Cascais 11 Years On

Doing the supermarket run
Fishing boats and beyond yachts at anchor

Sitting here in the bay at Cascais it appears that ten years on little has changed except for a few new buildings along the beach. In town the shopping centre and bus station that was under construction causing a huge detour to pedestrian access to the Jumbo supermarket has been completed but the traffic jams are much the same. Cascais is a wealthy suburb of Lisbon and unlike many towns across Europe appears to have suffered little from the current economic crisis; restaurants and bars are thriving though shopping is restricted to tourist trinkets, upmarket handbags, Zara (Susie: I’ve has resisted the temptation to go in so far), mobile phone shops and two supermarkets. There seem to be few empty premises, except in the marina which was relatively new in 2001/2 and it seems a lot of the units there have never been used. There are a few small chandleries mostly offering other technical yacht services, though one is also a small but well stocked “corner shop” and the remainder of the units in use are bars or cafes.  One good thing a walkway now exists linking the castle wall path into town and the marina on the seaward side removing the need for the lengthy clockwise detour round the fort.

One thing does remain unchanged the marina’s reputation for being one of the most expensive places to moor in Europe, it was so when it opened in 1999 and remains today’s price of four euros and thirty cents per metre on a par with some of the more select places in Poole Harbour, UK for overnight berthing. Little wonder then that over an early morning coffee in the cockpit one could count over thirty boats at anchor in the bay, more at the weekend. And it’s not just your average cruising yachtie that is avoiding the expense, a fifty foot UK flagged “gin palace” and a similarly sized local catamaran dropped the hook too. In our few days here small cruising boats and large super yachts alike have eschewed the marina’s facilities. A walk round there for some chandlery shows many empty berths and few foreign boats. With solar panels, wind generator, a solar shower and the dinghy for trips ashore Temptress has been quite self-sufficient.

Portugal though is still cheaper than Spain for food and as long as you stick to locally produced wines and beers they are cheaper too. There is no market in Cascais except Wednesdays so most of the shopping has to be at Jumbo, though there is a Pingo Douce (Portugal’s equivalent to Waitrose) in the new shopping centre. We love the way that any local supermarket reflects the national diet or food obsessions; the cheese and cooked meat shelves in Jumbo are expansive with a bewildering choice on offer whilst instant coffee and tea choices are limited. And you can buy any wine you like as long as it is Portuguese.

An odd thing that has struck us as a complete contrast to Baiona; there you could get free wifi almost anywhere for the price of a coffee and both marinas happily proved anyone who asked for their free to use service too, here MacDonald’s offers the only wifi in town! We think the answer lies in the mobile data tariffs but unless you are here for a longer stay the hassle of purchasing a local dongle (it can take two days for the connection to be set up) means we’ll stick to MacD’s AC’d premises for now.

Somethings are definitely the same – Jardim do Frangos still does chargrilled half chicken with fries and a mixed salad for a reasonable price with friendly service and the meat was as tasty and moist as we remembered it. People parked their cars almost but not quite on the pedestrian crossing outside to run in and collect their takeaway orders. The waiters engaged in banter between themselves or with regular customers and patiently explained some of the Portuguese specialties to a group of elderly Norwegian women who had little English but did recognise the word “Bacalhau”. 

Bacalhau (back-allow) is dried salted cod – the salt came from Portugal, was traded by the Brits for the cod in Norway then shipped back to Portugal to be traded for more salt – a trading triangle that led to a unique relationship between Portugal and the UK, they are Europe’s oldest allies. You see the stiff creamy coloured pieces in smelly piles in most supermarkets. To become edible once more it needs lots of soaking and rinsing (not something you can do easily with the limited water supply of a boat) but once restored it is almost like fresh cod though to our mind it needs a good sauce to make up for the dryness of the flesh.  The Portuguese bake it and serve with lots of potatoes and a veg like broccoli or cabbage.

Salted cod aside we’ve dug out our Portuguese cookbook and are determined to restore to our own diet some of the dishes we loved before we headed to the Middle East and found new cuisine to explore. Calde Verde (green cabbage soup), Portuguese Steak (steak baked in the oven surrounded by potato slices with a piece of dried ham on top, Acorda Alentejana (a kind of stale bread soup with garlic, fresh coriander boiling water and poached eggs, very simple, extremely quick and very tasty for lunch) and finally one that has never been lost from our repertoire of suppers, Portuguese Roast Beef – large chunks (10cm cubes minimum) of stewing beef (don’t use best topside if you want it to remain carvable at the end!) steeped in red wine and a drop of vinegar for a few hours then baked layered with plenty of onion, smoked bacon, butter, allspice and a cinnamon stick.

Narrow pavement!
Clear blue skies

Everywhere you find tiled signs

Moorish tiles in the O’Neil house cloisters