Just back from sunny Portugal and am feeling relaxed and re-energised after a lovely break and a great holiday. We flew into Lisbon Airport after an early flight to be greeted by sunshine which was to last for the week. There is an airport bus which for €3.50 takes you directly into the city centre which is a short bus ride of 20 minutes away. We took it straight to the train station Cais do Sodre as we were heading for the Estoril Coast.

Estoril Coast
We were staying in Caravelos which is half way between Lisbon and Cascais on the Estoril Coast. A metro runs all along the coastline so it is very convenient and relatively inexpensive. Caravelos is a surfers paradise with a large sandy beach, huge waves and several surf schools. We had booked into Praia Mar Hotel which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. It is supposedly four-star but due to wear and tear it doesn’t live up to its four stars but nevertheless it is clean and convenient. Luckily we managed to convince the reception to give us a room with a view and a balcony. Be careful if you book a standard room with garden, it doesn’t have a balcony – only the rooms with sea views have balconies and usually cost an extra €20 per night! The rooms are comfortable and clean and the hotel is just minutes away from the beach and about 10 minutes walk to the train station. The buffet breakfast was also very good with lovely views of the ocean from the eighth floor restaurant. Another four-star hotel just around the corner is the Riveria Hotel which is more modern and also has a large shopping mall.

At night we found Caravelos quiet and a lot of the beachside restaurants and bars closed early but this is most likely because it is out of season as we found the same with Estoril so we spent most of our nights in Cascais which has a good range of restaurants and is a little busier.

One of the days we took a trip into Lisbon for the day and took the City Sightseeing bus which costs €15. For this you can hop-on, hop-off for two days and also there is the red line and the blue line which takes you all around Lisbon – a beautiful city known as ‘the city of seven hills’ with gorgeous architecture and an interesting history. According to folklore legend, Ulysses founded the city. On 1 November 1755 the city was destroyed by an earthquake, which killed an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Lisbon residents and destroyed eighty-five percent of the city. The Pombaline Baixa (Downtown) is one of the first examples of earthquake-resistant construction. The Marquess of Pombal, known as the hero of the Lisbon earthquake disaster, was instrumental in rebuilding the city and consequently has a large statute in the middle of Marquis de Pombal Square in downtown Lisbon. This statute overlooks the long leafy main avenue of Avenida da Liberdade and also leads onto the Parque Eduardo VII which is the second largest park of the city. The red line focuses on the city centre as well as heading out towards the Estoril Coast. There are some beautiful squares including Praca do Municipio, Praca do Comercio, Restauradores and Rossio Square, the oldest and historically most important squares in Lisbon. Other things Portugal is well known for is Fado (translated as destiny or fate), a music genre which can be traced from the 1820s in Portugal and also the colourful tiles that line the walls of Lisbon tell the tale of the city and of Portugal.

Portuguese Rooster

Portuguese Rooster

And of course the legend of the Portuguese Rooster “Galo de Barcelos”, the national symbol of Portugal as well as a symbol of honesty, integrity, trust and honor and signifying good luck. Legend had it that a pilgrim was accused of a crime he did not commit in the Portuguese town of Barcelos and was condemned to death by hanging by a local judge. As a last request before he was hanged, he asked to appear in front of the judge one more time to declare his innocence once again. His request was granted and he was brought before the judge who was dining with some friends. The pilgrim once again declared his innocence and in the presence of the judge’s guests he pointed to a roasted rooster on the table and said: “As sure as I’m innocent, so will that rooster crow!” and the dead rooster stood up on the table and crowed. The pilgrim was immediately set free and went his way in peace.

On the way out to the Estoril Coast, you can see the 25th of April Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in Europe which reminded me of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and I later learned that it was made by the same engineers. Belem is another beautiful spot with the Belém Palace; the Torre (tower) de Belém and the more modern feature of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). This is a 52m high slab of concrete, erected in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. The monument is carved into the shape of the prow of a ship in which stand statues of various explorers, as well as a statue of Henry himself.

The blue line concentrated more on the outskirts of the city and took in among other things the airport, a train station Gare do Oriente and the site of Expo 98 as well as several shopping areas! Expo ’98 was held in Lisbon and a whole area was built called Parque das Nações (Park of the Nations). The timing was intended to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s sea voyage to India. We also passed the impressive Vasco da Gama Bridge, inaugurated on May 1998 which at 17.2 km (10.7 mi) is the longest bridge in Europe.

Another day trip worth taking is to see Sintra, a ‘bewitching town lost in time’ which UNESCO awarded World Heritage status on account of its 19th century Romantic architecture in 1995. Attractions include the fabulous Pena Palace (19th c.) [a must see, like something straight out of a fairytale] and the Castelo dos Mouros [Moorish Castle] with a breath-taking view of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, and the summer residence of the kings of Portugal Palácio Nacional de Sintra in the town itself. It is €3.55 each way on the 417 bus which is caught from Cascais Shopping Centre; €11 for entrance to the Pena Palace and Park and Moorish Castle and €4.50 for the Pena sightseeing bus 434. Beware the walk up is very steep and the steps at the Moorish Castle are a killer but so worth it for the stunning views.

“When the mountain meets the sea, a paradise on earth is born whose soul is filled with the abundant blue of the sky and its spirit is cloaked by a nature reflecting the untamed charms of an intense green…Sprinkled with the chirping if the birds and a witness to fairy tales, it is the perfect setting to dream…and go on an unforgettable trip.”