A September 2004 trip
to Lisbon by Taurusgal
Quote: The city of Lisbon is just amazing, but take a few days to explore the splendid and very-accessible shores of Cascais and Estoril, and you'll discover yet another reason to gush over Portugal.
Portugal is sometimes thought of as Spain’s quiet little sister, content to let her big sis take all the Iberian glory. This could not be further from the truth. Two things made a lasting impression on me when we first arrived in Lisbon: first, I had no concept of how truly blue a sky could be, but more importantly, I spotted more Portuguese flags waving from homes, shop windows, and automobiles than in any other European city I’ve visited.
Before he resigned in July 2004, former Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso warned about the dangers of Portugal becoming irrelevant in today’s ever-expanding united Europe. Despite strong nationalist feelings and a deep respect for their heritage, the Portuguese embraced change and were one of the first nations to join the European bloc in 1986. Since then, with the help of more than billion in European aid, they have been able to, among many other things, improve their road and rail network, create a Ministry of Science & Technology, and even secure a membership within the European Space Agency. In exchange, they were able to share with Europe their maritime expertise. One example of this is their creation of The Institute of Marine Research in 1991, and their hosting the prestigious Third European Marine Science and Technology Conference in 1998.
And I haven’t even begun to mention how they’ve been blessed with a perfect climate, breathtakingly dramatic coastline, and charming people. This is a country that has so much to offer, both to the European and global community.
Pack a good pair of sneakers or walking shoes.
Don’t attempt driving in Lisbon unless your last name is Schumacher (incidentally, if your last name is Schumacher: Rufen Sie mich an...).
Don’t confuse the Portuguese with the Spanish. Both countries have their own unique and wonderful histories, accomplishments, and languages, and the Portuguese are extremely proud of their heritage. You might get away with saying, "Gracias," once or twice, but you’ll be amazed at the smiles you’ll get from simply making an effort to say, "Obrigado."
The underground metro, though daunting at first (you have to descend about a million steps to finally get to the train), is cheap and runs well throughout most of Lisbon’s city center.
You can hail a taxi from almost anywhere in Lisbon, and the rates are fairly reasonable. If you have heavy luggage and aren’t traveling during rush hour, do take a taxi from Lisbon city centre to the airport. It took us no longer than 15 minutes to get there, and came out to a total of only about €10. Think ahead if you’ll be traveling during busy hours — traffic can be dreadful.
Solar Dom Carlos is a lamb of a hotel, located more in the soul than in the heart of Cascais, a 5-minute walk to the beaches, trains, and lively downtown, but close enough to real life that the town church bell will undoubtedly take the place of your portable alarm clock.
You will have to walk up and through some intimidating, steep cobblestone roads to find it, unassumingly plopped down in the center of a ring of palm trees like it’s been here for a hundred years and couldn’t give a toss if it ever gets a write-up in Travel & Leisure.
The former royal cottage of King Dom Carlos, Solar Dom Carlos features spacious rooms, a glorious 400-year-old chapel where the king used to worship, a lovely garden where you can sit and relax with a drink, a breakfast room, and a reception room with TV (if you don’t like soccer, don’t bother with it and if you don’t like Portuguese soccer, don’t bother opening your mouth at all).
I am not sure what the hotel clerk had thought I meant by double-bed accommodations, but we were elated to find that we’d been booked in a HUGE room with one double bed and two twin beds, hardwood floors, terrace (true, it overlooked the tiny road in back, but it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?), fully furnished with sturdy cherry-wood drawers and cabinets and a small television. The room and bathroom were both very clean. Extra amenities, such as a hairdryer and laundry, are available upon request. You can even purchase a wonderful bottle of port wine, one of Portugal’s most important exports and a must-have souvenir, from the front desk. The clerk will gladly explain the difference between bottle-aged and wood-aged port if you aren’t quite the aficionado.
Breakfast is complimentary, served every morning from 8:30 – 10:30am. Breakfast consists of a fresh selection of local offerings: toasted, light-as-a-feather Portuguese rolls, fresh fruit, yogurt, cereals, and the most delicious coffee I’ve ever tasted, served to you in your own individual pot.
The best part of staying at Solar Dom Carlos is that you will not feel like you were scammed at the end of it all. We paid €215 for a 3-night /4-day stay. Rooms typically range from €30 to 75 per night and reservations are accepted by phone or fax with a credit card number and expiration date. After having spent a weekend in London, where we paid more than that to stay in a hotel that had all the charm of a court holding cell, we actually felt guilty for paying so little and getting back so much.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 1, 2004
Solar Dom Carlos
R. Latino Coelho 8
(351) 21 482 81 15
Here’s why: the odds are great that you’ll spend a good few hours aimlessly roaming up and down some of the steepest cobblestone hills in Portugal. Add some ridiculously narrow sidewalks and psychotic drivers to the mix, and you can see why this is not a city where you’ll want to get lost with 25 pounds of clothes you never plan on wearing, strapped to your back.
Lucky for us the Pensao Londres in Lisbon’s young and hip Bairro Alto district was nice enough to take us in and let us stay in the one room they had available that night. For the low cost of €35, we got a room with two twin beds, a small sink, and a bidet in the corner, separated from the rest of the room by a flimsy curtain. We had to share the shower and WC with an entire floor, but, all things considering, conditions were sanitary. Oh, and there were no windows in our room, but we figured that since we were only staying for one night and planned on exploring the city for most of the day, we could deal with it. Besides, there was no way in hell we were willing to drag our luggage up and down K2 again.
Pensao Londres is clean and safe with a friendly staff. It’s a perfectly suitable accommodation if you’re traveling alone or only planning to stay for a short visit. A modest breakfast of coffee, juice, breads and jam is provided every morning in the breakfast room and included in your room price. A small entertainment center with a TV, VCR, and a couple of mainstream novels translated into Portuguese (Código Da Vinci, anyone?) are also available to use.
The hotel will give you hand soap and lend you towels and a hair dryer (upon request). Bring your own shampoo and any other toiletries that a larger chain hotel might offer.
Though only a short walk away from the heart of Lisbon’s nightlife, Pensao Londres is located on a surprisingly peaceful and quiet road, only steps away from a spectacular view of Castelo de Sao Jorge from Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. I suspect it will only be slightly louder if you are fortunate enough to have a room with a view.
Rua D. Pedro V 53
Our hotel manager suggested that, for a basic meal, we check out Jardim Dos Frangos (The Chicken Garden), located a short walk away in downtown Cascais. We arrived at 10pm, fairly late by American standards, but were happy to discover that dinnertime in Portugal doesn’t really kick off until 8 or 9pm.
The restaurant is located on a main road, not the quaintest or quietest setting, but I still suggest grabbing an outdoor table. Situated on the corner of main strip Avenida Valbom, the spot is great for people watching. Most men and women dress in a conservatively smart manner for a night out in Cascais — the typical uniform seems to consist of casual slacks or skirts, low-heeled shoes (it’s no fun to scale the steep streets in super-high heels, trust me) and sweaters, as it gets chilly at night.
My boyfriend ordered a Portuguese Steak that arrived immersed in thick, brown gravy and topped with prosciutto, onions, and olives. Not feeling as brave, I stuck to a grilled chicken dish that looked simple but was unexpectedly spiced to perfection. Both meals came with generous side portions of fried potatoes. I should mention that every restaurant we went to in Lisbon and Cascais offered an elaborate spread of cheeses, olives, butter, and bread before the meal. You could easily fill up on these local goodies before you receive your appetizer.
With a half-carafe of wine and two coffees, our bill came to only €33. It wasn’t the best meal we ever had, but it was more than satisfactory. Unfortunately, if I had to sum up all the meals that we had in Portugal, I’d probably say the same across the board. We never had a bad meal, and everything was always fresh, but we didn’t leave thinking, "Wow, Portugal has mastered the culinary arts."
But, as I mentioned, we are not the pickiest of diners. I will say this — Cascais and Lisbon had some of the best local wines, breads, and coffee we’ve ever had the pleasure of overindulging in.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 1, 2004
Jardim Dos Frangos
21 486 17 17
Restaurante Castro is a small establishment in downtown Cascais, located on an adorable cobblestone road right off the main shopping strip, Avenida Valbom. About a dozen restaurants, mainly specializing in seafood, are tacked side by side down this road.
When surveying restaurant’s menu to make your choice, remember this: the majority of restaurants in Cascais sell fish, and especially shellfish, by the kilogram. Don’t be alarmed if you see Lobster listed as €95. It may actually cost you half that, depending on how much you plan to eat.
No matter what your prior history with sardines may be, leave it back home at your local pizzeria where it belongs, and prepare yourself to taste a fantastic Portuguese specialty. Our waiter immediately brought us a plate with two grilled whole sardines smothered in olive oil and onions. They were a perfect savory starter and great washed down with a bottle of local white wine (we never actually received a wine list in Cascais, we just asked the waiter to bring us something dry and made in the region. We were never disappointed).
We ordered the grilled sea bass and grilled swordfish entries. Both dishes were accompanied by boiled potato and a few floppy string beans. Fish in Portugal is served the only way that it should be served (if traditional Italian women have anything to say about it), that is: with its head, fin, and bones still intact. While the side dishes seemed randomly plopped on the plate, both of our fish dinners were delicious. We shared a bottle of wine, two coffees, and dessert, and the total damage came to €65.
The cost of dining out in Cascais can vary from one place to the next, so even if two restaurants appear equally elegant or casual, it is a sensible idea to peruse the menu beforehand to get an idea of what you can expect.
Manuel Antonio Castro, Herd, Rua das Flores, 12
21 483 4394
Such hard work can fuel an appetite, so, when you’re ready for a break, take advantage of one of the many old-fashioned outdoor cafés along the strip.
Pastelaria Benard is an enchanting restaurant, tearoom, pastry shop, and croissanterie. Slow-moving ceiling fans and a key central location make it an optimum place to stop for a little lunch and people watching. Even though the Brasileira Café next door gets all the credit in tourist books, it also gets about double the amount of tourist traffic.
Our lunch was delicious — I had a tuna salad that came lavishly topped with boiled egg, beans, and various veggies. My boyfriend ordered the grilled chicken salad, which was equally good. With coffee and two pastries, the bill came to €26.75.
Even if you’re not hungry, the sweet, comforting aroma of croissants baking in the kitchen is a good enough reason to make a pit stop at this adorable café.
Maria Augusta e Filhos Lda, Rua Garrett N. 104
347 31 33
Such a heartless act of infidelity led us straight into the arms of Alfaia Restaurante, in Bairro Alto, on our last night in Portugal. Despite it being one very busy Thursday night, we only waited 10 minutes for a table in the back room. The atmosphere was buzzing with both locals and tourists. The décor was simple, warm, and rustic. Bottles of wine and port, harvest leaves, and straw baskets filled with apples, had been placed on the windowsill -- a sheer contrast to the edgy Bairro Alto alleyways. Still, I wouldn’t call Alfaia romantic; it was more like a fun and social place to relax with anyone (partner or otherwise) that you really, really like.
As soon as we were seated, the waiter brought us two menus — one in English — plus an extensive wine list. The selection of fish on the menu was a dream — halibut, dorado, cod, swordfish, salmon -- almost anything you can imagine. I ordered the grilled fresh salmon with broccoli and potato, and it was by far the tastiest meal I had in Portugal.
"Traditional" Portuguese fare was also featured on the menu. My boyfriend, who clearly did not suffer from an iron deficiency on this trip, ordered the Portuguese Steak for a second time that week, and looked as though he were in heaven.
I’m disappointed that we didn’t make little notes of the names of wines that we sampled, because they were all so good and relatively inexpensive. The cost of one appetizer, two entries, one bottle of wine, and two coffees was €59.30.
Even at around midnight, diners were still pouring in from the street. We had a little bit of trouble getting our waiter’s attention to ask for the check, as he seemed to be preoccupied teaching a group of German tourists how to down their ninth round of port (come on, how do you compete with that?). We completely forgave him though when he followed us out the door and lead us to a small liquor shop in the back alleyway (whose doors were wide open at 12:30am - don’t ask questions, just go with it.). The friendly shopkeeper poured us two free glasses of port that went down like water. What a sweet way to end a fantastic meal.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 1, 2004
Travessa da Queimada, 22
213 461 232
Well, we were right about the shoes — semi-formal attire is encouraged and you will not be able to gain entry into the second floor table game room if you are wearing shorts or sandals. Sadly, I can’t say the casino lived up to our Goldfinger daydream.
If you approach the casino by way of the beach, you will have the opportunity to first dally through a magnificent palm-lined park. You’ll notice the glamorous Hotel Palacio and the statuesque Estoril Congress Centre, just two of several impressive buildings in the area. The architecture around you will be splendid — whitewashed walls, decorative touches inspired by the Manueline era, and the elements of Moorish influence evident in red telha de canudo roof tile.
Now, look to the front of you and there it is: a big, rectangular, parcel-of-a-building. Colossal block letters deafen the sky at blood-orange volume to remind you that this is the Casino Estoril, in case there was any danger of you confusing it for the largest shoebox in the world.
Since we all know you shouldn’t judge a package by its wrapping (literally, in this case) we decided to stop acting like brats and psyched ourselves up for a day of 007-style gambling.
Entry is free and the casino is open daily from 3pm - 3am. If you are a slot machine junkie, I’d like to be the first to welcome you to heaven. Casino Estoril has two floors and both are jam-packed with 1,000 slot machines in total. Machine prices range from €0,1 to €5, but trade in your coins for a gambling card at the front counter, as these machines do not accept loose change.
Both floors feature table games, but if you are feeling your inner Bond, the more exclusive and guarded second floor room is the place to sip a martini and try your luck
An elegant piano bar, cocktail lounge, modern art gallery, and even a small barbershop, are all unexpected but interesting supplements to the casino experience. It’s up to you to decide whether they are sweet or silly.
One recommendation: wait until the sun goes down to lose your money. Not only will you have the chance to catch one of the casino’s fantastic concerts and musical revues, but think of the disappointment you’ll save yourself from not having to see the outside of the casino is broad daylight.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on October 1, 2004
Praca Jose Toedro dos Santos
Attraction | "Chequers Bar & Restaurante"
One of downtown Cascias’ main streets, Largo Luis De Camoes, is home to two popular and lively English bars, John Bull and Chequers Bar & Restaurante.
There’s no other way to say it: Chequers is a loud place. A DJ spins tunes five nights a week (the other two nights are reserved for live bands). Prepare yourself to hear every sound from Rolling Stones rock to 80s hair metal to cheesy Euro-pop dance tracks. A good mix of locals and British expatriates stick to themselves in a small, but cozy front bar area that serves up all types of English spirits, beers, and cocktails, along with Portuguese beers. Light meals and specialty dishes from England, Canada, America, and Portugal are available, as well as a full English breakfast.
The bartender must have been a lonely fellow on our night out, as he was determined to monopolize all three TV screens with video footage of a swimsuit photo shoot shot in slow motion. I hear they do a fine job of televising sporting events as well, so cross your fingers that the bartender finds a personal love connection before the 2006 World Cup.
Chequers Bar & Restaurante
Largo Luis De Camoes
O'Neill's Irish Pub
Rua Afonso Sanches 8
Attraction | "Biking from Cascais to Guincho Beach"
Ok, to be honest, you do have to provide your passport and hotel details to the friendly city council representative. No worries. The council bicycles are lined up in front of the Hotel Baia on Avenida Marginal. One bike’s seat couldn’t be properly adjusted and the other bike’s handlebars popped out of place once in awhile, but hey, you get what you don’t pay for. Besides, the bikes got us to where we wanted to go in one piece.
Guincho Beach is located 10 km from Cascais. Its unspoiled natural splendor and exposure to the strong winds and waves of the east coast make it an extremely popular spot with surfers, and a major venue featuring in both the European Windsurfing Championships. Not to mention, it offers a perfect contrast to Cascais and Estoril’s bathtub-still waters.
Along the way you’ll pass regal golf resorts, shifting 10-foot sand dunes, and orange and lavender wildflowers growing wildly in fields that stretch all the way up to the Sintra Mountains (an interesting fact: these mountains are the only area in the world to have been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for both their cultural interest and their natural beauty).
The scenery is breathtaking, but so is the ride up; if you’re not used to biking, be prepared to battle strong prevailing winds and steep hills. It’s completely worth the pain. The Atlantic transforms into a magical force about half the way up. Little more than a rocky ledge separates you from the powerful energy of the sea and some ferociously fierce waves. You can actually feel sea spray on your legs. We were delirious.
The ride takes about 1 hour, but allow more time to make a vital pit stop at Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell), about 3km west of Cascais. Roadside markets and cafes clog the front of this magnificent site. Don’t be discouraged — a small platform behind them allows you spectacular views of the weather-beaten coastline and of the sea roaring in through caves and clefts in the rock.
You’ll know you’ve reached Guincho when you finally see a small scattering of seafood restaurants, hotels, and surfers appear from out of nowhere. The Terraco do Guincho is a shack café situated on a cliff behind the Hotel Muchaxo, where you can grab a sandwich, beer, or coffee, and check out the water activity from behind a glass windbreak. If you’re feeling courageous, why not take surf or windsurf lessons from nearby Aerial Surf School? The Guincho store makes it possible to rent or buy surf, windsurf, and bodysurf equipment. Don’t forget that you’ll need at least a 3 mm wetsuit, as the water is quite cold.
For more information, contact Hotel Muchaxo at 315-917-890-036.
While there were no swinging trapeze artists in our cards that night, CENA DE COPOS was a dimly lit bar that played a sexy mixture of Portuguese hip-hop and dance tracks. It consisted of two rooms, one where you can sit on stools at the bar, the other a living-room style lounge. The windows in these rooms had been rolled back so we were completely open to the activity out on the street. This naked exposure gave the bar a nice feeling, like it was an equal opportunity spot where anyone could come on in and join the party.
We were shocked by how inexpensive our drinks were. A pint of Sagres cost a little less than €2 and a very strong mojito came out to only €3 (and I’m talking a very strong mojito indeed). The bar served up all types of cocktails, both Portuguese and American, as well as Russian vodkas, American whiskeys, and a decent selection of beer.
We started chatting to the bartender and before we knew it, he was scribbling down the name of a party at the Oriente in Cintura Do Porto. He warned us not to show up before 3am, as clubs close late (6am) and nothing ever happens before 3am.
We were dead curious to find out exactly what "nothing" was....but did I mention how strong my mojitos were?? Hhmm, maybe next time.
Cena de Copos
Rua Da Barroca 103, 105
Cascais (pronounced Kesh-Kaysh) and neighboring Estoril are located on Lisbon’s most accessible coast line; just 40 minutes from Cais do Sodre, the main train station in Lisbon city center. Regular shuttle bus service to Cascais is available from Lisbon airport. We jumped on board the Scott URB shuttle bus, which cost us €7.50 each. It offered comfortable plush seating, a helpful driver that spoke decent English, and had extensive knowledge of the area, and a chance to see some of the meatier neighborhoods of Lisbon that are clearly kept off the pages of most travel guides.
An argument can be made that Cascais is not as accommodating and tourist-hungry as the Algarve, at least not for foreign travelers. The presence of many construction sites throughout the town make you wonder if it’s only a matter of time before this local hideaway goes mainstream.
Well here’s my guess: not any time soon, thankfully. According to one local, some of these construction sites have been up for years and will likely continue to stay up for years to come. With static cobalt skies and dry warm weather, lazy bays, and fantastic wines, who would want to get up in the morning and spend the day doing anything except taking full advantage of this environment?
Smaller beaches include Praia da Rainha and Praia de Santa Marta. At 10am, these beaches are so intimate they will feel like your own private discovery. By 3pm, be prepared to share your private discovery with quite a few half-naked (some topless) women, men, and teenagers that are as equally devoted to sucking carcinogens into their bodies as they are to achieving that perfect barbecue glow.
The sun is quite strong in these parts, so if you are like me and look like the personification of White Out Correction Fluid, I recommend ignoring the fact that locals around you are spreading olive oil onto their skin, and stick to SPF30.
The price to rent two chairs beneath a canopy was expensive (€15) but it turned out to be well worth it. There is no shortage of food or drink around, so unless you prefer to, you needn’t worry about packing a picnic. Every 50m or so, you will bump into a small snack shop or restaurant on the promenade. You can find everything, from grilled sardines to coffee and gelato to a full sit-down meal, at these stops.
The water in Cascais is as smooth and still as swamp and only slightly cleaner. The truth is -- we were a bit disappointed with the water conditions at Cascais Bay. Though it didn’t prevent us from taking a dip, I guess I was expecting to find the blue-green waters you daydream about at your desk. Well, this isn’t the Caribbean. You will be able to indulge in a very pleasant swim, with no dangerous currents or wave action to disrupt your backstroke. If I had children, I would feel perfectly fine having them play in this bay.
However, if you are fixed on finding cleaner waters, I suggest taking a bus or bike trip 10km west to Praia do Guincho (with its massive waves, you will need to be a strong swimmer). If you crave calmer waters, a 10-minute walk east to the town of Estoril, also known as the Portuguese Riviera, should satisfy your appetite.
What Cascais lacks in clean waters, it more than makes up for in character. Chain-smoking fishermen share the shores with teenaged acrobats, sunbathing beauties, and caftan-peddling Moroccan drifters. The town is saturated with graffiti, which, as I’d soon find out, seems to be the case throughout Lisbon — surprisingly, everywhere except for on the sides of trains. You get the sense that this town is determined to retain an aspect of gritty realism that other places, like Estoril, have made an effort to (literally) erase. One moment you could be gazing dreamily at someone’s lilac manor, trimmed with cream shutters, incased in azaleas. You’ll wonder who’s lucky enough to live there, maybe a member of Portuguese aristocracy? When your eyes drift, you’ll notice that the entire side of your dream house has been territorially pissed on, with a trail of black ink smeared down its wall. Whether it’s a crafty political slogan or the image of a cartoon character, it will snap you back down to earth pretty quickly.
But there you have it: the beauty of Lisbon and its coastline is both obvious and obscure. Look beyond the cracks in the cobblestone, but, at the same time, look long and hard at the cracks because beauty exists in both places.
The architecture is lovely, the coastline is bustling with activity, but the most memorable aspect of Lisbon is how the genuineness of humanity never strays far from the fantasy of a Mediterranean utopia that you had hoped to discover.
Throughout the night, 20- and 30-something revelers gradually trickled out from the depths of alleyways -- drinks, cigarettes, and marijuana joints in hand. They bar hop or stand in line to get into one club or another, but just as often, groups would simply assemble in the middle of the narrow road and chat loudly, as if they’ve formed their own outdoor celebration.
In 2001, in an effort to tackle and treat rising drug use more as a health issue than as a criminal one, Portugal passed a law to decriminalize marijuana possession. I later learned that the drug usage rate in Portugal is the second highest in Western Europe, a percentage surpassed only by Luxembourg. We were solicited twice to purchase marijuana, once in broad daylight by the Elevador de Santa Justa.
We didn’t spot one police officer patrolling the streets of Rua do Norte and Rua das Gaveas on our night out. But we also didn’t notice anyone causing trouble. The vibe seemed to be anything goes, as long as your personal choices are not impeding on anyone else’s freedom to have fun. Whether this is just a lovely ideal that does not hold up in practice, I could not tell for sure. I felt safe on the streets of Lisbon, but, as with any large city, protect your belongings and take proper precautions, especially after dark.
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