Sunday, June 24, 2018

Beach hopping and exploring in Cascais









Beaches and anchorage of Cascais

There was a light fog when we departed the marina on our bikes. We stopped briefly at the lighthouse near the marina first but as the visibility wasn’t great, we decided to keep going. We rode out along the southeasterly coastal route out of town. When we got to the end about twice the distance to Estoril, we turned around. Estoril and Cascais were once the haunts of royalty, world leaders and spies but today, Estoril is the site of a casino and the area between the two is a major tourist destination – an alternative to the Algarve – where the Atlantic sea breeze and cooler waters make the summer climate more bearable. There are still many stately homes, some of which are now hotels.
The fog was rolling in but I decided to go for a swim. I went into the water up to my knees but there was too much seaweed all cut up in tiny bits to be pleasant. The water was, however, considerably warmer than it had been the last time I tested it. No more bone chilling cold. Now more like the New Jersey shore in late June. Still ‘refreshing’ but doable.
I decided to try the next beach, which I believe was called Azarujinha. But this one had sand over rocks and was slippery and dangerous. It also had seaweed bits but also a lot of plastic garbage floating in it. Not pleasant. Every third wave was larger and could sweep me off my feet and on to the rocks.
The third place was one of the ocean swimming pools – Piscina Oceanica. Essentially, there’s a concrete wall with several platforms where you can climb up a ladder which encloses sea water in a rock pool. At high tide, the water comes over the wall and refills it. It was high tide, and there was a bit of a surge so I wasn’t comfortable going in.
Next to the Piscine was the Tamariz beach loaded with tourists. For the first time since we arrived there were loads of people in the water. The air was still hot but the fog was closing in. This beach had nice fine sand and no rocks. The water was clean and not too cold. That was it. I dove in and took a few strokes. Refreshing! I dove under again and took a few strokes. Now I was cooled off and had the experience of swimming in Cascais. 
We continued on and stopped at one of seaside restaurants for lunch. It was not very good. Tuna sandwich with no flavour. Burger, cooked right, but no outstanding features. Boring. Now the fog had rolled in over us and it was getting chilly especially since I had my wet bathing suit under my clothes.
We rode on among the hundreds of walkers and runners making use of this fine coastal amenity, but I did not go for a swim again on any of the ensuing beaches. When we reached Praia da Rainha, once the beach of the Queen and her entourage, the fog suddenly lifted and Cascais was in brilliant sunshine and teeming with people. You could see the fog fringing the bay just outside the anchorage. This beach is enclosed in sheer rock walls and you can see why the royalty would have chosen it as their own private playground.
You could also imagine the streets full of heads of state, diplomats and spies seeking refuge from the ravages of world war on these beaches instead of the bomb shelters in cities throughout Europe. There were beautiful yachts anchored out, kayakers and SUPs weaving between them, and bouncy/slidey toys for young people to swim out to.
We continued on back to the marina but decided to explore the side streets near us and to stop at the big house museum that was built by an Irish ex-pat. The tiny streets of this district wind up the hills from the town centre in a cobblestone maze. We stopped to admire the strange monument to the original walls of the royal palace which apparently once stood on this ground. Every so often we came upon a hidden restaurant or a house adorned with wisteria and bougainvillea. The views from the streets that spilled over into the city down hidden staircases were lovely. We spotted a tiny restaurant on a tinier side street off the Rua Dos Navigantes called Ratatouille. What the people were having for lunch looked divine so we made reservations for dinner at 8.
When we reached the walls of the old citadel marking the marina boundary, we continued on to the house and gardens called Museu Condes de Castro Guimaraes. It was built by a Jorge O’Neill of Irish descent, but he got into financial difficulty and had to sell this extraordinary estate. Complete with central courtyard, a private beach, views over the Atlantic where the lighthouse and marina now stand, a warren of ornate rooms, a pipe organ, an exceptional turret, beautiful tilework, a folly, and exotic gardens with rare breed chickens and roosters and peacocks with their babies roaming about, we were fascinated to know more about our Irish compatriot. I thought we had heard peacocks calling but we were told that people have these sounds coming from their buildings to keep the gulls away. Right. Behind the gardens is a public space including a football stadium. The grounds also have a chapel but there was a private wedding going on so we couldn’t get in to see it. Living in this house must have been amazing.
After a brief break back on the boat and a change of clothes, we returned to the Ratatouille Restaurant. It did not disappoint. Tuna ceviche was outstanding with strawberries, apples and caviar. My rabbit and aubergine tart was Michelin star quality, with succulent rabbit meat delicately spiced and interlaced with delicate aubergine; a hat of puff pastry was topped with wild mushroom and garlic garnish. Alex had the pork village style, which was nice but less inventive than the rabbit.  With an excellent bottle of Douro wine our meal totalled €47.
We walked home hand in hand. It had been another good day.

The lighthouse near the marina

Praia da Rainha

Above the praia

Beach and anchorage in Cascais

Main street Cascais

Monument to the castle walls

Tiny streets

House built by Jorge O'Neill of Irish ancenstry

The entrance courtyard

Shamrock ceiling in the reception hall

Beautiful tilework

Amazing ceiling in the drawing room

The drawing room with organ to the left

Murano glass

Hallway with Ming Dynasty jugs

Dining room with fountain

Library

Illuminated manuscript


Turret with crests of all of Jorge's Irish family connections

Dedication of the Turret room

Jorge's ancestry
Outdoor fountain

Peacocks


Chickens

Peacock posing









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