The capital’s backyard—an area known as Lisbon Environs or, as the Portuguese would say, Grande Lisboa—is rich in possibilities. A succession of attractive coastal resorts and camera-ready towns lie within a 50-km (31-mile) stretch north and south of the Rio Tejo (Tagus River); more than mere suburbs, each is endowed with unique attributes and attractions. You’ll find impressive palaces in Sintra, upscale entertainment in Cascais and Estoril, glorious beaches in Guincho and Costa da Caparica, a vine-covered countryside in the Setúbal Peninsula, and some of the best places to dine on delicious fresh seafood in Setúbal and Sesimbra.
Lisbon and its environs have served each other through history. Even the country's earliest rulers appreciated the importance of one to the other. It was the Moors who first built a castle northwest of the capital at Sintra as a defense against Christian forces. The castle at Sintra fell to the Christians in 1147, a few days after they defeated the Moors in Lisbon.
Once the Christian Reconquest had been consolidated in Estremadura, there was a less pressing need for defensive measures.
Vacationers are nothing new here. The early Christian kings adopted the lush hills and valleys of Sintra as a summer retreat and designed estates that survive today. Similarly, Lisbon's 18th- and 19th-century nobility developed small resorts along the Estoril Coast; the amenities and ocean views are still greatly sought after. For swimming, modern Lisboetas look a little farther afield—south across the Rio Tejo to the beaches and resorts of the Costa da Caparica and the southern Setúbal Peninsula. But whichever direction you travel and whatever your interests, you'll be delighted with all that's available within an hour of Lisbon.