With earliest memories made there and long summers whiled away there, it’s easy to overlook the attraction of your hometown. Unless, of course, your hometown is Cascais, a sweet fishing village and an inimitable gem in Portugal’s Atlantic coastal crown. With its rocky beaches, turquoise-hued water and the odd glimpse of a long, rich history in traditional architecture, Cascais could be a setting straight out of a Guadaganino film. Where better to spend a long, late summer weekend?
Rita Cabral Lopes is only too aware of her hometown’s allure. An avid traveller, she moves around the world in search of untold gems in every destination she lands at. She’s always happy to come home again, though — to dramatic cliffs, delicious fresh seafood, art, culture, and that view.
So, how to spend 48 hours? Here the Cascais native shares a handful of her finest recommendations — from where to catch the best waves and watch the sunset, to the street food vendors she’s never able to say no to.
“Start your day at the Albatroz Hotel,” says Rita, “where the only thing more instagrammable than the interiors is the view.” Teetering (or so it seems) on the cliff face, the hotel looks out over the Atlantic Ocean; with its untouchable horizon, you’ll feel like you could reach out and touch the weather. Alternatively, “Hotel Oitavos is also a great choice, with modern decor and a poolside bar”.
“In Cascais, life moves at a slower pace,” says Rita, "and the tempo is set by the ocean". Portugal is known the world over for its surfing, and Cascais doesn’t disappoint. "To catch some waves, go to Praia do Guincho — home to some of the best in Europe,” she continues. “If you’re more comfortable on land, explore the protected dunes, or simply look on as the local surfers show you how it’s done.” If you want to dip your toes, but you’re not quite ready to hop on a surfboard, you can try a paddleboard instead — Praia da Conceição has plenty.
“Stroll to Boca do Inferno” — or ‘the Mouth of Hell’, a huge, awe-inspiring natural sea arch which cuts into the rock, lashed moment on moment by the Atlantic’s unrelenting waves — “and check out the cliffs, where many locals go cliff-jumping and climbing.”
From the beach, Rita recommends heading to Casa da Guia, an old 19th-century palace located in the old Quinta dos Condes de Alcáçovas, to grab an açai bowl. From almost anywhere amongst the palace’s gardens, restaurants, shops and art spaces you can look out over the ocean.
If you’re looking for locally produced wares, the Mercado da Vila hosts a farmer’s market every weekend — “for the freshest flowers, fruits, vegetables, and more”.
The centre of the village makes for a charming afternoon walk if you’re looking for a break from the sun and the sea, and, Rita says, “the Farol de Santa is a must-see”. The mid-19th century lighthouse’s squat silhouette, four corners and traditional blue and white stripes make it a striking symbol of the town, while the viewpoint next to Praia do Abaninho is one of the town’s hidden gems.
But “Cascais isn’t just all beach and sun,” she says. Arts and culture aficionados must visit the Paula Rego House of Stories, a striking Modernist building designed by Eduardo Souto de Moura in 2006, specifically to house the late artist’s world-renowned dark, whimsical works. Here, art and architecture combine to create a moving monument to her work; its distinctive red-pink hue was created using tinted concrete.
For those who prefer golf to subversive scenes in oil pastel, Quinta da Marinha, a rural spot within Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, is beautiful. Runners can opt instead for an afternoon jog along the ocean on the Paredão do Estoril, a paved walk which winds its way along the length of the seafront.
Given its seaside location and time-honoured fishing tradition, it goes without saying that Cascais is home to some of the best seafood restaurants in Portugal. “One of my top choices is Furnas do Guincho,” says Rita. “The perfect outdoor lunch spot, located right on top of the ocean rocks.” (Try the lobster crêpes, with a beguiling sea view.) A more traditional choice, Mar do Inferno is also a sure bet for an excellent meal, while local spot Tasca Viriato is as authentic as Portugese cuisine comes.
As for sushi: “the buzziest restaurant in town is Confraria,” she says, which serves Japanese fusion under the bougainvillea trees, and is always busy — but Kappo Cascais, a new addition to the town, offers an excellent alternative.
Overlook street food at your own peril. “For a low-key bite, the hot dog stand in Boca do Inferno is a must,” says Rita. “It’s been around for as long as I can remember and it’s a true local favourite.” Meanwhile, she cites the takeaway grilled chicken from Franguinhos da Guia as the town’s best-kept secret. “Forget Nando’s,” she says. “This is the real deal!”
Meat-eaters, stop off en-route to your boat day (on which: Flamingo boat tours are recommended) to enjoy the entrecôte from Brasserie, at the marina. Or, "if you find yourself in Praia do Guincho, “head to Bar do Guincho for an easy burger and great crowd.”
“For breakfast or an afternoon snack, Pastelaria Garret is perhaps the most scenic pastelaria in Cascais,” says Rita. “It has been there since 1934.” Or for ice cream, Santini is the most iconic option. “The recipe has been kept a secret for many years; Santini used to produce ice cream for several royal families, and has been awarded the best gelato in the world.”
Because sometimes a little opulence is absolutely necessary. “For a bit of luxury, head to Hotel Vila Italia for brunch — but only on Saturdays.”
“To watch the sunset over a few cocktails, Hotel Farol Design is my favourite,” Rita says. “Or for a young crowd and a few more beers, head to Malacopa Taco Bar.”