One of the most fascinating and important years of my life was spent in Lisbon. My schedule was unmercifully busy, with grad school and work filling most days, nights and weekends. And pressing educational loans forced me to find ways to explore the city and its surroundings on a limited budget. A favorite activity of mine that fit those criteria was biking along the coast outside of Cascais.
Every hour, several local trains leave Cais do Sodré on the banks of the Tagus River in downtown Lisbon for Cascais. The return ticket is less than €5 and the tracks hug the shore for forty minutes as you travel east. If you are in the eastern part of the city, Cascais-bound trains also leave from the Alcântara-Mar and Belém stations.
Once you arrive in Cascais, head to the “biCas” rental hut located across the street from the train station for your bike. The biCas name (a combination of bicycle and Cascais) is a pun – “bica” is common parlance for a short espresso in Lisbon cafés. Yet the stain of this bad play on words quickly fades, as using one of the biCas is free. Just bring an identification document as your deposit, whether it’s a residence card or passport, and a bike is yours for the day. The bikes have a basket on front to store your things. Be sure to test out the bike before you leave, as some malevolent users have not treated them respectfully.
The bike path leads through the town, past a couple of high-end communities, then along an unspoiled stretch of the Atlantic. The cliffs across the road from the bike path are jagged and stunning. With only open ocean and the Azores between this part of Europe and North America, a decent wind will mean waves crashing into the cliffs, spraying and churning the sea water. Every time I biked this path, I couldn’t resist stopping to watch the ocean for a few minutes, with only the occasional passing car interrupting the experience.
The ride is not overly strenuous and only a few gentle hills will test your legs. After several kilometers, you arrive at Praia do Guincho, a world famous surfing and windsurfing beach. Praia do Guincho is perfect for a picnic (carried in the handy bike basket) and a couple glasses of wine – just be sure to weight everything down given the frequent wind gusts. Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in continental Europe, dominates the landscape north of the beach.
After the picnic calories are worked off on the return ride, be sure to spend some time walking around Cascais before heading back to Lisbon. The town can be very touristy – especially during the summer – but there are still elements of local life, like the fisherman’s gear scattered in front of the azulejo below.