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Welcome to the hallowed stomping ground of duchesses, spies and martinis shaken-not-stirred.


How Elite is Estoril?

Welcome to the hallowed stomping ground of duchesses, spies and martinis shaken-not-stirred.

Hop on the train from Lisbon’s Central station Cais do Sodre to the up-market beach town of Cascais, and it won’t be long before the tracks trail along the waterfront where the river turns into the sea.  Swoop past the surf beaches of Oeiras and Carcavelos, where building is already underway for one of Europe’s leading business schools to open in 2020 (few things better for crunching numbers than a surf on your lunch-break) until you get to Estoril, the final stop before Cascais.  You’ll know it from the Cinderella-esque turreted palaces, the mansion houses with gabbled arches set behind tall walls that conjure an air of the fantastical.  These make even Lisbon’s pastel pinks seem mundane. Sleepy, it may well seem…sleepy, exclusive, discreet.  At stroll around its quiet park, and it’s hard to believe that here lies hallowed stomping ground for royalty, spies and the sort of artistic fodder that gave author Ian Fleming the inspiration to bring to life one of the world’s best-loved characters, James Bond.

It was 1941 and Estoril was one of the most glamorous places in all of Europe, a neutral haven in the mess of division and desperation created by the Second World War. And it was here where high-ranking officials, royalty, undercover agents and a carousel of beautiful women would meet.  The battle lines here were drawn over roulette tables rather than real life trenches and sworn enemies would cross paths in patterned hallways. It was the perfect playground for double agents, and it was here that Fleming weaved together the fabric for Bond, based on the Yugoslavian spy Duško Popov, who was nicknamed ‘Tricycle’ because he operated as an intelligence agent for not two but three different countries, and was regularly seen with numerous women on his arm.  So the story goes, Fleming and Popov would drink martinis together at the bar of the Hotel Atlántico while passing secrets, ahead of sessions in Estoril’s striking Casino.  It was here, over a particularly loaded game with his navel intelligence boss, Admiral Godfrey, that Fleming found the inspiration for Casino Royale. In the years that followed the war, Estoril remained one of the hotspots of Europe, with South American commodity billionaire Patiño throwing record-breaking parties in his country-estate just outside Estoril.



And now? You can still play in the Casino, although modernised by a Chinese conglomerate and glinting beyond measure (not in a good way); and you can still drink martinis-shaken-not-stirred, although the original bar at the Hotel Atlántico is long gone.  What underpinned those heightened times remains the same, the same shining silver-blue sea, the perfect point- break to surf and those evening sunsets stroll along the waterfront to Cascais. But the parties? Not quite, not yet anyway

What does remain is that air of exclusivity, an architecture that speaks of Dukes and duchesses rather than high-rise developers and a sense of mystery at what lies behind those high walls. These days, the competition for the best plots is heating up like a loaded game of Black-Jack. While prices have risen 37% in recent years, property here remains amongst the highest valued in Lisbon, driven by private bankers and consultants who snap up the chance to raise their family right by the beach, in a fairy-tale sea-side village not 30 minutes from Lisbon’s business district. Even the handful of new developments, such as Villa Maria Pia, are characterised by the uniqueness of the architecture, at once intimate and evocative, with just 14 apartments designed on the grounds and inside the former holiday home of Queen Maria Pia.

At the recent launch, Lisbon’s well-to-extremely-well-to-do shucked oysters, sipped oversized gin and tonics and snacked on foie gras and quails’ eggs on toast while John Coltrane lilted through the marbled arches from the Sax trio serenading the sunset in the hand-painted living room. It was a snapshot of times gone by, and perhaps, times yet to come….

What is certain is that new properties such as these bring a new lease of life to the Old-World glamour of the neighbourhood, and sleepy-chic Estoril may just be headed for another heyday.

Reasons to love Estoril

  1. The perfect point-break for sunrise surfs.
  2. A 10-minute drive to St Julian’s, one of Lisbon’s best English-language schools
  3. Walking or running along the ocean promenade to Cascais.
  4. House of Zen yoga and wellbeing studio
  5. Cimas – the home-made dishes and freshest of fish at Cimas, the meeting ground for political greats for decades.  Expect an Old-World experience that is as fun for the hallows of history that vibrate in its wood-lined walls as it is for the food.
  6. A Gin-Martini, Shaken-not-stirred, at the aptly nicknamed ‘Spies Bar’ at Palacio Hotel
  7. Bafureira Sunset Beach Club, which combines the freshest sushi with samba sessions, DJs and tables right by the water.

A closer commute than Cascais – in just 25-minute drive, you’ll be in Lisbon’s financial district and strolling the main promenade of Avenida Liberdade