Before I launch into my review of our stay at the Orbitur campsite in Guincho, with Eurocamp, here are some things that I can only imagine happening on a Whittle family holiday:
- Confidently navigate to your campsite at midnight. Don’t begin to suspect that Ivona Silva is a common road name in Portugal until you find yourself driving repeatedly along unmarked, unpaved roads at 2am fruitlessly searching for a campsite.
- Approach one of Portugal’s many toll roads, and realise that you don’t have the required 1.25 euro fee. Notice that your debit card doesn’t work in the toll’s automated payment machine. Don’t let this stop you from accidentally giving the wrong phone number, then driving through the toll, and being chased down the highway by an angry Portuguese man shouting at you. Keep driving. Never go back to THAT toll.
- Hiring an electric car fitted with a talking tour guide to visit a world famous historical site on top of a mountain. Drive the ENTIRE route back to the hire shop without noticing the aforementioned historical site. Complain to the tour company, only to be told that, actually, you drove straight past the famous site (twice), and even stopped for ten minutes to use the bathrooms right outside the gate. Take a bus back to the historical site. Make a note never to walk past the tour company’s offices EVER again.
These piffling issues aside, we had a blast on our first Eurocamp holiday.
We have already visited France, Spain and Italy with Keycamp (a sister company to Eurocamp). So when we were invited to try a new destination in 2016, we opted for Portugal.
Guincho, on the Atlantic coast West of Lisbon, is a world-renowned surf destination. But what does it have to offer families? Here are our top tips for things to do with kids in Guincho:
Cascais is the closest family-friendly beach to Guincho. The beach here is kid-friendly, sandy and sheltered but can be busy. It’s a popular destination for Lisbon-dwellers, who take the 40-minute trip to the beach at weekends.
A better option is to head past Cascais another few kilometres to Estoril. The beach here is sandy with shallow waters perfect for bathing. The sea front is lined with cafes and restaurants, with stalls selling beach essentials. You can hire sun loungers for the day, but they’re attached to local restaurants. This means you’ll need to order drinks and food from the beach staff, rather than bringing your own. I must confess, in my book, this is no bad thing! We settled in for a lovely day here, paddling, reading and being waited on.
This is the beach to visit if you want to surf. But it’s BIG breaks for experienced surfers, windsurfers and kite-surfers only. For the rest of us, there’s a lot of fun to be had hanging on the beach watching the sport.
The beach is reached down a small dirt road just beyond the bay. It looks remote but there’s a staffed car park (which is free after 8pm). From here, it’s a short walk to the surf school where you can book water sports lessons. The friendly staff here advised us to book at Cascais for kids’ lessons – the wind and waves at Guincho can be really fierce.
The winds here also create another problem. The road to Guincho is frequently covered in sand. A lot of sand. We drove across the road three times and each time there were cars stuck, being pushed free by people. The fourth time we drove over, no cars were stuck. Except ours.
Yes, friends, we got our rental car stuck in a sand drift and had to get out to stand in possibly the windiest place on earth, being battered by a billion tiny grains of sand. It took 20 minutes for us to get the car free, during which time we were filmed by several passersby on their mobile phones.
If it hadn’t been for the nice Portuguese guy who finally stopped and helped steer the car while Flea and I shoved with all our might, and the two other motorists who stopped to help push, we would possibly still be stuck there now.
Later in the day, Guincho is just a perfect spot to watch the sun set. Grab a table at the achingly trendy Bar Do Guincho for the best view. The food here is great. The classic chickpea and salted cod salad, served in jars, was a particular highlight. Kick back and enjoy the music; the sheltered terrace is the perfect spot to relax at the end of the day.
If you have a car, it’s a 25 minute drive from the campsite to the fairy-tale town of Sintra. The town is famous for architecture, with endless castles, forts and palaces to explore. The whole town has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Parking is hideous, so my top tip is to park in the outskirts and walk into the town centre. From there you can pick up a bus, hire a teeny electric car or even jump into a tuk tuk for a tour. The Pena Palace is definitely worth a look. It’s a fantastic structure that looks like someone gave a 5-year-old a colouring set and invited them to draw what their dream castle would look like.
We opted for a 90-minute guided tour in an electric car but for reasons too complicated to go into here*, we missed the palace. No matter, we jumped on a bus, which will take you from the town centre, up the mountain and back again for 5 euros.
* utter incompetence
Looking for a secluded beach that’s perfect for a day out? Head East to Sebutal, and take the catamaran across to the peninsula of Troia. Here you’ll find an upscale harbour with designer stores and secluded paths leading to a series of wide, sandy beaches. The further you walk, the wider and quieter the beaches become.
Don’t bother lunching at the marina. It’s WAY more fun to bring a picnic and eat on the beach. Just don’t forget a wind break as the wind can whip up a storm here (as it does along the whole coast). Nothing ruins a picnic like sandy sandwiches – am I right?
You’ll likely spot dolphins on the crossing. We spotted dolphins swimming just outside the marina as we came into dock. If you don’t, there are plenty of local boats running dolphin and whale watching tours from Troia. Just be sure to book as soon as you arrive.
Our final recommendation for families visiting Guincho is a day trip to Lisbon. Technically you CAN drive but it’s less stressful to drive to Cascais and jump on the commuter train. All the trains from Cascais go to Lisbon and there are two trains every hour.
The Cascais train drops you off in Cais do Sodre. From there take the Metro to Rossio to see the famous Castelo de Sao Jorge (St George’s Castle), which gives you awesome views over the whole city. It’s a steep walk up the hill, but you can take the bus or tram part of the way. We actually opted for a tuk-tuk, which was a far quicker, easier option on a hot day.
After the castle we took one of the elevators back down the hill. An elevator! Why? Because when you see a lift at the top of a hill, you get in it. Or you do if you’re me, at any rate.
After lunch at the castle (note: the cafe doesn’t take cards) we took a guided tour with Hippotrip. This is an amphibious tour that shows you the main city sights before splashing into the River Tagus for a close-up look at the Belem Tower and the Discoveries Monument.
Top Tips for Trips to Guincho
- This part of Portugal is famed for its wind. Typical Jul/Aug wind speeds in Guincho are around 20mph. Be prepared – head for sheltered beaches like Cascais and Estoril with little ones, pack a wind breaker, and always, always check for red flags before you get into the water.
- Hire a car – the best beaches are those not easily accessed by public transport. The beaches close to train stations tend to be popular with the Lisbon workers, and can be crowded, while those further afield are extremely quiet, even during July and August.
- Have a HEAP of change in your car. There are lots of tolls and UK debit cards may not work in the automated toll lanes. Each toll can ask for anywhere from 40 cents to 2 euros in change.
- Even if you have a car, get the Lisboa Card – it costs 18 euros per day, and gives you free train travel from Cascais to Lisbon, plus free unlimited tram, metro and bus travel in the city. And that’s not all. The card also gives you access to the funiculars and discounts on a bunch of museums and tours in Lisbon, Sintra and other local towns. Considering the train from Cascais to Lisbon plus Metro tickets cost over 30 euros, it’s a GREAT buy.
- If you need fast WiFi, don’t bother with campsite WiFi, which is overloaded and hopelessly slow – there’s a McDonalds just outside Cascais with free WiFi 24 hours a day, and a very extensive breakfast menu. You’re welcome.
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We travelled to Guincho as guests of Eurocamp. A one-week holiday at Orbitur Guincho in a 3-bedroom holiday home costs from £146 per night, during August 2016. For more details please see the Eurocamp website.