cascais Lighthouse and O’Neill House.

Cascais is a great Portuguese alternative to the Algarve. A sunny and warm location in late March, it’s a smart seaside coastal town outside of Lisbon, which is large by Irish standards, featuring great beaches and good places to eat and stay too.It also has the convenience of geography being so close to Lisbon, which is just 40 minutes away by rail to the capital’s central station, Cais de Sodre.

You can reach the town via the subway from Lisbon Airport via the Cais de Sodre subway and take the second last stop at Monte Estoril/Cascais for a €5 fare.The Portuguese Royal family made the area famous in the 1870s when spending summers at their Citadel Palace (Palacio de Citadela), now a Pestana hotel in the Museum Quarter while other prominent nobles also enjoyed the benefits of the sea air, which was an emerging trend at the time.Cascais was also home to James Bond author Ian Fleming during the Second Word War from 1939 to 45, living in the Hotel Palacio in nearby Estoril, where he met various agents from Russia and Germany, acting as go-betweens or spies. The 1969 Bond movie, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, George Lazenby’s sole outing as 007, was filmed in the area. It’s believed that the story was based on the Yugoslav agent Popov. The doorman of the Palacio Hotel featured in ‘OHMSS’ but only works mornings nowadays.

During the war, many European aristocrats on the run from Nazi Europe spent time here, including some Jewish and other royals, as Portugal was neutral like Ireland.Cascais has a very relaxed feel and is seen as upmarket for local Lisbon people with prices to match, we learned.There are many higher category hotels from 4 star but there are also plenty ofBed & Breakfast and hostel options, said Ines Oliveira, who works for the Cascais Tourist Board; one camp site near Guincho on the west coast is favoured by surfers.

We stayed in the very comfortable Eden Estoril Hotel (€110 for two; see their website for offers) where the food was as good as the seaside views, and also featured a nice pool and spa.The area has some interesting Irish connections with the O’Neill family from Clanaboy inCounty Antrim (via the Earl of Tyrone) going back to the 1750s when the family made money in tobacco trading. In the late 1800s, the family built a castle in Cascais.

Stunning Sea Views

Stunning Sea Views

Jorgo O’Neill was very rich and built a huge manor house as well, Casa de Santa Maria in 1902, for his daughter near the lighthouse.He went bankrupt in 1910 and a later owner of the properties, the Counts of Guimaraes, donated land for a town park. The Casa de Santa Maria is a stately home blending many different architectural styles and influences.The family name is still around in Lisbon region, Dom O’Neill lives near Setabul and Cascais boasts a famous surfer called O Neill, others are in business or law, incidentally, the Duke of Windsor stayed here too at Santa Maria around war time. Dom O’Neill was interviewed by Michael Fewer of Waterford for his book on Atlantic Fringes.

You can visit the O’Neill shamrock room and vintage furniture and library for a modest sum in the museum. The nearby park has a nice water feature, many trees and a café, with its own set of chickens hanging around with their young chicks!.There are great walks along the beach to reach Cascais from the Estoril Eden hotel in Monte Estoril which has its own train station link to LisbonHeld each Wednesday, the Cascais market was fantastic in terms of food, clothes and domestic items – the pottery is also excellent. Try also the sea museum telling the story of the fishing community in the area and the importance of fish – the Portuguese are the second highest globalconsumers of fish.

One day we passed along the shore heading toward the town centre and heard some great music from the Cape Verde islands and the lead singer persuaded us to buy a CD, which turned out to be really good.Towards the town centre you will find good eating places from Italian to Portuguese, we headed for Polvo Vadio, where they had a speciality of octopus very popular in Portugal: try the Italian Porto de Mari restaurant for great pizzas, veal and fish dishes.We also found some Irish pubs too. The best was O’Luains, while the Coolet and O’Neills (owned by an Iranaian exile) were also popular.For real sea food try the lovely Gordinni on Marina, situated near some fashionable Brazilian Beachwear shops.

We also did a boat tour with Pedro Henriques, a local firm for two hours (one-hour trips are also possible) where we could take in all of the forts built to protect Lisbon.The sea was warm during our visit, around 15 degrees, akin to an Irish summer. We went up the coast and saw a local cliff side scene at Capo de Roca, the most westerly mainland point in Europe, where we saw some of the beaches and roads that featured in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.We enjoyed the coastal scenery at Guincho, a cool surfing area west of Cascais, in addition to the dune walks on a boardwalk near the Duna da Cresmina where we learned about the local fauna. Pedro has his own business and does group and private tours with his firm pipeflytours.com.

Getting There

The Cork to Lisbon service operates twice a week for €40 out and €100 return on Saturdays but is cheaper on Tuesdays. Aer Lingus operates a daily Dublin/Lisbon service (which we used).  Fares from Dublin are from €65 each way for May, June and off-peak days

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