Portugal

Cascais, Portugal-a day at the beach

Sometimes all you need is a day at the beach. On our last day spent in the Sintra region, I had always known that I wanted to include a visit to Cabo da Roca. The conundrum was deciding where to go and what to do afterwards. The day before we had had toured some of Sintra’s most famous sites-the Moorish Castle, Pena Palace, and the National Palace. While seeing more of the historical attractions would have been terrific (Queluz, Convent of the Capuchos), I knew that I didn’t want to overdo it since I figured once we made it to Lisbon, I would definitely want to visit as many famous sites as possible. And so I came to the conclusion that a slightly more relaxing and easy going day would be the better choice.

We began our day with a stop at Cabo da Roca and from there hopped back on the bus to Cascais, a popular seaside resort area less than 30 miles from downtown Lisbon. Should you travel to the Lisbon area and want a day at the beach, Cascais and Estoril (known for its famous casino) will most likely be mentioned. Our bed and breakfast host said the two cities are extremely similar, but he recommended picking Cascais to visit. While we drove through Estoril on our way from the airport to the bed and breakfast, it didn’t appear as visually charming as Cascais turned out to be. It also had a historic air that greatly reminded me of the French Atlantic resort of Biarritz.

We didn’t swim at Cascais. I’ve been to beaches in the Caribbean and Hawaii and in my humble opinion, European beaches, while lovely to gaze at and admire, are not so great from a swimming perspective. However, it was just a neat (albeit hot) area to wander aimlessly around. As was the case in many areas of the country we visited, sidewalks were not just sidewalks but rather works of art. We saw houses that had they been on more quiet and less crowded streets, would have been a dream house for me. We passed by droves of food establishments and while many were the ubiquitous “tourist traps,” eateries that employ people to stand outside and constantly harangue passersby to come in and dine in addition to having menus printed in half a dozen languages, some looked extremely enticing, including the one we decided to try because of its lovely beachfront views.

And, of course, being a coastal city, we saw an abundance of fishing. While walking one path we came across an area that contained nothing but fish traps, nets and other related articles. During lunch, we spotted a man who continually wheeled a cart from one section to another, the cart containing recently caught fish. I wondered whether they would be sent directly to a market for the average housewife to buy, or would they go straight to any number of nearby restaurants that had a vast array of fish selections on their menus.

My favorite part about Cascais, though, was the Fortaleza da Cidadela, the citadel and the Fortress of Nossa Senhora da Luz (Our Lady of the Light). Today it functions as a pousada, a luxury hotel run by the Portuguese government (similar to the parador in Spain). The fortress dates from the 16th century and was a series of military forts that were built between the 15th and 17th centuries to defend the coast and the source of the Tagus (Portugal’s largest river). As we walked along its walls I tried to imagine soldiers of the king doing the same more than 400 years before, patrolling for any possible invaders or other suspicious activity. I can only imagine how petrifying it must have been, being the one responsible for keeping enemies from breaking the perimeter. While we were disappointed to find that there were no spectacular views offered to non-guests of the pousada after walking up steps to what we thought was one (the pousada, like many Iberian style buildings, features a completely open layout in the center), it was still a neat building to explore.

No, Cascais wasn’t nearly as impressive as Lisbon or Sintra, and yet it had something that neither place could offer-a day at the beach.

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