Portugal’s Atlantic coast is often overlooked in favor of its neighbor’s more famous stretches of coastline. But one town in particular along Portugal’s coast charmed my family and I when we spent some time there.
Cascais, located about 19 miles west of the capital of Lisbon, has the grandeur and elegance of the French Riviera, the personality and fresh cuisine of the Italian Riviera, and the laidback beach vibe of the Algarve. With a mild year-round climate, lower than average annual rainfall, and the sound of lapping waves, it is truly a place that encourages tranquility. With its proximity to the dramatic city of Lisbon, the mystery of the pastel-hued palaces and castles of Sintra, and the wild, untamed beauty of Guincho beach, Cascais has so much to offer.
Cascais is a statuesque waterfront town with boutique-lined streets, vibrant art vendors, and vintage carousels tucked away in gravel-paved parks. Although it is much more affordable than more popular Riviera towns like Saint-Tropez, Cannes, or the Cinque Terre, it lacks nothing in the way of riches.
Our typical spring days in Cascais consisted of rich coffee and delicious homemade Portuguese tarts at Bijou de Cascais. For under $10, our family of five could enjoy coffee on the patio in the golden morning sun. After a long afternoon beach walk, we might find ourselves dining al fresco at Cafe Galeria’s raw food bar. Our children would wrap themselves in the blankets provided, get comfy in the handmade furniture, and sip fresh fruit smoothies, as the stars became visible over the darkening Atlantic Ocean.
Although gaining popularity with the European jet set, finding an apartment in Cascais is much easier than on or around the French or Italian Riviera. A furnished, two-bedroom apartment, near the Cascais marina, can be rented for about $1,500 a month with all the amenities like a pool, parking, and a patio, included. A comparable apartment in Nice, France would easily set you back $3,000 a month.
The largest casino in Europe, Casino Estoril, makes for a fashionable evening out. It can be reached by passing grand seaside villas with imposing gates on the 10-minute drive from Cascais to the town of Estoril. It is the perfect playground for people watching and has a fascinating history. During the Second World War, due to the neutrality of Portugal, Estoril in particular, became a premier location for royalty to go into exile.
One of the many things I love about Cascais are the locals. Friendly and warm, they were genuinely curious about the U.S. and life across the “pond.” Cascais has all the glamour and quality of the more famous Riviera towns but possesses a level of authenticity that is hard to find anywhere else.
As the Swiss author and philosopher, Pascal Mercier wrote, “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
The only thing better than our experience in Cascais will be returning someday.
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