The coastal town of Cascais in Portugal is a popular holiday destination with a rich history. The former fishing village launched into infamy when it became the preferred seaside playground for royalty in the late 19th century, and with it’s alluring mix of stunning beaches and bays it has remained a hot spot for ocean lovers and the well heeled ever since. Surfing, sailing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing are popular in this region due to favourable weather, wind, and sea conditions – the citadel here housed the first oceanographic laboratory in Portugal set up by King Carlos 1 in 1896 (the King himself led a total of 12 scientific expeditions from here!).
International field worker, single mother and travel blogger Sonia now calls Cascais home, and you’ll often find this stunning region of Portugal featured in her blog posts and her Instagram feed (see links below to find her online at Amniotico Travel & Tales).
What started as an online journal of her solo parenting journey has gradually evolved into a blog about family travel to off beat destinations, allowing her to incorporate her experiences as a human rights work in far flung locales. Sonia is particularly passionate about sustainable and responsible family travel.
We picked Sonia’s brains to find the best spots to visit if you find yourself in Cascais with little ones in tow.
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Name: Sonia Pereira de Figueiredo
Where’s home right now: Cascais, next to Lisbon on the coast of Portugal
Kids: Francisca, 11 years old
Q: How long have you lived in Cascais, and what inspired you to move there?
A: We’ve been living here for about 5 years now, it is our base when we travel and work abroad. It was a long-time dream of mine to move here because it is beautiful, sunny and great for the kids. It is also a plus to be next to the capital without all the fuss. The opportunity came up to work on a project here, and afterwards we remained; this will be our base.
Q: Best thing about where you live:
A: It is called the Portuguese Riviera, because it is considered posh and the houses are of a unique type of Portuguese seaside architecture. During the two world wars it was also the place of exile for many European artists and royalty, such as the King of Spain. But history is only part of its charm; the seaside is exquisite and with several different beaches. It is also very green with many national parks, and museums. To live by the seaside is great and perfect free play time for kids and adults, with tracks for bicycles and jogging.
Q: If you had overseas visitors with kids staying with you, where’s the first place you’d take them?
A: We would take them to the beach in Guincho which is great for surfing, with a great-sized sand beach. Then back in Cascais to walk around the town and see the sights, like the Citadel with its museum and thrilling history; its where many Portuguese Caravelas departed to discover the world!
Q: Best local coffee joint (and is it kid friendly?):
A: Garret in Estoril, which is a sub section of Cascais. The pastries there are an absolute sin, to die for! With a fancy look is perfect for a family brunch.
Q: Family friendly places to eat out:
A: In Cascais there are many family friendly places to eat out; most focus of local seafood but they also have many other Portuguese traditional dishes. Most of these places are used to having clientele from all over the world, so they also have the so-called international dishes such as burgers, hot dogs etc and brunches. The prices can go up to 25 Euros a menu. The most expensive restaurants of Cascais are the ones at the Hotels with top chefs, and also near Quinta da Marinha where the menu is exquisite fresh seafood dishes and the prices can go from 50 Euros upwards.
But for the most part, restaurants in this region serve quite affordable meals for families. My tip would be to try Portuguese seafood dishes; they tend to be kid-friendly, healthier and lighter, not to mention the taste… Yummy!
Q: List the best local places to keep the kids entertained for free or under $20:
A: The best thing about Cascais is the fact that the best options tend to be free. Also the local council makes also an effort to have regular family-friendly activities free of charge all throughout the year. At the beach the kids can have surf, paddling and sailing lessons for about $20 per hour. There are several parks; one in Cascais called the Marechal Carmona has regularly activities and festivities free of charge. Other parks around the region are also great for hiking and exploring, such as Quinta do Piodao and the natural park of Sintra Cascais.
Q: Local park with the best kid facilities:
A: Parque Marechal Carmona in Cascais.
Q: Best local hidden gem that most tourists don’t know about:
A: There are several museums within local palaces with beautiful Portuguese architecture, they are museum Condes Castro Guimarães and the museum of the Portuguese Music in Casa Verdades De Faria (Beautiful setting and collection).
Also there’s a book store where we sometimes volunteer called Déjà Lu that has all proceeds going to the Portuguese Association of Down Syndrome, with second hand books in great condition and some recent books for all the family and in many languages. It is a must visit because it has a quite peculiar art deco style and is set up within the citadel of Cascais!
Q: On your travels, what have you noticed that is unique to where you live that you haven’t noticed anywhere else?
A: The seafood and also the laid back nature of the Portuguese people in general is quite unique, I have to say, even though I’m happy in many other parts of the world.
Q: Tell us a bit about your work – and how much of what you do is inspired by being a parent and/or where you live?
A: Being a parent, especially a single parent, has allowed me to have more empathy for others’ struggles and personal stories. We are not the same, and we are all trying to go somewhere. Whether literally, or not. I started the blog in 2005, the same year I gave birth to my daughter Francisca, with a couple of posts about single parenting. Then life happened and the blog was forgotten until 2014, when I reinvented myself as a blogger with a new focus on parenting, travel and other tales. Because I believe in love, life, and the power of personal resilience and independence as a form of self-determination to face the challenges of life as a single mother and as a woman, all posts are meant to reflect this. As an expert on human rights and elections I have worked with the United Nations and the European Union in many parts of the world, including political conflicts or war-torn countries, all along as a single mother, juggling travelling, work and parenting just like any other parent. My work in countries where there is either conflict, human rights abuses or rampant poverty, has also played a huge role in my parenting goals. This also what I try to put into our blog posts, and into the tales that we tell regarding parenting and travel.
Q: How do you juggle the whole work productivity/parent thing?
A: It’s not always easy, particularly this year where we are implementing home schooling. Because my daughter is 11 she is developing her autonomy, but I need of course to oversee her work, so we definitely make use of planning boards; one with daily tasks and another with monthly objectives. This helps in keeping up with my roles as a mother and as a blogger/international field worker.
Q: And finally, best piece of travel advice you’ve ever been given:
‘Travel lighter!’ I was told during my first trip alone to the UK to study for my first degree. More than 10 years later and God knows how much travel since, and I still don’t know how to really travel light (plus I love buying art and crafts, so that doesn’t help…!). But it’s a good tip :p
Where to find Sonia’s Amniotico Travel & Tales online:
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Happy Place Hunter's resident Editor In Chief, Caz Emge, has written for publications around the globe for two decades. An avid outdoor buff, in her (limited) spare time she and her videographer husband and two sons gather insights for this site – sharing happy places as they find them Click to read full bio