Lisbon trip in a hire car to Malveira da Serra and Guincho
One of the advantages of booking a hire car in Lisbon is the freedom to explore areas outside Lisbon city centre at will.
The internationally well-known Lisbon Coast, north of the Tagus river, used to be one of the preferred holiday and retirement refuges for European royalty and business magnates alike.
The Lisbon Coast attracts a large number of holiday makers as well as surfers, golfers, sailors and nature lovers in general.
Malveira da Serra tour
Cascais and Estoril are amongst the most popular holiday destinations on the Lisbon Coast 30-35 kilometres west of Lisbon.
One of the lesser known, but charming smaller towns, is Malveira da Serra.
Located in very picturesque surroundings, the number of tourists in this small gem of a village are still limited. Malveira da Serra is located half way up the hills of the Cascais-Sintra Nature Park.,
The village itself does not feature many tourist attractions, except for a few cafés and restaurants together with some grocery shops that can be used to stock up for a picnic. Malveira da Serra is, however, the perfect starting point for a day trip in the area.
The Malveira da Serra area is the sort of place that attracts enthusiasts of outdoors activities. Within few kilometres you will find a large forest, vast moors, rock formations, a stunning coastline, some impressing castles and convents, Europe’s most-western point Cabo da Roca, some of the best golf courses in Portugal (and Southern Europe) and the most challenging surfing area offered on the European continent.
Add to that some truly amazing mountain roads and scenery, and the day trip to the Malveira da Serra area should be a favourite for couples and families alike.
How to find Malveira da Serra
Malveira da Serra is located only 3 kilometres from the famous Guincho beach (lots of road signs to Guincho) west of Cascais.
The motorway A5 (Cascais or Algês direction) ends in the northern part of the city of Cascais. Keep right at the end of the motorway at exit Malveira da Serra. Here you will find the main B-road to Malveira da Serra some 4 kilometres drive further northwest of Cascais. Budget for some 40-50 minutes driving from Lisbon to reach Malveira da Serra – a bit more in rush hour.
For those who prefer a sightseeing tour from Lisbon all the way to Malveira da Serra, the costal route by the N6 road – in Portuguese the Marginal – leads all the way from Lisbon through Belém, Alcântara, Oeiras, Parede, Carcavolos, Estoril and finally to Cascais. Road signs will take you through Cascais to the famous Guincho beach further out on the coast. The trip from Lisbon along the seaside is a very pleasant one, but also up to 2-3 times more time consuming than taking the motorway A5.
If you have an hour to spare, the Marginal-N6 is the road to take for this trip from Lisbon – and you will eventually want to stop a few times to take pictures or enjoy a view or a Portuguese bica coffee, so better make that 2 hours extra.
Woodlands in the Cascais-Sintra Nature Park
The rocky woodlands in the nature park of Cascais and Sintra stretches over 145 km2. It has been a protected area since 1982 and was made a nature park in 1994.
You will not easily get lost on this Lisbon day trip, but driving around for 10 minutes without seeing other cars or people is quite possible on the trip round the Cascais-Sintra Nature Park.
You can enter the nature park from the village of Malveira da Serra, or if you like, and especially if you want to try out mountain ‘hair-pin’ roads in your hire car, you can go a little further up along the northern stretch of the coastline and enter the woods from the western side.
The road-signs to watch out for say Convento dos Capuchos, Castelo dos Mouros and parque e Palacio Pena.
Inside the woods, are places for picnic and some walking trails through the wilderness. Do not expect to find restaurants or café’s in the woods at Cascais-Sintra Nature Park unless you for instance head for the Pena Palace on one of the peeks of the Sintra mountains – referred to in Portugal as Serra de Sintra.
Palacio Pena in the Sintra-Cascais nature park
The 19th century Palacio Pena is an outrageous blend of styles – and a favorite for kids imagining the life of a princess or a prince in a castle on a hill-top.
If you don’t want to spend at least 2-3 hours at Palacio Pena, you should probably avoid going there midday. In the tourist summer season, queues can make the visit a long one. The Pena Palace is a marvel – if maybe not exactly an architectonical masterpiece – it does, however, sort of defies reality and enters into its own fairy tale world.
You can eat at Palacio Pena or chose the town of Sintra nearby (often busy and hard to park in old town Sintra) or find a restaurant in the village of Malveira da Serra. Or you could do as the Portuguese: bring your own picnic. Please note that open fire is strictly forbidden in the Casais-Sintra Nature Park.
On hot Portuguese summer days, an outing in your hire car from Lisbon to the nature park of Cascais-Sintra, frequently will bring lower temperatures, as the western part of the Lisbon Coast, in general, is some 4-6 degrees cooler than Lisbon itself. Furthermore, the canopies in the forest will protect you well from the sun making for pleasant midday break.
The abandoned Peninha Convent
Other sights worth visiting in the Sintra-Cascais Nature Park include the Peninha.
The 17th century Peninha Convent on a hill top some 490 metres above sea level offers a fantastic view over the Guincho coastline.
Although slightly difficult to find, the Peninha convent is worth looking for, if you savoir excellent views in quiet, virtually tourist free, if sometimes windy locations.
The Peninha is best accessed from the western road N247 entering the Cascais-Sintra Nature Park east-bound (brown signs say Convento dos Capuchos & Convento Peninha) . This entry into the woods is very close to the west-bound road in the direction of Azoia and Cabo da Roca.
When in the woods on the narrow road, take the first small road to the right. The last few hundred metres to the Peninha are for 4-wheel drive vehicles only, but walking this last stretch of semi off-road after parking the hire car is easily possible.
Convento dos Capuchos
The Convento dos Capuchos remote monastery in the rocky Sintra hills offers views as well, but much less accessible.
The main attractions in this secluded convent are ancient tiny monk cells insulated with cork. It is quite an extraordinary place which attract many visitors in August.
Please note that Convento dos Capuchos cost €5 in admission fee for adults. The Peninha convent is for free (no access inside the convent though) and the views are significantly better.
Closer to Sintra, still in the Cascais-Sintra Nature Park, you will find the Monserrate Forest Park and Seteais Palace.
The Guincho beach west of Cascais close to Malveira da Serra
The large and quite famous Guincho Beach is located approximately 3 kilometres south of Malveira da Serra. It has an excellent view to the hills and rock formations.
Guincho is a wild beauty of a beach where respect for the elements is highly advisable. The currents are strong and the waves and winds are some of the most challenging in Europe for the surfing community. Guincho is the unsurpassed surfing mecca of Portugal where professional competitions are held. Amateur surfers enjoy the beach life at Guincho as well.
You can use the beach for family outings as well, but beware – it can be pretty wild and windy out there at the Guincho beach. For non-enthusiast it may be better to enjoy the beach bars and watch the fearless surfer-dudes battle the waves. The kite-surfing especially is quite a spectacular sight with frequently 20-40 kite surfers on the Guincho waves at one time.
Cabo da Roca – Europe’s westernmost point
The windswept area of Cabo da Roca is one of the most popular tourist sites in the Malveira da Serra area west of Cascais.
Cabo da Rocha features a cliff at 140 meters above the sea level facing the roaring shores of the Atlantic Ocean below.
It is a well visited spot with a café/restaurant, a light house and a tourist shop. Quite a lot of Lisbon tour operators will transport their guests to Cabo da Roca by bus. Driving to Cabo da Roca on a day trip from Lisbon is equally popular – first and foremost for the landscapes and because of Cabo da Rocha being the South-Western tip of Europe.
Do not leave anything of value in your rental car when parking at Cabo da Roca. With its many visiting tourists, it has proven equally popular amongst thieves. The unwanted attention is partly due to the remoteness of the place. In the summer of 2011, however, security was reinforced considerably and the problem seems to have disappeared.
Watching the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean is a favourite at Cabo da Roca. It has a certain simple peace and spectacular beauty to it.
The old windmill – recommendable restaurant and cafe
You should not leave the Malveira da Serra and Cabo da Roca area without visiting the Bar Mourinho Don Quixote restaurant; also referred to by locals as the Windmill Restaurant or Old Windmill.
The Old Windmill is located at the first left-turn on the road towards Cabo da Roca from the main road from Malveira da Serra (N247). It is not well sign posted, but keep left, and you will find it.
The windmill is an exciting place for adults and children alike. A small garden, some lazy cats, fish ponds and in clear weather the exquisite views over the Guincho beach makes this special restaurant well worth a visit for a drink or a snack.
More substantial meals are available too and reasonably priced. The menu as well as the interior decor in the Old Windmill restaurant at Cabo da Rocha are with Mexican influence and it’s menu is also very child-friendly.
The interior decor is quite unique and creates a happy atmosphere. Burgers start at €6. Alternatively go for nachos, burritos, or other popular Mexican dishes. This place is value for money on your trip to the Lisbon Coast, but bring cash as credit cards are not accepted.
In the evening, the Old Windmill at the end of Guincho is a popular cocktail place too. It closes at 2am in the morning.
Azoia – the artist’s village close to Cabo da Roca
Just before reaching Cabo da Roca, Europe’s westernmost point, you drive through a small village with the name of Azoia.
Azoia attracts artisans and painters and has a good choice of smallish, but delightful restaurants. Make a stop here after your trip to Cabo da Roca and enjoy a taste of the slightly pedestrian rural life of Portugal. It is possible to rent rooms for reasonable prices for a longer stay.
The major selling point of Azoia is the sublime nature around it – which makes this place the amateur painters dream.
Sometimes, however, because of the location west of the Sintra mountains, Azoia will have slightly less sunshine than say Cascais or Malveira da Serra. This phenomenon is also referred to as a micro-climate, and is quite typical for many locations on the far western end of the Lisbon Coast.
If your trip from Lisbon is for sun seeking, just drive a bit further south to Malveira da Serra, Guincho or Cascais and the sun is usually back complemented by a pleasant breeze from the Atlantic Ocean.