Je ne sais quoi (How cool is it?)
The Cascais beach in Portugal is a perfect beach spot for kicking back in the day on the sand and heading out at night to party. Located a mere half hour outside Lisbon by train, the Cascais beaches are probably the best in Portugal. These beaches provide a lot of options when determining where you want to spend your day. Not only will you find hidden coves and rocky formations along the coast, but also gorgeous wide golden sand beaches in Cascais and the surrounding area.
Praia means beach in English
Cascais is a coastal town in Portugal with a population slightly more than 200,000. It is an immensely popular beach vacation spot for locals as well as international holiday makers. The beaches of Cascais are found only 19 miles outside of the capital, Lisbon. This cosmopolitan suburb is where the rich and famous of Portugal call home. Until the Portuguese royal family chose Cascais to be the location for their summer resort in the late 1800’s, it was a humble fishing village.
Situated between the coastal Atlantic Ocean beaches and the Sintra mountains, Cascais is found along the western edge of the Tagus estuary. This area is referred to as either the Portuguese Riviera or more commonly as the Estoril Coast.
Where is Cascais, Portugal? 38°70′N 9°42′W
Cascais : Popular Beach Spot throughout History
The most central beach in Cascais is not a swimming beach. The beach known as Praia do Pescador or Praia da Ribeira is not surprisingly Fishersman’s Beach. While swimming in the midst of fisherman looking to catch dinner, might not be recommended, this is a great spot to kick back on the golden sands and ponder whatever it is you think about.
This beach area is rich with history. As far back as the Paleolithic era, there is evidence of human settlement. Permanent settlements in the Neolithic area, show that caveman liked these beaches and chose to be beachbums as well. A little closer to today, but still a very long time ago, the Roman’s appreciated the area also and created 2 settlements, in today’s São Domingos de Rana and Charneca. Some place names are testament to the Roman dominance of the area. The Romans were not the only conquerers to come to these coasts. Names like “Alcabideche” and “Alcoitão” are reminders are the Muslim era.
Cascais Beach Vacations : A long history
Portugal’s first oceanographic lab was created in in 1896, by King Carlos I. The King was highly interested in maritime activities. He led 12 separate expeditions to the coast to increase scientific knowledge. Sadly, he was assassinated in 1908.
In Cascais today, there is a large harbor suitable for yachts and a few small sandy beaches. The town is convenient to get to from the capital, by commuter trains or car. Its close enough to hop in a taxi as well. Depending upon your budget, there are a number of great inexpensive restaurants and hotels along the beach. In addition to the beach, Cascais also has some parks, castle ruins and a few museums. This beach town is a great base of exploration for Lisbon. It is quite comparable to Atlantic beaches in France.
The tourist infrastructure started to improve dramatically in the early 20th century with the construction of the famed Estoril Casino, which has been featured in a James Bond film.
Popular Cascais Beaches
To the west of Cascais, you will find the ever popular Guincho Beach. The Sintra mountains are north of the town. Its a wonderfully scenic location, attracting tourists from around the globe for the beaches and other vistas like the Boca do Inferno. It is a good destination to surf, sail, windsurf, etc. 10 golf courses are in the region as well.
In 2007, Cascais was the official host of the ISAF World Championship in sailing for dinghies and racing yachts.
The Cascais municipality is the home to the FIA F1 Portugal Grand Prix as well as a number of international tennis tournaments and motorcycle races. For better or worse, one of the largest casinos in Europe, the Estoril Casino, is here too! Parts of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service were filmed in the nearby 5 star “Hotel Palácio”.
Cascais was the home of much of exiled European royalty in the second world war. Spanish, Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian royals all chose the Cascais Beach, because Portugal like Spain were neutral. Like the royals in the past century, Cascais still attracts the jet set. However, the gorgeous beaches cater to the masses today as well. Most budgets will be able to enjoy this popular beach vacation destination.
Praia da Rainha : the royal beach spot
The Praia da Rainha, or Queen’s Beach, was formerly a private beach spot for the enemies of the people also known as “the great and the good whose former mansions remain perched on the rocky cliffs above to this day.” The Queen’s beach is found by the train station via the steep steps. While the Praia da Rainha may be the smallest beach in Cascais, it is definitely the most scenic. Overlooking the Cascais harbor and surrounded by jagged rocks, the beach is occasionally a bit crowded. On the plus side, its crowded for a reason and that improves the people watching. The “Queen’s Beach” has great water. It’s both clean and calm, making it ideal for swimming with kids. In the summer, there is also a lifeguard.
Praia de Conceicao & Praia de Duquesa Beach
The Praia de Conceicao has been named after a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, that is located next to the beach. The Nossa Senhora da Conceicao is the name of this tiny chapel. With incredible golden sands, the semi-connected beach destination spots of Praia de Conceicao and Praia de Duquesa are quite similar on the Cascais and Estoril coasts. A promenade is shared between these great places with many cafes, restaurants and pubs. In each location, the water and swimming is wonderful. The first beach in walking distance from Cascais is the more westerly Praia de Conceicao.
In between the Chalet Faial and Albatroz Hotel, the Conceição Beach is a wide beach with a raised boardwalk. Some great restaurants and shopping can be found here. The Conceição Beach has a lot of tourist activities in addition to the obvious enticements of good food and cold beer. Its a good hopping off spot for aquatic activities and watersports.
Praia da Duquesa : Great Scuba Diving
At low tide, the two adjacent beaches are connected by a sand bar. Named after the Palace of Palmela’s Dukes, the Praia da Duquesa sits under the Palace. The excellent visibility combined with the calm water, has created a nice dive location. Sailing and windsurfing here is also superior. The Duchess of Palmela was especially fond of the beach in front of her Palace, which was subsequently named for her- Praia de Duquesa. These two beaches are the best in Portugal and they compare favorably with all beaches, including the best beaches in Mexico.
There is a group of 3 more beaches if you travel east from Cascail. Each of the three (Tamariz, Poça and Azarujinha) is distinctive, yet located along the same long coastline. The first Cascais beach to become famous was the Praia do Tamariz. Tamariz is easy to get to by either train or car. Its connected to the Estoril Casino via a tunnel. The cosmopolitan beach is extremely active. It is a party hot spot. In the afternoon, it is sophisticated. As the sun sets, it is wild.
Praia da Poça has a life guard during the day and tourist information. However, its the nearby restaurants and cafés of Praia da Poça that are famous. It is close to the Forte Velho, or Old Fort. Very close to the casino, the party going masses in Estoril love this place.
The extreme rugged beauty of Praia da Azarujinha, or Azarujinha’s Beach is well worth the trip. It is the next beach from Praia da Poça. With a restaurant and lifeguard, this is yet another well maintained beach in the area. Praia da Azarujinha is found at the base of the main cliff on the coast and hidden from the road.
Surf Praia de Carcavelos
Closer to the capital, the Praia de Carcavelos is the most famous beach to the east of Cascais. It’s a great place for playing in the waves, but its not for everybody. The waves here can be huge. Some of the best known international big wave competitions are held here. This surfing beach is easy to get to by car. Of course, there are the requisite watering holes and restaurants.
Praia do Guincho
For a more wild and rugged landscape, from Cascais go west to Praia do Guincho, the most western point in Portugal. The Praia do Guincho is wide and sandy. This is the high rent district with some of the most luxurious accommodations and upscale restaurants in Cascais. This beach spot has strong currents, so be careful. Praia do Guincho is a great spot to surf. So next time you are planning a Costa Rica surf vacation, think about Portugal for a bit more variety.
Thank you very much to my friend Rosi for contributing the pictures. Rosi is part of the Saturday Pirate BBQ group in Malta.