You know how when you hear about something new, be it a word or song or place, it starts showing up everywhere? That’s what happened with me and Cascais.
In all the years I lived in Sweden, I never thought to visit Portugal for some reason. “Everyone” went to Spain, France, Italy and Greece on vacation, and Portugal remained under the radar.
But last winter, I came across a photographer on Instagram who posted beautiful images from all around Portugal, and the ones from Cascais and Sintra especially caught my attention. Then I started seeing photos of Portugal everywhere, and when I opened a travel magazine and landed on an article raving about Cascais, I thought, ok, I have to visit!
We were in a winter rental in Massachusetts until mid June and I knew I was going to Sweden in mid-July to mid-September, so I started searching on Airbnb for places in Cascais for the time in between the end of our winter lease and my trip to Sweden. I found a place in the old part of town that sounded perfect and made a reservation. I had never used Airbnb before, so that was another brand new experience!
I arrived in Portugal not knowing what to expect, but it didn’t take long for me to fall completely in love with the country, and the Cascais area in particular. Cascais is absolutely beautiful, a smallish town right on the Atlantic coast with a slightly upscale but also laid back, beachy vibe.
It’s a quick 30-40 minute scenic train ride from Lisbon. The rail runs along the ocean and passes several of the famous monuments there, sit on the left if you’re coming from Lisbon for the best views. And hold on to your ticket – you’ll need it to exit the station.
The Airbnb turned out to be even better than I had expected, and the owner and I ended up becoming really good friends. I loved Portugal so much that I returned for another 3 months after my time in Sweden!
SOME OF MY CASCAIS FAVORITES
I am by no means an expert on the area, and still have lots more to explore, but here are some of my favorite things in and about Cascais:
Not Cascais specific but… The people are so incredibly nice! Friendly and kind, and everyone goes out of their way to help you. Nothing is a problem, there is a quick and flexible solution to everything.
I love looking at houses, and the architecture here is my favorite kind: stone (often white) with red tile roofs. I spent many hours wandering the narrow cobblestone streets, camera in hand, looking at interesting details and patterns. And of course the tiles.
There is a 3 km (1.8 mile) boardwalk between Cascais and Estoril, the next town over. It is a beautiful walk, right along the ocean, and it’s my favorite way to start the day. If you don’t feel like walking all the way back right away, stop for breakfast or a quick treat – there are lots of cafes, restaurants and bars along the way.
The sea here is apparently very rich in iodine, and it is said to be good for bone ailments. Even just breathing in the air gives you an iodine boost! https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21431377
This one is not Cascais specific, but I am mentioning it here anyway. The coffee is really good, and if you like latte, order a Galão. It’s espresso with lots of foamed milk, and usually comes in a tall glass. So good!
THE CAROB BREAD
Sounds strange, but carob bread (Pao de Alfarroba) is delicious! Typical carob bread has a mix of wheat and carob flour, which results in a dark brown, slightly sweet bread. Some say it’s similar to pumpernickel, but I disagree. I don’t like pumpernickel but love Pao de Alfarroba.
THE ORGANIC GROCERY STORE
The first day in Cascais, my Airbnb hostess brought me to Bioshop Cascais and it has become my favorite place for groceries. It’s a cute small store with lots of organic and all natural products (in addition to groceries and produce, they also have wine, skin care products, etc.) and the owners are so funny and sweet.
Av. 25 Abril, N. 672
THE ORGANIC FARMERS MARKET
The organic farmers market in Cascais takes place in the Marechal Carmona Park (a beautiful oasis right in the city) on Saturday mornings, It is tiny, only 3-4 vendors, but everything is organic and there is lots to choose from. Some of my favorite things to buy there is local herbs, olives and oranges, bananas from Madeira (which are tiny and not too pretty, but so good!), and of course vegetables.
Praceta Domingos D’Avilez Av. da República
Eating out in Portugal is crazy inexpensive, especially compared to Boston and Sweden. A local dish that you find everywhere is grilled fish with olive oil, salt and pepper, potatoes and vegetables (usually carrots and broccoli). Sounds simple and it is, but SO good and fresh. There are lots of restaurants in Cascais, and I have not yet been to one I didn’t like, but these are my (current) favorites:
A family owned café / restaurant that also has some groceries. It is tiny and adorable and have outdoor tables in a cozy and quiet square in the old part of town. They only serve the dish of the day, but also have pastries. I have not tried their food, but love to chill out there with a glass of wine. And it’s very inexpensive. My first visit was when a friend and I stopped by on impulse one day and ordered 2 glasses of white wine and 2 bottles of water. The wine was absolutely delicious and the total bill came to 5 Euros!
R. Manuel D’Araújo Viana 77, Cascais
THE TASTING ROOM
Right on the “main drag” in town, this cozy wine bar / tapas restaurant is my favorite place to eat in Cascais. I’m usually suspicious of places right in a touristy area, but a local friend said it was good, so a friend from Sweden and I went and absolutely loved it. There is so much wine to choose from you don’t even know where to begin, but the waiters are great at recommending something for you. The first time, I ordered a Sauvignon Blanc (because it was something I recognized), and our waiter said “Why? You can get that anywhere in the world. I will bring you something else”. I love when people do that kind of thing so I said OK and ended up with a fantastic Alvarinho. The food is amazing too, the tapas portions are big – two of them is enough as an entire meal for me.
R. Frederico Arouca 293, Cascais
GOOD TO KNOW
One of the few negative things I can say about Cascais is that it gets very busy in the summer. A bit too busy for my taste. When I arrived in mid June and up to and including the first week of July, it was great. There were other tourists of course, and it’s popular with Portugese people too, so the weekends always get busy, but it wasn’t overly crowded – you could still easily get a table in a restaurant and a good spot on the beach. But in the second week of July, there were people everywhere. Restaurant reservations became necessary and the beaches were packed. Everyone and everything felt rushed. But when I returned in mid September, the city was back to its less crazy self. And the weather was still beautiful, hot even. So if you can, try to avoid visiting in July and August.
Another negative, at least for me, is that the washing machines in the laundromats are pre-loaded with detergent, so you can’t use your own. A huge problem for me with all my allergies, I can’t handle anything with fragrances, so I can’t use them. If you have similar issues, make sure the place you’re staying in has a washing machine.
Also, most buildings do not have elevators, so ask about that too in advance.
I was surprised to find that many places only accept Portuguese credit cards or cash. Some do take MasterCard or Visa, but hardly anyone takes American Express. To be on the safe side, make sure you always have some euros with you.
This is obviously not an exhaustive list, just a few highlights. I’m sure I will discover lots more while I’m here and will make sure to share any new favorites! Have you been to Cascais? What are some of your favorite spots? I’d love to know!
All text and images © 2018 Cattie Coyle. All rights reserved.
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