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Rethinking Sintra and considering Cascais

Rethinking Sintra and considering Cascais

Old Mar 19th, 2022, 12:03 PM
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Rethinking Sintra and considering Cascais

My husband and I are going to Portugal at the beginning of May for 4 weeks. Currently, our itinerary is the following:
Sintra (3) - Chalet Saudade
Lisbon (6)
Evora (3)
Marvao (1)
Tomar (2)
Coimbra (3)
Douro Valley/Quinta do Pego (3)
Gumaraes (3)
Porto (4)

But as I read about the crowds in Sintra that have come roaring back, especially Maribel’s recent experience, I’m considering canceling the reservation in Sintra and staying in Cascais instead. We arrive in Portugal on Thursday, May 5.

I’m torn. I hate dealing with huge crowds and going through sites with too many people, but I’m also wondering whether we would end up missing something if we cancel altogether. And my husband is a bit mixed about staying in a resort town for the start of our trip. He wanted me to consider starting in Lisbon but then I’d have 3 days between Lisbon and Evora. I don’t want to rearrange my entire trip now as I like the places we’re staying in and will not likely be able to book them if we did rearrange the trip.

So, would staying in Cascais be much better than Sintra in early May? I’m leaning toward canceling the Sintra booking but have time to decide. The options in Cascais are slimmer but are doable. And will it be too crowded in Cascais, given that we’re going in early May?

Currently, we are booked in Chalet Saudade in Sintra which looks charming.

I found a few places that are reasonable in Cascais but nothing so charming as lots of places are booked up since it’s a weekend at a great time of year.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if we should keep the reservation and just enjoy the place as much as we can!
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Old Mar 19th, 2022, 12:32 PM
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Despite Maribel's recent experience, we're keeping our booking for three nights in Sintra. My experience with busy tourist towns is that they're wonderful after the day trippers leave, which was the whole idea in the first place, so I'm counting on that

We'll be there Wednesday through Good Friday, which could also be problematic, but I've had to cancel and rebook this trip three times already and so I'm just going to hope for the best and go with the flow.
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Old Mar 19th, 2022, 12:40 PM
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Thanks for that, Mel, I’m also thinking the same thing. I like where we’re staying and nothing in Cascais seems quite so charming. We could visit Cascais if the crowds become unbearable, but I’m not as sure as I was that I want to cancel my Sintra reservation after all.
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Old Mar 19th, 2022, 01:50 PM
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Get an early start in Sintra to avoid crowds at the sites.
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Old Mar 19th, 2022, 02:37 PM
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Our trip to Portugal was in the very late 90's, so quite a while ago. That said, we stayed in Cascais for 3 nights and absolutely loved it. It was a great town to wander with a very relaxing feel. We especially appreciated this after day trips to Sintra etc.

As mlgb says, so early to Sintra! That was the case even back when we went, so I can only imagine how bad it is now.
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Old Mar 19th, 2022, 03:36 PM
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Don’t let my recent experience sway you if you really want to experience a 3-night stay in Sintra. Yes, at night the day trippers will be back in Lisbon or on their ships. I just personally found the town itself now over dependent on tourism and a bit faded. For me its focus on tourism loses its original charm. Sintra now has choo choo trains, double decker sightseeing buses, tuk tuks galore. The tuk tuk drivers are not above chicanery, as we were standing at a bus stop and one approached me saying “the bus doesn’t stop here, so I can take you around”.
Of course I knew that the Scotturb bus does indeed stop there.

We arrived at 9 am well before monuments opened at 9:30. We went directly into the National Palace and did have it to ourselves. It is the monument that I would skip because there are no audio guides and explanation panels are scant and it needs some restoration work. The train and bus crowds began to arrive between 10:30 and 11.

Cascais is a resort town, a well manicured one, with small museums, an arts district within the Citadel/fortress and a long walking and biking path along the ocean as far as Guincho.
There is the 417 bus that takes one to Sintra in 30 minutes and a bus 403 that wraps around the coast past Cabo da Roca in 30 minutes. We took an Uber to Sintra for 13 euros. Uber works very well in Lisbon and Sintra and the coast.

All that said, If you don’t find lodging that appeals in Cascais for your dates and if coastal resort towns don’t appeal, please forget I ever mentioned being disappointed with present day Sintra. I probably should never have mentioned it.
At night you may find it relaxing.
We did enjoy Incommun very much as its entrance is away from the train station crowds and I know that the Chalet Saudade is charming. Just be prepared for lots of steep, uphill walking, especially at Quinta Regaleira and Monserrate, which we loved BTW because it’s removed from town, and we had the place relatively to ourselves.

The difference between crowds at Sintra and Cascais or Estoril is that the former has a very small town center where the crowds congregate while the latter two are much larger, broader for visitors to move around and have long coastal walks. One can walk along the water from Cascais to Estoril, while Sintra has hills to climb.
I regret mentioning our experience but thought it might be helpful.

Portugal is a wonderful destination, and I’m sure you’ll fall in love with the people.

Last edited by Maribel; Mar 19th, 2022 at 03:49 PM.
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Old Mar 19th, 2022, 05:16 PM
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Maribel,
Please don’t regret mentioning your experience - it’s valuable and I’m still mulling it over. I’m now really torn. Part of it really has to do with accommodations as I don’t think we’ll find anything quite so charming as Chalet Saudade, at least not at a comparable price. And your description does make me think we’d enjoy Cascais - it looks like it would be a lovely place to be, and I know my husband would be fine with it (he generally likes all the choices I’ve made!).

In the long (and short!) run, there really aren’t any bad choices here but I’m still mulling it over. One moment I make the decision that we’ll definitely change and the next moment, we won’t. Tomorrow is another day….
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Old Mar 19th, 2022, 11:29 PM
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Progol,
I understand.
For me charming accommodations, kind and attentive hosts and even nice breakfasts can and often do win me over and make me forget about the crowds while I enjoy the famous Portuguese hospitality.
In my case after a busy week in Lisbon ( we extended our stay to 7 nights) the lure of the ocean and ability to take long, uncrowded coastal walks won out, as I found it very restful. I guess I just needed the relaxation of the sea as an antidote to the bustle.

You can always take the 30-minute bus to Cascais or the longer 1 hour 403 bus that goes along the coast via Cabo da Roca or take a 25-minute uber ride (12-16 euros, depending on traffic), if you get a hankering for some down time on the relaxing sea.
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Old Mar 20th, 2022, 01:42 AM
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Progol,
You will be in Lisbon the same time as me and my wife and while you will be in Sintra we will be in Estoril/Cascais. I guess your options to decide on whether Sintra or Cascais are between a beautiful area with lovely beaches and quaint Portuguese charm (and plenty of elbow room) with the wonderful sights and palaces of Sintra. Remember the days are long and those crowds, which can be unbearable at times do stay the good part of the time. When I am on vacation, I don't like having being guided by certain hours that I can enjoy myself (before and after the day trippers), that really is not fair. Tough choice I guess. Easy choice for me. Heavy crowds, in my opinion, can ruin an entire day of my precious vacation, especially dealing with folks from buses, cruise ships, etc that do not appreciate their surroundings and are there just to say they were there and don't appreciate the beauty and history of the sights.
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Old Mar 20th, 2022, 02:18 AM
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Maribel, thank you. It’s a tough decision and I’m sitting with it still. The accommodations really do have a lot to do with my decision at this point.

mike, I get it and agree with you, though am finding it hard to find something that makes me want to stay there. And there are at least a few people who have written how much they’ve enjoyed staying in Sintra, despite the crowds. Still, I’ll probably switch if I can find something I’m happy with. I also hate staying in a place that feels too cheap or dreary just to find a place.
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Old Mar 20th, 2022, 03:53 AM
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Hello! I was in Sintra in February for a Friday and Saturday night stay at Chalet Saudade. I think I slipped into Portugal just before the weather warmed up and omicron rates fell for good, so my experience was quite different from whatever it will be like in May. But I have a few observations! The crowds never became oppressive, the sights are unique and expansive enough that people can spread out, and most tourists left in the afternoon. And for someone who never visited Sintra before it became a tourist town, it's still pretty quaint, with very nice craft and gift shops where I found authentic Portuguese things to buy. Plus, after six days in Lisbon, which is not a terribly green city, we loved being surrounded by enormous gardens and woods. There are endless opportunities to walk and hike, and I can only imagine how gorgeous those paths will be in May! Even in February they were beautiful.
We stayed at Chalet Saudade and absolutely loved it. It's like an oasis, convenient to the train station but hidden away on a street behind it. It is also nowhere near the touristy part of town up the hill, so at the beginning and end of the day the neighborhood is quite peaceful. And again, I can only imagine how wonderful it will be in May! In February, we could enjoy the lovely sun deck with a gorgeous view, but in May you'll be able to read in the rear garden or have your lunch at a little cafe table in front of the house. And the house itself is delightful! We explored all seven floors just to see the charming decorations. The breakfast around the corner is wonderful, and as a bonus, the hotel is directly across the street from Incomum, where I would eat lunch and dinner every day if I could!
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Old Mar 20th, 2022, 04:17 AM
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abbydog, thank you so much! I’m still struggling to make a decision but Chalet Saudade sounds like such a charming place to stay and a good escape from whatever crowds there are. I’m glad your experience was so good in Sintra! I’m still a little more concerned about the crowds really and whether the experience will be okay, but it sounds like the guest house is a wonderful respite if it does become difficult.

**Added a little later: my husband says to me this morning to leave it alone and keep the Sintra reservation and stop driving yourself nuts!

I guess we will go to Sintra and probably take a trip to Cascais, though I will still keep my eyes open for a perfect stay in Cascais. 😉

Last edited by progol; Mar 20th, 2022 at 05:05 AM.
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Old Mar 20th, 2022, 07:13 AM
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I took a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon in September 2019. There were crowds but we stayed ahead of them by arriving early and using uber to get to Pena Palace from the train station and then to Quinta da Regaleira. I was a little concerned about getting an Uber when we left Pena Palace, because of the arriving crowds and traffic jams, but it worked out. When we arrived at Quinta da Regaleira, I think the crowds were still at Pena Palace. We didn't have a wait at the well and took our time and explored before we headed back to Sintra and walked around the town. I'll caveat this by saying, I prefer to be outside so didn't get an interior ticket for Pena Palace and spent time walking the exterior and grounds.

Since you're spending several nights in Sintra, you can be very flexible about about going early or late or leaving if it gets overcrowded.

I'll be in Lisbon again, in about 3 weeks and had Cascais on my list for a day trip. After reading Maribel's comments I'm even more excited to go!
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Old Mar 20th, 2022, 10:19 AM
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wtm- thanks for your thoughts and suggestions. I’m pretty sure we will keep our reservation in Sintra but I’m planning a day trip to Cascais for one of those days. I’m sure we’ll make the best of it.

Enjoy your trip!
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Old Mar 20th, 2022, 10:36 AM
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progol,
I'm so glad that you started a thread about your decision, as you've had excellent feedback and very compelling persuasive arguments from both mike and abbydog.
A primary reason why I found so much rest and relaxation in Cascais was our lodging. The quality of my lodging to me makes all the difference.
We stayed at the Pestana Pousada Ciudadela, tucked inside the fortress/citadel, which has been turned into an art district. Our room faced the new marina with lots of restaurants/shops, was adjacent to the indoor pool and large sun terrace, and we had our own private terrace with ocean views, which made it utterly relaxing.

We walked in the beautiful and extremely well maintained Marechal Carmona city park with strutting roosters, visited the Pena Palace looking Condes de Castro Guimarães decorative arts museum, the Museu de Mar, the cultural center with a Stanley Kubrick exhibit and the Soto de Mouro-designed Casas das Histories Paula Rego Museum to see a special exhibit of paintings of Mendez, a painter I really like (open until Oct). These museums were free with our lodging. And we admired the lovely villa architecture. So I got my art fix and my ocean walk fix. And I found a place where I really would like to live (seriously).

Our room rate was a total fluke, as I asked my husband, the Pestana member, to book the Pestana Cascais. He booked the one outside of town (not handy) for a Jan, special of 94 euros/night. I didn't realize he had booked the wrong Pestana. He received an email before we left saying that the Pestana Cascais would be closed, but they would honor our rate at the Pousada Cidadela and give us a superior room. Yes!!

With airbnbs in Cascais one has to be really careful about the location. Cascais is a large municipality consisting of the town center plus other little hamlets (Areia, Birre, Cobre, Terre) that are inland, not on the ocean and not near easy public transport, so one has to research well the location.
The B&B style hotels of charm that I liked are the extremely pretty Casa da Pergola, similar in style to the Chalet Saudade and the new, spiffy Westlight Chalet near the marina with ocean/beach views, but I don't know their May rates. I just mention them for others who are interested.

In retrospect, on our Sintra day. we should have told our uber to take us directly to Pena Palace at 9 and wait there (with tickets in hand for both the palace and green shuttle bus up to the. entrance from the park) for the first entrance to the Palace at 9:30. We would have avoided the crowds.
We didn't re-visit Pena, which I now regret and instead chose the National Palace where signage was poor, no audio guides and it is need of restoration. We then took the Scotturb 435 Villa Express 4 Palacios bus directly to Regaleira, which wasn't crowded and we followed a small group up to the Initiation Well (where the guide warned his group that in high season the wait to descend can be an hour long!). I hadn't gone down the well before and was determined to do so while my knees still allow it. Here I needed to use my cell phone flashlight, as the descent gets darker and darker as one goes down. Once you commit, you can't go back up, but it was worth it, and exploring the underground passageways was a delight.

Our final monument was Monserrate, again on the 435 bus (goes by every 20 min.), and because the crowds were very light, we had the 30-acre gardens and fanciful 19th century, exuberant Indian-Moorish-English Romanticism palace all to ourselves. So peaceful, so remote and such beautiful views.
The journey back to the train station on the 435, because of the rerouting, takes about 20 minutes.
Then a very late lunch at 5 pm of Azeitão cheese with tomato chutney and warm raisin bread and the famous tinned Portuguese sardines and a glass of wine at the Wine Gallery of INcomum by Luis Santos. Then a 20-minute uber ride back to Cascais.

For Mel, the staff of INcomum speak perfect English and are extremely knowledgeable about their Portuguese wines from all regions and have a large selection of bottles one can purchase to take to one's airbnb.

The Scotturb buses do have a good deal of €11 for one trip each on the hop on/hop off, uni-directional Pena Sightseeing bus 434 (formerly called Circuito da Pena) that stops at the National Palace, Moors' Castle and Pena Palace, the 435 Villa Palacios Express that takes you to Regaleira, Setais and Monserrate and the 403 that takes you along the coast to Cabo da Roca (the most westerly point in Europe) and Cascais. The latter trip takes an hour.
We didn't use this offer, but it's an option. Bus drivers speak English and tell you where to make the switch from the 435 to the 403 to Cabo da Roca/Cascais.
Across from the train station there's a Scotturb office where one can buy tickets for all 3 buses. You can't miss it. You can also buy tickets on the bus, but it's time consuming, and the bus driver can't accept large bills. These buses are slow and become extremely crowded in high season. Our 435 mini bus to Regaleira and Monserrate wasn't crowded at all in mid-March. There are signs at the ticket office at Regaleira to purchase online tickets, but we didn't find a line, but would certainly purchase tickets in advance from Easter through Sept. There is also an audio guide. Regaleira is somewhat confusing because it's so large.

As one exits the train station the Scotturb 434 bus (Pena Sightseeing) departs from a stop to the left and the 435 (Villa Express Palacios) from a stop to the right (this has changed), clearly marked.

And at the station there are multiple transportation options: tun tuks galore that now charge €10/person to Pena, taxis that advertise a taxi ride to Pena for €10 for the whole taxi, a large Lisbon Sightseeing bus and a new green trolley choo-choo (don't know where it goes).

I did love the Sintra handicrafts shop, the one with the display of green cabbage pattern Bordallo Pinheiro ceramics, across from the National Palace. The shop sells lovely ceramics, tableware and beautiful linens. A tasteful home decor shop. I showed restrained this time but have purchased there in the past.

For progol,
It sounds like you've made a decision and you should stick with it and enjoy your time in Sintra.
I remember suggesting the Chalet Saudade to you because of its Portuguese charm and its being tucked away from the fray. I had a chance to see other Sintra hotels, the Sintra Boutique, the Sintra Bliss and the ultra deluxe Palacio de Setais (on the Scotturb 435 Villa Express 4 Palacios bus route), and the only one I would recommend in town these days is the Chalet Saudade, because of its location away from the high season crowds and its character, so you chose well!

Enjoy your time there!



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Old Mar 20th, 2022, 01:49 PM
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Maribel,
To say “thank you” doesn’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your incredibly detailed and thoughtful response. You are a gem and I know many here have had amazing trips to Portugal and Spain thanks to you. And your thoughts here are so very helpful and reassuring. I do feel more comfortable with our decision to stay in Sintra now that I’ve been able to look at so many points of view. And Chalet Saudade feels right - I’m sure it’ll be a good place to be. And there is a good chance we’ll take a day trip from Sintra to Cascais, but I’ll leave it to see how we feel at the time.

And that fluke which got you to the Pestana Pousada Ciudadela - wow! What an amazing rate! I had looked at it and it does look lovely, though a bit more than I want to spend. Interestingly, I almost booked Westlight Chalet but couldn’t find reviews. It looked lovely but again, I somehow couldn’t quite make the decision.

As we get closer, I’m going to figure out what our priorities are for Sintra and try to develop and realistic approach and your info is invaluable for this.

Again, Maribel, I can’t thank you enough for all you do in to helping me, and everyone else, to create the v3st trips possible.
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Old Mar 21st, 2022, 06:37 AM
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Ditto what progol said
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Old Mar 21st, 2022, 09:11 AM
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If you are even moderately fit it is easy to walk from town up to Quinta de Regaleira, so if you have your ticket in hand you can beat the first bus. If you stay in Sintra, you can go to Quinta early one day, and Pena early another day.

I bought the inside of Pena Palace by mistake, it really isn't worth waiting in lines at all. I did like the National Palace even though it was jammed on the tour.

Lukewarm on Monserrate interior but yes, it isn't busy.

The month you go makes a huge difference in crowd size, according to the host at my lodging. February would be a very low time to visit. September-October are still busy.
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Old Mar 21st, 2022, 10:00 AM
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Thanks very much for the kind words, ladies, much, much appreciated!

The walk from the National Palace to the Quinta da Regaleira takes about 15-20 minutes. The very last section up to the entrance pavilion, is a bit of a steep hill. And you can beat the crowds by not waiting to take the first 435 Villa Express 4 Palacios mini bus from the rail station.
The bus doesn't take you right up to the entrance but leaves you a bit of a climb up to the ticket pavilion but certainly do able. Ubers, tuk tuks and taxis can take folks directly to the entrance who want to avoid the last steep few minutes of a walk up.

Because the National Palace doesn't have an audio guide available due to covid, and the information panels don't provide much important background material (we had done the Palace before and knew the story behind the "Magpie Room", etc), it would be helpful to read up a bit before you go to appreciate it better. At 9:30 there was no line at all, nor was there a line when we left at 10:30, but I don't know about later. The Café de Paris across the way does serve delicious sandwiches and breakfasts for those needing a coffee or lunch break and it has a very nice outdoor terrace.
Café Piriquita was a bit crowded and didn't have outdoor tables, and a guide told her clients that the food was even better at Café de Paris (but prices are higher given its prime location on the square).

The Pena Palace, where I regret not going first (but had been there several times), as I've mentioned, does now have timed tickets, every half hour, which I hope will help ¨somewhat¨ with the crowd flow. One no longer has to wait and wait to enter with a timed ticket. I hope it's a good step that they've initiated this crowd control in the interiors, as it has become very frustrating to wait in line to enter.
The first timed entrance to the Palace is at 9:30. But there are 400 tickets available per half hour slot, which is still a lot, for the tight quarters of the interior rooms. The Palace rooms have been left just as the royal family left them in 1910 when quickly fleeing, so they're frozen in time, intact at the moment the family had left them. If you have no interest in seeing the royal family's room, you can just wander at leisure to photograph on the loggias.

When purchasing tickets online (sr. discounts and youth discounts are available), if you don't want another steep 10-15 minute walk from the Park entrance to the Palace entrance, you can purchase the "supplement transfer", which is the green trolley bus that takes you from the bottom of the hill where the Park entrance sits, to the entrance gates to the Palace. The supplement costs 3 euros.

Also tickets for the all the Parque de Sintra sites are available at the Scotturb offices directly across from the rail station.
Quinta da Regaleira is run privately, not part of the Parques de Sintra organization, but does now have online sales. The signs at Regaleira reminded visitors that in high season it's best to purchase online, but we didn't encounter long lines at the ticket counters in mid-March, and there were 5 ticket booths open.

The interior of the Monserrate Palace is empty of furniture, save one room, but the elaborately carved ceilings are worth a walk through inside, at least for me, and in the lush gardens one can wander at ones leisure, since this site is the final one on the 435 bus hop on/hop off and gets fewer visitors. It does have a café if you need refreshments or a light meal. For us it was a respite from the crowds, as it's so vast, we felt we had it more to ourselves.

I think it's a very personal decision which Sintra sites one chooses to see. Avid climbers and photographers will probably really enjoy walking the ramparts of the Moors´ Castle.

Mel,
if you tell me that you have hiked the 2.3 km up to the Castelo dos Moros and then hiked down into town I'll be really, really impressed! I'll bet it's something you two can do easily and can still enjoy.


The Westlight Chalet with water views in Cascais is new, so not many online reviews, and I didn't get to see the rooms. I believe it's offered on airbnb.

Last edited by Maribel; Mar 21st, 2022 at 10:16 AM.
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Old Mar 21st, 2022, 11:37 AM
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Mel,
if you tell me that you have hiked the 2.3 km up to the Castelo dos Moros and then hiked down into town I'll be really, really impressed! I'll bet it's something you two can do easily and can still enjoy.


Hmmm...I do like a challenge.
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