“If you’re going to Lisbon, make sure you go to Cascais,” said my father before I headed off to the Portuguese capital.
Cascais is a small fishing town on the Atlantic coast to the west of Lisbon, renowned for its beaches and charming character. The town had been one of my beach-loving father’s highlights when my parents visited Lisbon and despite not being much of a beach lover, I decided to take a trip to see what all the fuss was about.
Cascais is a 40-minute train ride from Cais do Sodré station and after my visit to the Oceanarium, I made my way to the train station to spend the afternoon by the sea. The train ride is great as the railway line follows the coastal path, passing the resort of Estoril along the way, and providing fantastic views over the ocean. It’s a beautiful stretch of coast and as we made our way down to Cascais, the train steadily emptied with each passing station as the crowds of people who got on the train at Lisbon gradually got off, heading to the various beaches that line the coast.
I arrived at Cascais a little after 2pm, and having not yet had lunch, was famished. As someone whose life is often ruled by her stomach, my main priority was filling that gaping hole. My plan was to grab a quick sandwich before exploring the town and its beaches. The plan seemed full proof, but I hadn’t anticipated that it would take around 40 minutes to find a sandwich shop.
Cascais is full of cafés, bars and restaurants, some of them off-puttingly touristy with plastic menus and waiters accosting you in the street, many offering big meals and sit down service. This was the last thing I wanted, so I ignored all the entreaties to have lunch and instead walked up and down the streets looking for something lighter and quicker, until I eventually found a tiny shop selling sandwiches where I bought a tuna and salad baguette that I promptly devoured.
Happy I’d finally eaten, I made my way back through the town towards the beach, looking at the various sights and shops I passed along the way. Cascais was busy that afternoon and the beach, which was much smaller than I’d anticipated, was heaving with people so I decided against spending time there with my book and instead, having seen almost all there was to see in the town, decided to explore further afield.
Around a 20-minute walk outside Cascais is a series of caves known as Boca do Inferno (hell’s mouth in English) for the sound the waves make when they crash against the rocks. You can reach the caves on foot by following the coast road to the west of the town, so I made my way out of Cascais, past the Palace of Cascais Citadel and through the marina, where I was amazed at how many expensive-looking yachts and boats were moored there.
Just outside Cascais, I came across the Santa Marta Lighthouse (above), an intriguing square-shaped white and blue tiled watchtower. I stopped off to climb its 8m-tall tower, admiring the stunning tiles that line the inside of the lighthouse and the beautiful views from the platform at the top. The lighthouse is fantastic and a great place to unwittingly stumble upon. There’s a museum attached to it, too, but as it was getting late, I decided not to stop and look around, but instead to carry on to the caves.
A little further along the coast, I reached the Boca do Inferno. The caves are carved into the coastline and there’s a small cove you can look down upon from the cliffs above. On the day I visited, the sea was calm and there weren’t too many waves crashing into the caves so I didn’t hear any otherworldly sounds. There were also a lot of other tourists, some of whom were clambering over rocks they probably shouldn’t have been clambering over as they didn’t look too safe, and I had to patiently wait my turn to get close enough to see the caves.
The Boca do Inferno is a pretty part of the coastline, but nothing spectacular and the sort of scenery you see regularly along the coasts of Wales and Scotland. Needless to say, it was nice to look at, but I was a bit puzzled as to why it’s such a tourist attraction as it’s nowhere near as dramatic as the name suggests. After stopping to look at all there was to see and take a few photos, I headed back to Cascais to catch the train back to Lisbon.
All in all, I was rather underwhelmed by Cascais. It’s a fairly average fishing town and I’m not entirely sure why it’s often listed as one of the top things to do when visiting Lisbon. It’s a pretty enough place, but very touristy, which takes away from its charms, and its beaches are disappointing. I may just have been grouchy with hunger pangs when I arrived, which coloured my view of the town, but Cascais was the one place I visited during my Lisbon trip I could happily have skipped.