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PORTUGAL
Fall 2004

Vila do Conde | Guimaraes | Amarante | Porto | Aveiro
Coimbra | Sintra | Cascais | Ericeira | Lisboa

Cascais

The shores of Estoril and Cascais are protected from the northern winds by the Mountain of Sintra. The resulting mild year round climate in combination with gorgeous coastline and the inauguration of the railway line from Lisboa (45 minute ride) in 1889 established these towns as the resorts of royalty. They continue to be not only a cosmopolitan resort destination but because of their proximity to Lisboa, have become a bedroom of the capital city.

The Estoril Casino is the largest and most modern in Europe. The main gaming room is 3000 sq. meters. There are 1200 assorted slot machines. The main dining room seats 1000 and if you prefer there is an exquisite Chinese restaurant. There are the usual big name shows and entertainers appearing nightly and regular art exhibitions. A 71 year old lady won a record 1,223,531 euros at a slot machine in August of 2001 - maybe it’s time for the next big one! The Casino sits majestically at the top of large green park surrounded by tall palm trees. There is no shortage of luxury hotels to make a stay quite comfortable and for those who would rather get a tan than sit indoors at the tables and slots there is a long, deep sandy beach at your doorstep.

Cascais was both a stronghold and a fishing village. The Citadel, a 17th century fortification, was part of the coastal defense for the capital. It is now the summer residence of the President of Portugal. Fishing continues to be a thriving industry in Cascais, much appreciated by patrons of the local restaurants.

Praia da Ribeira - Cascais, PortugalTo us, Cascais is an oasis of comfort. Gazing out over the ocean and seeing the colorful boats bobbing in the water and the fishermen working their nets and lines or standing on a cliff and watching the waters smack against the rocks is a sensual delight. Walking for miles along the paved coastal paths and breathing the salt air, wishing we could afford one of the new apartments being built across the way, is stimulating for both body and mind. When it's time to take a break from day dreaming, we wander through the neat pedestrian streets of the old town and enjoy a little window shopping while looking for the next gastronomic delight.

Every time we went to Cascais on a day trip from Lisboa we promised ourselves we would come and stay for a few days and when we did would stay at the Hotel Albatroz and the Villa Albatroz, a member of Leading Small Hotels of the World. There are 3 properties that comprise the Hotel Albatroz; The original house, The Palace and the "Yellow House". The original house was built in 1873 by the Duke of Loule and called the "Almond Box". It first opened for guests in l963 with the name Albatroz Inn. After subsequent renovations and additions, it reopened as the Hotel Albatroz. Directly behind, across the street is "The Palace", acquired in the year 2000, with its original palatial design and classic furnishings. On the cliff in front of the hotel, surrounded by the sea, is the "Yellow House", which was acquired in 2003. This stunning complex is perfectly located in front of the old town overlooking Praia Conceicao, Praia da Rainha, the gorgeous coastline and the open sea. The hotel complex has 43 rooms and 10 suites, each more beautiful than the next.

The Villa Albatroz is a luxury Estalegem or guest house. It is beautifully situated on the picturesque Praia da Ribeira with views of the beach and marina from the front rooms and the eastern shoreline of Cascais and Estoril from the rear.

If you love the sights, sounds and smells of the ocean (we slept with our windows and doors open) these superb properties are for you. Cidadela Marina - Cascais, Portugal

We decided to start our stay at the "romantic" Villa Albatroz and then move to the hotel where we chose the extension of the original house (not too shabby on the romance front). The Praia da Ribeira is the most popular gathering and sightseeing spot. The beach is nestled in a cozy harbor and in warm weather is filled with sun seekers and swimmers. Colorful fishing boats are anchored off shore and the splendid Cidadela (fortress) and Marina de Cascais are neighbors. The front patio of the villa is a popular spot for enjoying a drink and watching the action. The front steps lead to an attractive casual reception area where we were warmly greeted and welcomed. The staff in both places was exceptional, caring and professional.

The interior designs of the villa and hotel were a joy to behold. The artistic choices and uses of color, fabric, and furnishings, combined with meticulous attention to detail, create an environment that rivals the great outdoors. The white marble stairway with gleaming, golden banisters and off-white walls gave off a bright happy glow. The smart restaurant is divided into individual rooms done in white and black. The beige and black fabrics for the chairs and tablecloth and the marble fireplace complete the smashing setting. There is an adjacent small bar with stools and casual seating conducive to enjoying an aperitif. The windows and doors open to the beach scene below.

Two windows in the bedroom and one in the bathroom maximized our views of the coastline and added to the bright, cheery decoration. White walls and ceiling accentuated the colorful floral prints of the bedcover and upholstered chairs.

The same colors were used for the striped fabric of the headboard. A soft green and red floral patterned carpet worked well with the fabrics. An amazing hand painted tile wall in a delicate pastel floral pattern greeted us in the bathroom. The generous sink area was needed to accommodate the ultra fine selection of soaps, shampoo and lotions.

Beira Mar Restaurante is located around the corner from the Villa Albatroz at Rua das Flores, 6. There is a lovely large patio but we opted to dine indoors. The glistening open kitchen with white aproned and capped staff stirring and cutting away was a good omen. The lobsters and crabs crawling around in large tank were enticing. A large display of fruits a cheese was attractive. The shiny tile floors confirmed cleanliness. The blue and white tile and stucco walls, beamed ceiling, nautical paintings and artifacts, hanging cooking utensils and wine displays ensured a traditional Portuguese experience - and so it was. Fish and cream of shrimp soups were a comforting beginning. The corn bread and garlicky green olives were exceptional. A Duque de Viseu Dao-Sogrape white was quite delicious. We had yet to have arroz de mariscos so this was the day! It doesn't get any better than shellfish, rice and coriander cooked and served in a big pot. A side of mixed salad was necessary for health purposes. Assorted gelato, baked apple and excellent coffee ended a fine meal in fine style.

Behind the Marina is the lovely Parque Municipal da Gandarinha which is a perfect place to begin a walk to work off the calories just consumed. The old town hadn't changed much to the best of our recollection. The vibrant pedestrian streets attract both local shoppers and tourists so there is a wonderful selection of shops catering to both. There are many restaurants and churrasqueiras featuring fresh fish, shellfish and grilled chicken. Many are priced for tourists so it takes a little investigation to find value, which of course adds another dimension to the walk. Stay tuned for some good results. Outside the pedestrian area near the train station is a modern enclosed mall, Villa Cascais, with several levels of very good specialty shopping.

Evening was settling in and it was restaurant opening time, 19:30, so it was time to get serious about finding a suitable spot. We have been around the country long enough to know what prices should be so it was a no-brainer to pass on several of the "popular" eateries. My hawkeyed partner spotted one of “our” kind of places. Flecha Azul, Avenida Valbom, 8b. No pretensions here. The walls were covered with assorted tiles of all colors and scenes and an array of sports banners hung all around. What was important was that it was very clean, had a display of very fresh fish from which I could select and it was family operated. We each had a large bowl of wonderful hot vegetable soup to start. Linda had a tuna and vegetable salad she said was outstanding. I chose a large size dourada who looked me right in eye, which was beautifully grilled and served with boiled potato and very fresh green beans. Our friend Paulo had told us that Super Bock was a great beer so tonight I passed on wine and found out that Paulo knows his beer. The family took good care of us in every aspect. The prices were incredibly reasonable.

Breakfast in the Villa Albatroz is very special. The view from the cheerful dining rooms is uplifting and the service is excellent. There is a neat assortment of self-serve quality offerings including smoked salmon, fresh fruit, orange juice, rolls, croissants, cereals, cheeses and ham. Eggs and hot meats can be ordered separately and when we did they were perfectly prepared. This is a top notch breakfast experience.

Ponta de Santa Maria with Lighthouse - Cascais, PortugalOn the other side of Praia da Ribeira is Avenida D. Carlos 1 which leads to the Cidadela. There are steps and a walkway at the end of the fortification that lead to the Marina de Cascais, which was filled with boats. We didn't count to see if it was loaded to its capacity of 600. It can handle yachts up to 35 meters with a draught of 6 meters. There is a shopping area with several shops, restaurants and cafes and spaces still waiting to be filled. It's a fabulous spot overlooking the marina and ocean and should become a popular destination. Across the inlet from the marina is the Ponta de Santa Maria with its lighthouse perched atop, a pretty picture from the ancient bridge behind. Just behind are the stunning yellow Earls of Castro Guimaraes Palace and tower.

The road along the shoreline continues west before turning north. It was built to not only convey vehicles but with walkways for pedestrians and lanes for bikes. We joined the walkers and joggers out enjoying the crisp sea air and watching the waves engage the rocky shore. The Ponta da Pombeira and Ponta da Alpendurada are great spots to gaze out over the rocks and sea. Our final viewing point before heading back via the town streets was Cabo Raso, which boasts the Farol (lighthouse) do Cabo Raso. As every day so far, the sun was shining out of a blue sky and the weather was comfortably warm.

We checked into the Hotel Albatroz and after dropping our bags in our room headed down to the restaurant for lunch. The restaurant, which services all three of the hotel properties, is part of the original house. We opted to sit on the terrace right over the ocean. The main dining room would be our choice for dinner with its windows over the beach and sea. The terrace wraps around an inviting and friendly bar area.

After a long walk enjoying the sea air and sounds of the water splashing against the cliffs, we were in a very relaxed mood with hearty appetites. We spread our crab dip (crab, tomato, mustard and mayo served in a crab shell) on small toasts while we awaited the shrimps sautéed with garlic and wine, and fish soup filled with fish, shrimp and clams. Next, we enjoyed cod fish cakes and chicken kebob with vegetables. Not wanting to leave this heavenly place, we forced ourselves to have dessert: bolinhos de leite, tender crust filled with warm cream, and chocolate soufflé. The service was attentive and the timing, just perfect.

While the original old house maintains its classic character the newer addition is contemporary in design. Our king room is a spacious paradise. As in the villa the decorating is exquisite. The furniture has an alligator finish which is carried into the sliding draws of the walk-in closet where there are enough shoe racks for Imelda M. The fabrics are soft green, peach and tan which coordinate with the walls, carpet and the lamp shades. The large bathroom is a show-stopper, a veritable retreat complete with a large wicker chair and stool. Horizontal stripes of decorative tiles line the walls. Two metallic silver sinks with graceful faucets and knobs. There is a large bathtub, a separate stall shower and the toilet and bidet are glass enclosed. The bathrobes and slippers are perfect for lounging. Molton Brown toiletries (as in the Villa) are presented in a lovely porcelain bowl. View from Hotel Albatroz - Cascais, PortugalThe towels and face cloths are top quality. The lighting in the bedroom and bathroom is exceptional.

A nice size stone and stucco balcony with comfy table and chairs is a few steps down from the bedroom overlooking a very pretty salt water pool area, which itself overlooks an inlet surrounded by rocky cliffs, beaches, the marina and boats at sea. We could practically reach out and touch it all as we watched the sunset on the distant horizon while sipping a delicious port wine. Did I say this is paradise – a honeymoon venue, if ever there was one!

A further excursion through old town brought us to the famous gelado emporium, Santini at Av. Valbom, 28f. We met the current Santini family who are quite proud of their success. Frankly, we find that the gelado in Portugal is too sweet but the Portuguese think this is the ultimate. Sweetness aside, the pistachio and noce did not have any pieces of nuts in the mixture. Too sweet is one thing, but absence of nuts is a serious blunder!

The tourist office was hosting an exhibition of tapestries by Antonio Adauta. The designs are inspired by the tapestries at Conimbriga and his work is masterful.

Just outside the pedestrian area behind the Jardin Visconde da Luz at #92 Rua Da Bela Vista we found Restaurante O Pereira, a typical family run neighborhood favorite. The fresh white cheese and crusty rolls kept us going until the green bean soup arrived piping hot. Tonight they were featuring one of our favorite Portuguese dishes, cabrito (goat) roasted with wine, garlic, onion and olive oil. It was perfectly prepared and was so tender it had to be young goat. The house red wine, Vinha das Garcas, was dark in color with rich body, berry flavor and a pleasant finish. Good home cooking at neighborhood prices.

The sound of the waves splashing on rocks and the superior quality mattress, pillows and bedding were conducive to a long, deep sleep. It was hard to leave the roomy stall shower but breakfast awaited - and what a breakfast! Entering the gracious dining room we were warmly welcomed by the staff and guided to one of the many tables with splendid beach and ocean views. This was no ordinary buffet. The attention to detail in the presentation was exquisite, flawless. The selection of quality offerings was the finest we have encountered in our travels. There was not a fresh fruit that was not available. Cheese please - hard, soft, white, yellow - take your pick. I love bread and went crazy, completely abandoning all consideration of both cholesterol and carbs. Beside the cheese there were eggs two ways, crisp bacon, smoked salmon, local hams, small crocks of rice pudding (each with a cinnamon stick) and chocolate and vanilla mousses. The service was extra special with fresh orange juice and coffee delivered as desired and the empty plates removed quickly (and there were plenty of empty plates, as you can imagine).

Cascais more than fulfilled our expectations; combined with the magic of nearby Sintra and the proximity of Lisboa, this very special part of Portugal will hold a special place in our hearts for all time.

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