Guide to Cascais, Portugal
One of Portugal´s prettiest coastal towns, Cascais was a sleepy fishing village until King Luís I´s Royal Court arrived in 1870, bringing glamour which still survives today. Since even before medieval times, Cascais had lived off fishing on these Atlantic shores, servicing a large part of Lisbon. During the exploration of the “new world”, Cascais was important to Lisbon strategically due to its proximity to the Tagus River (Rio Tejo), and it became quite wealthy from the maritime trade and services. The great earthquake of 1755 that wiped out most of Lisbon, also destroyed much of Cascais (and subsequently many of the oldest buildings in Cascais now date to this period, when rebuilding began).
Cascais has long been invaded and occupied, from the Spanish Duke of Alba´s troops in the late 1500´s to the Napoleonic troops in the early 1800´s. Many fortresses and citadels were erected over the centuries along this coastline (the Estoril coast) and today some of them have even been converted into hotels. The end of the 19th century, when the Royals arrived is when Cascais really blossomed into the town that it is now, with the construction of many aristocratic palaces and villas. In the 1920´s, the first electric railway in Portugal was finished, between Lisbon and Cascais and this open up the city further to commerce and tourism.
Foreigners, politicians, artists and exiles began to flock to Cascais and neighboring Estoril in the first half of the 20th century, after the Spanish civil war and WWII. Many heads of state and European nobles came here to escape persecution in their countries (Portugal was neutral in the war), from King Umberto of Italy to Prince (now the King) Juan of Spain, nobles from Bulgaria, France, Hungary and even a few Hapsburgs thrown in. This influx of such a hodge-podge of characters gave Cascais and this little coastline a real international flavor and the town is firmly on the circuit for Europe’s young and wealthy jet set, as well as an older crowd who hit the casinos along the coast.
Located about a half hour west of Lisbon along the coast, chic and exuberant Cascais is well worth a visit while in the area, especially for one of our gourmet cooking classes here! Romantic and aristocratic Sintra and pretty Óbidos, and the palaces of Mafra and Queluz are all nearby and can easily be combined with Cascais and Lisbon for an exciting gourmet tour of Portugal.
Gastronomy and Wine
The gastronomy of Cascais is heavily dependent still on seafood and shellfish. Neraby in Guincho you´ll find some excellent restaurants including the Michelin starred Fortaleza do Guincho (also a Relais & Chateaux). Central Portugal has an array of wine regions. The closest regions to Cascais include Bucelas (a tiny spec of a region demarcated in 1911 but whose wine production dates to Roman times; makes Arinto based white wines), Carcavelos ( a region near the Tagus, making delictae sweet wines and whose namesake village is famous for surfing) and Colares (unusual “Ramisco” vineyards dug into trenches on sandy soils, whose winemakers are under pressure from developers for the coastal land). Further north you have the Ribatejo with many beautiful wine estates and to the east (near the beautiful Unesco heritage town of Évora) you have the spectacular Alentejo, our favorite wine region in Portugal for its high quality wines and romantic estates and castle studded towns.
Museu do Mar: the very interesting Museum of the Sea in Cascais is located in the old sporting club, built in 1879 under Prince Carlos and the museum was installed here in the early 90´s, then revamped again in the late 90´s. Collections include Aquatic archeology, Portuguese navigation and exploration and traditional fishing.
Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães: a “must do” while in Cascais, this pretty little museum is housed in a historic villa with gardens, and features and array of tapestries, paintings, furniture and other objects of art
lgreja de Nossa Senhora da Assuncão this graceful 16th century church features ancient tilework on the facade and exquisite altars.
Festival de Jazz Estoril annual (excellent) jazz festival that takes place in the Fortaleza de Cascais (the old fortress)
Boca do Inferno this coastal cave about a mile out of town on the coast has become the most famous attraction. Means “Hell´s Mouth”. Impressive on a blustery day with huge waves.