For the Portugal leg of our European tour, we flew into Lisbon, but instead of staying in the capital, we went 30 minutes up the coast to the seaside town of Cascais.
After having completed more than half of our trip we welcomed the chance to slow down just a little and spend a few days at the beach.
Cascais is an old fishing village but not a sleepy town anymore. There are many beaches to choose from that stretch along the coast, with good walking and bike paths joining them. The pretty old town centre has narrow cobblestone streets dotted with alfresco restaurants busy with Lisbon daytrippers, but still with a relaxed seaside holiday feel.
We quickly learned that the Portugal seaside was a common holiday destination for the English looking to soak up some rays.
On our first day, the weather was just warm enough to visit the beach, and all around us were pale-skinned British tourists and other topless Europeans.
We enjoyed our visits to the beach, but we find it hard to relax for too long while on holiday. During our seven-night stay we also had time to discover other things to do in town and nearby.
The first chance we got we took a day trip to the renowned village of Sintra, which had come highly recommended. We could have spent days visiting the many great palaces, castles and forts, but with kids, we limited it to just two, the postcard-perfect colourful Pena Palace and the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira.
The Pena Palace was very impressive, but the crowds and the two-hour travel time to get there took away a little of the shine.
Luckily the gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira were cooling and captivating. The kids were fading as we headed there, but were perked up once we delved into the labyrinth of paths and hidden caves and emerged into a spectator well which we were able to climb inside.
On another day trip, we caught the train to Lisbon. We walked around the old part of town, along mosaic paths while admiring the colourfully tiled buildings. To head up to higher ground we caught the Gloria funicular.
The Park at the top of the hill had splendid views of Lisbon city, and was a great place to stop for coffee and snacks.
To get back down the hill we took the Santa Justa Lift, a unique freestanding elevator, designed by Eiffel’s protégé.
Back in Cascais, we really enjoyed being away from the city crowds. We liked exploring the quiet back streets, white-washed buildings decorated with colourful tiles, and a surprising amount of large murals.
One day we hired bikes and rode north along the coast, stopping at Boca do Inferno, some ragged cliff formations.
Marechal Carmona Park was a great park to play, follow the walking paths, and chase the roosters!
On our last day we tossed a coin and visited one of the many beachside restaurants with ocean views, sampled some local seafood dishes, and when the sun came out afterward had a final play on the beach.
We were very happy with the decision to base ourselves away from the busy city, while still being able to visit and enjoy Lisbon and other sites, but also to relax and recharge for the remaining month and a half of our holiday.