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Author(s) of the publication: Oksana Yablokova

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Portugal is about as far away as you can possibly get from the wet Russian fall without leaving Europe. After a five-hour flight, you can sit on a beach at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Dithering between Portugal's two main beach resorts, I plumped for the Estoril coastline, Lisbon's cherished resort area, over the crowded Algarve in the south. Perched on the edge of Europe, the resort's peaceful atmosphere and sumptuous history and culture ensured I didn't regret my choice. Over a hundred years ago a slightly grander family also made such a choice for their holiday destination. In 1870, the Portuguese royal family decided that their summer residence would be in Estoril, a mere 20 kilometers west of Lisbon. The royal court constructed a series of magnificent palaces and mansions that still can be seen throughout Estoril, particularly surrounding the heights of the Monte Estoril. Some remain unchanged since the day they were built. Others have been renovated into ornate banks, while the seafront villas were knocked down and replaced with typically ugly modern tourist facilities. All the hotels in Estoril are located across the highway and the railroad from the ocean, so there's a 10- to 15-minute traipse from the hotel to Tamariz Beach. Rather overcrowded in the summer, the beach population was thinning out by early October, with only few tourists and tanned locals left. Despite the typically high temperatures 20 to 25 degrees Celsius in October and 5 degrees or so lower in November the water in the ocean is always paralyzingly cold. That makes swimming almost impossible, even during the hottest summer months, and all but the most foolhardy tourists flock to the outdoor swimming pools in the seafront hotels. After a couple of days beach-bumming, the sun claimed my face as its prize, so that, bronzed and peeling, I had no need to appear on the beach for a week and began to explore the town. Everything is within a short, lazy walk. Estoril's central attraction is the pleasant shade of the Parque do Estoril, a well-manicured garden full of beautiful flowers and exotic plants, which hides the Casino do Estoril, Europe's biggest casino, behind its palm trees. Handily placed in the left-hand corner of the park is a Tourismo, or a tourist office, where you can collect a map of the area. Crossing the garden you'll see the elegant Hotel PalАcio, which was supposedly occupied by British spies during World War II. Estoril's reputation as a haven for royal refugees stems from the war, when an exotic community descended upon the town. Among the exiled monarchs who enjoyed the breeze of neutral Portugal were the toppled King Umberto II of Italy, Carol II of Romania, a former king of Bulgaria, the Count of Paris a pretender to the French throne and Don Juan, the father of the present Spanish King Juan Carlos who himself grew up in Estoril. You're not likely to bump into any promenading royals these days with the unroyal British, German and Spanish tourist making up the majority of visitors. The place is also popular with the Portuguese themselves, who treasure the Estoril Coast as their own Riviera. Summer and fall are especially popular when special events include a jazz festival, food and wine festivals and an air show. Golfers can work their way around Estoril's five spectacular golf courses. Estoril's real sporting claim to fame, though, is as the host of the Portuguese Grand Prix. As a big fan of Formula One racing, I made a pilgrimage to the track site, the Autodromo do Estoril, nine kilometers north of the town center. For the uninitiated, the Portuguese Grand Prix is usually the 17th and final stage of the Formula One Championship. Because of Portugal's mild climate, the track is also a very popular training location among Formula One drivers during the winter months. Even if you don't make it for a race, you may want to just drop by to explore the circuit or watch the drivers train. If you are indifferent to sports, there is still a lot to see and to do on the Estoril Coast. Just a couple of kilometers along the coast west of Estoril lies Cascais, the liveliest beach resort of the Estoril coast, which usually attracts young tourists from all over Europe, although British tourists prevail. This former fishing village is more compact as it intimately wraps itself around the bay, offering cheaper accommodation than Estoril and a wider range of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. The beaches here are cleaner and less crowded. On a clear day the ocean is dotted with picturesque fishing boats. On a not-so-clear day there is the Museu do Mar, or Museum of the Sea, in Cascais, which hosts a charming collection of model boats and marine artifacts including old maps and books. The Museum is located at Rua Julio Pereira da Melo. It's open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Mondays. Admission is about $1.50. If you want to see Europe's most westerly point, Cabo da Roca, take a cab and drive about 15 kilometers west from Cascais. Both Cascais and Estoril are convenient places to stay, with Lisbon only 20 minutes by car or a 25 minute train ride away. Even if the capital isn't to your taste, make an effort to go on the railway. The train creeps along the coastline, just a few meters from the lapping water as it courses through the splendid outskirts of the capital. Watch out for BelИm with it's gorgeous Mosteiro dos JerСnimos, a late Gothic monastery built in the 16th century. Finally, as you approach the huge bridge that spans the Tagus River, turn to the other bank of the river to see the awesome site of the Cristo-Rei. Arms outstretched, an enormous statue welcomes you to Lisbon in an echo of the more famous Christ of Rio de Janeiro. A round-trip train ticket to Lisbon costs $1. Trains depart every 20 minutes. Finally, the best piece of advice is to find time for a daylong trip to Sintra, an enchanting old town located on the slopes of the Serra de Sintra hills, 12 kilometers north of Estoril and Cascais. This magnificent town was the favorite summer resort of the kings of Portugal for 500 years. Lord Byron, who was fascinated by its natural beauty, palaces, and monasteries, mentions it in his poem "Childe Harold." The local authorities, slightly more prosaically, have ambitious plans to turn Sintra into the "cultural capital of Portugal." From Estoril, Sintra can be reached by a bus that runs every 40 minutes. Eating Out Don't miss trying the fresh Atlantic seafood, which is plentiful and relatively inexpensive on the Estoril coast, especially in Cascais. I recommend grilled swordfish and Portuguese sardines, which are served in all seafront restaurants. Bacalhau, or dried cod, being a national passion, can also be found on many menus along the Estoril coastline. There are supposedly 365 recipes for cooking it, one for each day of the year. A dinner for two at a coastline restaurant will cost you under $40. Meals often are huge, so ask for a half portion if you're not a big eater. Discounting the vast array of seafood, Portuguese cooking is still heaven, with pastries high on the list of temptations. Moist delicacies stuffed with every kind of filling you can imagine are always on offer. Don't let the yellow tint put you off the Portuguese have a penchant for putting egg yolks in their pastries, which gives them a unique flavor. Portuguese food is not as spicy as many people say, so you can order just aboutanything you see on the menu without getting heartburn. How to Get There Aeroflot flies to Lisbon twice a week Monday and Thursday, with return trips Tuesday and Friday. The economy class ticket will cost you $520. One- and two-week package tours can be organized at Alto Sol Tour Agency. Prices vary depending on the class of the hotel. Tel. 945-2696 or 945-2750. Aerotour travel agency offers weeklong trips to Estoril and Cascais for $1,300 per person. Tel. 451-8342. European Union nationals, Americans and Canadians need nothing more than a passport to stay in Portugal for three months. The process to obtain a Schengen visa for Russians at the Portuguese Embassy in Moscow takes two weeks. Where To Stay Both Estoril and Cascais offer a wide selection of places to stay, although somewhat on the pricey side. In Estoril I recommend Estoril Eden, a four-star comfortable hotel with a great view of the ocean, panoramic restaurant and spacious rooms. A single room with breakfast is about $90. Tel. 351 (1) 467-05-73. At the well-located Hotel Baia in Cascais singles go for $70, with breakfast included. Tel. 351 (1) 483-10-33. If you plan your trip for the high season, which runs from May to September, keep in mind that most hotels will be booked in advance.



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