Many people enjoy Cascais for its glamorous downtown with sparkling buildings, high-end shopping, and exquisite beaches. There’s so much to see in this lovely city by the sea that many visitors never even make it beyond the bustling downtown.
But there’s much that will appeal to nature lovers as well. The newly opened West Route links the Atlantic coastline with the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, a UNESCO Landscape Heritage Site. It’s a pedestrian route that consists of five stages, including distinct geographies like sand dunes, secluded beaches, rugged hills, historical monuments, and more. Nature interpretation centers are interspersed throughout as well as opportunities to learn experientially about topics such as beekeeping, organic farming, and biodiversity. Here are some of our ideas for the best outdoor experiences on Portugal’s beautiful wild west route.
1. Explore Sand Dunes
One of the most unusual aspects of the west route is the area called the Dune of Cresmina. Marked by sand dunes that continually shift and change, the landscape varies on different visits. There is a safe and secure wooden boardwalk that runs through the area, and when we walked along it through the dunes, we could even see the wind blowing sand around while we passed. It’s clear that if we were to come back in a few days the dunes would look different. Nature is active and it feels as if everything around is living and changing. It’s kind of a thrilling thing to feel a part of as you look at the dunes in all directions.
You can meet with a biologist who explains the different plants and flowers of the area. At the end of the boardwalk, there is a lookout with a snack stand where you can grab a bite or drink and then sit down to watch the surrounding scenery. The view is gorgeous, but we also felt more like a part of it all having walked through the landscape and understanding how alive and constantly changing it is.
2. Hike Along The Atlantic Coast
We love being able to hike on trails that provide both interesting scenery up close as we walk and also views we can see in the distance. Hiking on the west route, which integrates the western Atlantic coast with the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, provides some of the most jaw-dropping beauty in Portugal. The isolated golden beaches surrounded by rocky cliffs with pristine blue waters crashing at the shore are breathtaking. Even though we were not far from the hustle and bustle of the international resort area of Cascais, we truly felt worlds away.
Portugal is full of such diverse landscapes that it continues to surprise and delight us. Fortunately, the trails are easy to navigate and are clearly identified. Some parts can get steep or tricky to walk through rocky beds, but we found it easy enough to manage with hiking boots and attention to where we put our feet. The most challenging part of hiking the Atlantic coast here is to keep going forward. It would have been easy for us to spend hours just watching the waves, feeling the sun on our faces, and hearing the rush of wind play through the plants and flowers.
3. See Preservation In Action
After hiking along the Atlantic coast, we visited a unique nature park. Quinta do Pisão is a special environmental ecosystem that integrates sustainable farming practices, preservation, and education. The area was abandoned agricultural land that was reclaimed and turned into a natural park and working farm. Interestingly, archaeologists found a cave in the area containing human bones and utensils showing the presence of people living there all the way back in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Now the main goal is to reverse the abandonment process and convert the land into a living landscape for all to enjoy.
The farm has a large lavender field and vegetable garden where visitors can pick their own crops. There is a farm shop where fruits, vegetables, and jams produced with the garden’s crops are available. The scenery is beautiful, and there are heritage sites like horse stables, wells, a chapel, water mills, and canals that have been restored. Pastures with grazing sheep are also a part of the scene. Visitors can tour the area on their own or with a guide who can speak to the history of the park, its biodiversity, and its focus on sustainability and social inclusion programs. Visitors and Portuguese families alike enjoy the green space filled with easy activities like bird-watching or bicycling and horseback riding along trails within the over 900 acres of the park. Rental e-bikes and Segways are available for pre-booking too.
4. Take A Workshop
Many outdoor experiences and workshops are available through Quinta do Pisão. Activities like mushroom and wild plant identification, nature photography, lavender distillation, and more are very popular with visitors. We took the sweetest option by meeting with a beekeeper and learning all about honey. We sat outside smelling the lovely flowers that the busy bees use for gathering pollen that leads to honey. Our guide explained the role that each type of bee plays in the hive and how bee society works. We also learned how honey is made and processed, and about the importance of bees to the balance of nature. The beekeeper showed how the bees create the honeycomb structure of the hive and the care that beekeepers take to ensure that hives are safe and thriving.
Other workshops appeal to various interests. One provides instructions on how to use your mobile phone camera to take photos at night. Another explains the process of distilling lavender grown on the farm to create wonderful lavender oil and scents. There are workshops that teach how to make old-fashioned bread in a wood-fired oven and others that teach how to identify mushrooms and flowers in the wild. The workshops are easy to understand and good for those of all ages.
5. Visit A Donkey, Sheep, Or Horse
It’s hardly a secret that one of Diana’s favorite animals in the whole world is the donkey. So when we learned that there were donkeys at the Quinta, it didn’t take long to know who would get close to them as soon as possible. Fortunately, Quinta do Pisão is a place that wants to protect and preserve Portugal’s natural assets, and donkeys are a part of that. There is a donkey breed that is native to Portugal, the Miranda donkey, originating in northern Portugal. They have thick, long coats and are strong creatures, useful in farming. Because they are endangered, the farm has programs to educate people about them and breed them.
The quinta is also home to Campaniça sheep, a Portuguese breed that is also threatened. The quinta has about 100 of these sheep and uses them mainly to help to control the growth of grass around the farm. There are also working horses at the farm, but we were privileged to find a small group of wild horses that were grazing on a hilltop in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. These are Garrano horses, an ancient Portuguese breed that is now endangered. They were brought to the area for grazing to minimize fire risk and also help to breed as they are protected in the area from wolves, their primary predator. For animal lovers like us, the wild west route offers a sure bet to see donkeys and sheep as well as the possibility of encountering wild horses. Something well worth breaking out the binoculars.
6. Experience A Fort On The Rocks
The area around the west route was an important part of Portugal’s navigation. Strategically placed forts helped protect the capital of Lisbon from intruders coming down the Atlantic to invade. One of the most interesting and beautiful spots to visit along the wild west route is Fortaleza Do Guincho. What once was one of these important fortresses has been converted into a luxury hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant. But while the inside offers sumptuous accommodations, the best part of the Fortaleza is the view of its ancient remnants.
Take a break from walking or biking and have a beverage or snack on the terrace or library lounge of Spot by Fortaleza do Guincho with spectacular views of the Atlantic. You can still feel the history of the fortress and see remnants of its historical past. You can even have five o’clock tea as you watch the waves beneath. There is something wild and elegant about this ultimate combination of refined sophistication and raw nature that is dramatic and unforgettable.
7. Glamp At Sintra-Cascais Natural Park
For those who love the idea of camping but prefer a little more refined experience, glamping in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park is just the ticket. Walking along the rugged Atlantic coastline, learning about nature in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, enjoying a drink surrounded by the walls of a historical fort, or spending a cozy night under the starry Portuguese sky are just a few of the options for those who want to see the wilder side of Cascais.
Whether part of a longer stay or an adventure on its own, we think that exploring the beautiful wild west route offers some of the most unique and memorable experiences on Portugal’s beautiful wild west route.
Pro Tip: Cascais tourism also offers a complete package that includes a variety of experience options if you’d like a curated excursion through the beautiful west route.
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