As Belém fades away in the rearview mirror and those delicious pastéis de nata (Portuguese egg tarts) linger a little longer on my palate, the Insight Vacations‘ (Insight) luxury motor coach hangs a right and heads up the Estoril Coast, setting its sights on the other two points of this triangle-shaped day trip: Cascais and Sintra. Together, they bookend the “edge of the earth.”
Along with the other 28 travel journalists and photographers — collectively known as the “band of merry media” — I’m a guest of Insight, invited along to experience the “art of touring in style” on its Iberian Adventure, an abbreviated, seven-day, premium-escorted journey through Portugal and Spain.
As we glide past luxury beachfront properties and gate-guarded golf communities, Laura, Insight’s Lisbon-based expert, explains that unlike many other Mediterranean seaside resorts that sprung up following the mass tourism boom during the first half of the 20th century, Cascais was already on the map as an established holiday destination.
She adds that, thanks to King Luís I, who, in 1870, strode out from a sandy beach and dipped his toes into the Atlantic, Portugal’s royal family fastened its proverbial hammock to Cascais, followed by many of Europe’s exiled and wealthy kings and queens.
As the Insight motor coach drops anchor just in front of the marina, Toni, aka El Guapo (The Handsome One), our Insight tour director, informs us that we’ll have two hours of shore leave to grab lunch on our own dime, or explore Cascais, or do both.
With only 120-minutes to take in as much of this former fishing village-turned-royal playground as I can, I decide to keep my pie hole shut and my camera lens wide open.
Care to join me?
In his 16th century epic poem, The Lusiads, Portuguese poet Luís de Camões described Cape Roca as the point “where land ends and the sea begins.” It’s a must-see photo op and Helmer, our skipper, accommodates our pleas and brings the Insight galleon to a full stop in clear view of the edge of the earth, a distant granite cliff stretching out into the blue Atlantic.
With stopwatch in hand, Toni again puts us on the clock and gives us five minutes — 300 seconds — to hustle down off the motor coach, lay claim to a patch of the rocky terrain and fire away at coordinates 38°47′N 9°30′W.
I milk the hour glass for all its worth, bringing up the rear and clambering back aboard just as the door closes shut and the coach motors off towards Sintra. Talk about running a tight ship.
Along with its business-class legroom seats and WIFI, the Insight motor coach is well stocked with oversized umbrellas. They’re being doled out right now as heavy rains greet us upon our arrival in Sintra.
The holiday destination of choice by Portuguese royalty for more than half a millennium, Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is dotted with ornate palaces, villas and churches, quaint cobble streets and shops, and an artistic heritage that includes Lord Byron, who described Sintra as a “glorious Eden.”
The palace, with 14th century Moorish origins, has been expanded several times over during its lifetime, adding Gothic and Manueline touches along the way.
Whaddaya say we get out of the rain and go inside for a look?
Umbrellas unfurled, our “band of merry media” makes its way across the wet mosaic pavement to the awaiting motor coach for the short drive back to Lisbon’s five-star rated Dom Pedro Palace Hotel. The heck with room service, I’m ordering dry cleaning. I’m soaked!
For complete information on Insight’s 112 premium and luxury-escorted journeys around Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you bright and early tomorrow morning when we cross the Tagus and head deep into Portugal’s captivating Alentejo region to sample world-class wines, visit a Roman temple and count bones inside a 16th century ossuary.
©The Palladian Traveler