a swimming pool by the sea surrounded by grass and trees
a swimming pool by the sea surrounded by grass and trees

The InterContinental’s pool area

Cascais, on the Atlantic coast of Portugal, has a fabulous summer climate, culture, history, cuisine, convenience – and a bijou hotel to enjoy it all from, as LUX discovers

“You have to go to Cascais – it’s the light, and the atmosphere but really the light” says Tony, the legendary manager of the staff cafe at Vogue House, Condé Nast‘s London headquarters, and as Portuguese as salt cod.

Tony and I have had this conversation numerous times over the years. When I got my own office and PA, meaning I didn’t visit his Hatch canteen any more, we would talk on the stairs or before I hosted a client in the Vogue House boardroom, as he organised snacks.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

I was intrigued not only because Tony was a local, but because he was particularly passionate about a place that is not really on the international radar. People speak of the coast south of Lisbon, or up towards Porto, but Cascais (pronounced Cash-kise), on a map, looked intriguing. It’s only 20km or so from the Portuguese capital, but past the mouth of the Tagus river and on a stretch of coast that angles sharply around into the Atlantic. It is a historic resort town and only a few kilometres from Sintra, the hilltop town that is a destination for tourists from all over the world.

A bedroom with a grey throw and cushions

A deluxe room

Cascais being a weekend resort for the well-to-do of Lisbon, is not teeming with luxury hotels, with the exception of one: the InterContinental. This is a chain that may be more familiar to business travellers, but, as I walked into its lobby, it was plain to see that this property is aimed at a whole different world.

“The light,” I said to nobody in particular, inadvertently echoing Tony’s words. The floor- to-ceiling windows on the other side of the lobby opened out into a world of light: the green of the grass around the pool, a couple of floors below, a deep blue sea, a light blue sky that, it would transpire, turned into a kaleidoscope as the sun made its way from above the coast of southern Portugal, in the distance ahead, to set over the Atlantic, to the right. There must be some psychology involved here, on the western edge of Europe, but the light was different from the Mediterranean – less hard, more watery, somehow. Maybe it was the waves: rolling, louder, more insistent than those on the quasi-landlocked Med.

A restaurant by the sea with parasols

Furnas do Guincho

Maybe it was all auto-suggestion but there was nothing illusory about the pool. It sits on an island of grass and trees, above the main pedestrian promenade linking Cascais with the old resort town of Estoril. To the right was a cute little bar area – a bar, a few tables, a lawn, some flowers and trees – where we retreated on arrival, and found ourselves greeted by vast gin and tonics in stemmed bowl glasses, flavoured with a local herb that tasted halfway between basil and mint. It felt like drinking the view.

The rooms were the next surprise, and in the best possible way. There is no generic corporate style here: instead, large, high- ceilinged, contemporary-touch bedrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows onto big balconies. The blue fabric wall behind the bed matched the sea; elsewhere the room was light greys, taupes, bronzes and swathes of blue. The effect was utterly relaxing: we enjoyed the balance of comfort (top quality beds, excellent functionality) with design flair, individuality and the sense of being in a particular place. And with the balconies looking out over the pool, promenade and sea, it was very peaceful. There was, we noticed on the second day, a little local train line beneath the pool area and by the promenade: it gave a sense of character, rather than detracting from the experience.

prawns in a blue bowl

The hotel’s fried Mozambique. prawns à ǵuilho

You could lie by the pool all day, loungers on grass, and sip basil-mint gin and tonics. One observation we made, when visiting in mid-summer, while the sky was clear and blue with uninterrupted sun every day: it was notably less scorching than on any Mediterranean coast. Daytime temperatures were about 28C (82F), maybe 10ºC cooler than the average temperature in August in Turkey, Greece or Sardinia.

This means you have more energy, and no need to retreat inside for air-conditioning (itself
part of the vicious circle of global warming), which meant we descended the private staircase to the promenade and walked to Cascais’s old town, a kilometre or so along the seafront, every day. It’s a bijou place, with small café and restaurant terraces, a little beach, and a warren of backstreets housing craft shops and speciality dining, from sushi to local seafood.

A town with white buildings by the sea and a pier

Cascais old town

Beyond the town centre, a taxi ride away, is the most spectacular restaurant in Portugal, Furnas do Guincho. Its huge terrace seems to hover over the rocks at the point where the coast turns northwards and the Atlantic hurls its full force at Europe – not a place to swim in the sea, but a memorable place to sample a mixed-grilled shellfish platter or specialities (all caught the same day), such as red snapper or grouper.

The restaurant at the InterContinental was less dramatic, but even more pleasing to sit in, for the sense of serenity. On a higher floor than our room, the small private terrace looked out to a sweeping view from the outskirts of Lisbon, along the coast, to the left, to the ocean beyond Cascais’s colourful roofs, to the right. The décor consisted of light-yet-opulent blues, greens and bronzes – everything open to the light. Equally refreshing was the food: grilled, locally caught sea bream with a hint of lemon and thyme.

Read more: Luxury Travel Views: Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid

Step outside the lobby, at the front of the hotel, and you’re on a busy main road, which you wouldn’t think existed from the other side (that’s clever architecture for you). It was convenient, though, for trips to the hilltop palace-collection at Sintra, and to the Lisbon Oceanarium, Europe’s largest indoor aquarium. And for getting to the hotel in the first place: the InterContinental is a 30-minute taxi ride from Lisbon’s international airport. It’s rare to find a luxury resort-hotel in Southern Europe so close to a major transport hub, meaning it beckons as a weekend break as well as a summer holiday destination. I had better let Tony know: he was right.

Written by Darius Sanai

Find out more: estorilintercontinental.com

Share:
Reading time: 5 min
Cary Arms luxury hotel in Devon
Cary Arms hotel luxury beach huts on Babbacombe Bay

The new luxury beach huts at Cary Arms

Digital Editor Millie Walton rediscovers the charming imperfections of the English coastline from the cosy luxury of a cliffside beach hut at five-star boutique hotel The Cary Arms

Many of English coastal towns have fallen off the tourist map. Flights are now so cheap that it’s just as easy, if not easier (consider traffic, extortionate British railway prices, inevitable delays) to hop on a plane to France for the weekend as it is to drive down to Devon. Take a turn around Torquay and you’ll be able to see the desperate attempts to lure in tourists.

This is not how it used to be, though; the Babbacombe Cliff Railway is living evidence of a more vibrant past. Built in 1926, the railway (which is actually an old-fashioned kind of cable car) has shuttled thousands of holidaymakers to and from Devon’s Oddicombe Beach. Antique photographs in the makeshift museum/visitor centre show crowded scenes of men in suits on deck chairs, women in wide-brimmed sun hats and 1920s style swimsuits. You can barely see the sand between the well-oiled bodies, supine on rows of pastel coloured towels.

Read next: The best of East London’s gastronomy

Babbacombe Bay is as staggeringly beautiful as it would have been back then. Red cliffs covered in dark green forest drop down into deep, clear waters. If it weren’t for the slight chill in the air, this could be Croatia or the South of France. The real appeal though is exactly that: this isn’t Croatia or the South of France. This is England and when you go to the beach, it’s rustic, makeshift and quite often, a little bit blustery. That’s not to say, however, that English seaside holidays can’t be luxurious. Babbacombe Bay, in fact, is home to one of Devon’s most charming coastal boutique hotels: The Cary Arms.

Reached by a treacherously steep drive down the cliffside, The Cary Arms sits poised right on the ocean’s edge. The hotel belongs to the exclusive de Savary group and it provides a homely kind of luxury where wellingtons and dogs are welcome (even in some of the rooms). The hotel has been poised on its rocky perch since 2009, but it has recently opened six private beach huts and suites, with a new spa currently under construction.

The huts are painted in nautical colours as you’d expect of these shores, reached by a little walkway through the hotel and out the other side. They are built to maximise the natural light and views with glass doors that fold open onto the balcony for especially balmy days and porthole windows upstairs so that the first thing you see when you open your eyes is the sea. The interiors are cheerful, bright and quirky with a spacious living room downstairs and the bedroom on the mezzanine floor.

Read next: Luxury is simpler than it used to be, says Eric Favre of The Alpina Gstaad

Sea views from Cary Arms restaurant

Dining with sea views

The details are what makes these huts extra special. Champagne in a cool box with a glass bowl of strawberries awaits new arrivals, along with a stick of rock on each pillow, a well-stocked, complimentary mini fridge with snacks and a decanter of sloe gin. It’s generous, but not flashy, befitting of the British coastal lifestyle.

The restaurant is also excellent and a destination in itself. The menu changes according to the catch of the day and the season. For us, the highlights were a half pint of cold prawns that came with a little pot of garlicky mayonnaise and crusty bread, and the Monkfish cooked whole in butter and herbs, served with new potatoes and green beans. We washed it down with a glass of Baileys on ice, in the study over a game of scrabble. It was all delightfully British.

Overnight stays at the beach huts cost from £375 per night, beach suites from £475 and luxury doubles in the main hotel from £245 per night. For bookings and further details visit: caryarms.co.uk 

Share:
Reading time: 3 min