I always say that the first thing that should touch your lips when you enter Portuguese territory is a Pasteis de Nata, preferably one from the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, the family-run pastry shop that has been selling these delicacies since 1837 when they took over making them from the monks at the nearby Jeronimos Monastery.
It’s a story of revolution and sugar, and I remember walking up the Goldborne Road from Notting Hill in London to visit the Portuguese Bakery there to get my fix of these delectable custard tarts. But to get to the point, I’ve just been visiting Portugal again. I was thrilled to walk into my hotel room and find, yes, a welcoming plate of pasteis de nata!
The point of the story is not really pastry but Cascais, a trendy holiday resort half an hour’s train ride up the coast from Lisbon (and the Belem bakery). It is a gorgeous town of sun-bleached stone with chic shops and cafes lining pedestrianised streets – very cosmopolitan yet retaining that relaxed seaside vibe.
Cascais has been fashionable for over a century (nearly as long as pasteis de nata). Once upon a time it was a fishing village and fortified port but in the 1870s the erstwhile Portuguese royals turned the citadel into a summer palace and wealthy families followed suit, building the latest thing in holiday villas.
These days the beautiful people looking for things to do in Cascais head for the nightlife of Guincho beach and partying on the sandy beach at the Guincho Bar. Sandy Guincho beach is also great for surfing and windsurfing.
Once you’ve wandered about the shops and the portside have a look at the Museu Biblioteca in Gandarinha Park. This former aristocratic residence has a fascinating collection of Indo-Portuguese azulejos tiles, porcelain, furniture and paintings.
The stunning Paula Rego Gallery – the Casa das Historias – is wonderful. The building is so different and art lovers will just be in heaven, a very classy heaven that is.
To eat out in Cascais try to get away from the tourist centre. I highly recommend Restaurante O Viriato (34 Avenue Vasco Gama) for a satisfying evening meal and cosy authenticity. Discover your own culinary gem – just walk up the hill from the main square and search out tiny restaurants on residential streets where amazing meals of bread, fish, coffee and beer can be had for euros. For that daily Pasteis de Nata fix, try the tiny Pastelaria Cantinho Doce on Rua Afonso Sances.
I had friends staying in central Cascais and when I heard their stories of noisy neighbours and nightlife-interrupted sleep I was glad we had come to rest on the outskirts of the town – in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
The Quinta da Marinha Resort Hotel is surrounded by the green of Umbrella Pines and the silver of olive trees – really some of my favourite natural colours in the whole world. The resort is a spacious haven, with every room looking out onto the expansive parkland.
The breakfast is to-live-for with perfect poached eggs, pineapple that tastes like paradise, meaty grilled mushrooms and a detox smoothie bar. There are three restaurants – Mr Wandering Kiwi had the most amazing octopus carpaccio at the Five Pines. And some fine vintage Port…
Sitting on the terrace eating breakfast in the morning I could see people in shorts already striding about the golf course. I was happy to observe them from a distance – from a sunlounger by the pool to be exact – and enjoy the calmness of this ‘theatre’ of dreamy holiday relaxation.
And they have Pasteis de Nata. Who could ask for more?
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you been to Cascais? What do you recommend?
Thanks to the Hotel Quinta da Marinha Resort for hosting me on my visit to Cascais. The Quinta da Marinha Resort is a member of Great Hotels of the World Luxury Collection. For more information or to book, please visit the website or call UK: 020 7380 3658 US: +1888 222 8859 Int: +1 972 894 1182.
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