The Portuguese Riviera (Portuguese: Riviera Portuguesa) is the affluent coastal region to the west of Lisbon, Portugal, centered on the coastal cities of Cascais, Estoril, and Sintra. It is coterminous with the Estoril Coast (Costa do Estoril) and occasionally known as the Costa do Sol (Sun Coast). The region is internationally known as a luxury destination for its history as a home of the wealthy, the famous, and European royalty.
Cascais's history as a cosmopolitan center originates in the 1870s, when King Luís I of Portugal and the Portuguese royal family made the seaside town his summer residence, thus attracting members of Portugal's aristocracy, who established a summer community there. During World War II and the Post-War period, the area's royal affiliations intensified, as many heads of European royal houses and deposed monarchs, including King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, and King Umberto II of Italy made their home in Cascais and Estoril, finding refuge in Portugal's neutrality in the war or from tense political situations in their own countries. Due to its concentration of high-profile personalities, the riviera became a center of espionage during WWII, inspiring author Ian Fleming in his creation of the James Bond series.
Sintra had been a royal retreat since the Portuguese Renaissance in the 15th century, but it was in the 19th century, when King Fernando II of Portugal decided to build his summer retreat, Pena Palace, in the Sintra Mountains overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, that it became both the center of the Romanticist movement in Portugal and the summer residence of the Portuguese nobility. Famous for its grand estates and palaces, Sintra's belle epoch resulted in its numerous villas, gardens, estates, and palaces that characterize the area, which gained Sintra a UNESCO World Heritage designation. Today Sintra is one of Portugal's most expensive and exclusive real estate markets and similarly known for its high standards of living, consistently ranking as one of the best places to live in Portugal.
During the third quarter of the 18th century and practically all of the 19th century, foreign travelers and Portuguese aristocrats, inspired by the Romanticist movement, rediscovered Sintra, a royal retreat during the Portuguese Renaissance, prizing its exotic landscapes and climate. In the summer of 1787, William Beckford stayed with the Marquis of Marialva, master of the horse for the kingdom, at his residence of Seteais Palace. At the beginning of the 19th century Princess Carlota Joaquina, wife of the Regent John, bought the estate and Ramalhão Palace. Between 1791 and 1793, Gerard Devisme constructed a Neo-Gothic mansion on his extensive estate in the Quinta de Monserrate (later known as the Monserrate Palace). Beckford, who remained in Sintra, rented the property from Devisme in 1794. The landscape, covered in fog, also attracted another Englishman, Francis Cook, who occupied the estate, constructing an oriental pavilion. The Palace of Pena, Sintra's exemplary Portuguese Romantic symbol, was initiated by the King-Consort Ferdinand II of Portugal, husband of Queen Maria II of Portugal.
In 1854, the first contract was signed to construct a rail link between Sintra and Lisbon. A decree signed on 26 June 1855 regulated the contract between the government and Count Claranges Lucotte but was later rescinded in 1861. The connection was finally inaugurated on 2 April 1887.
The Portuguese Riviera originated when King Luís I of Portugal ordered a royal residence to be constructed in Cascais Citadel, starting the tradition of Cascais being the Portuguese royal family's Summer residence, which lasted from 1870 to 1908, transforming the seaside village into a cosmopolitan address. Thanks to King Luís I, the citadel was equipped with the country's first electric lights in 1878. Cascais also benefited with the construction of better roads to Lisbon and Sintra, a casino, a bullfight ring, a sports club, and improvements to basic infrastructure for the population. Many noble families built impressive mansions still to be seen in the town centre and environs. The first railway arrived in 1889.
In 1896, King Carlos I of Portugal, a lover of all maritime activities, installed in Cascais Citadel the first oceanographic laboratory in Portugal. The King himself led a total of 12 scientific expeditions to the coast; these ended in 1908 with his assassination in Lisbon.
From the second half of the 19th century into the first decades of the 20th century, Sintra also became a privileged place for artists: musicians such as José Vianna da Motta; composers such as Alfredo Keil, painters like João Cristino da Silva (author of one of the most celebrated canvases of Portuguese Romantic art, "Cinco Artistas em Sintra"), writers such as Eça de Queirós or Ramalho Ortigão, all these people lived, worked or got inspiration from Sintra's landscapes.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Sintra was recognized as a summer resort visited by aristocrats and millionaires. Among these, Carvalho Monteiro, owner of a considerable fortune (known as "Monteiro dos Milhões") constructed near the main town on an estate he bought from the Baroness of Regaleira, the Quinta da Regaleira, regarded as a prime example of Neo-Manueline architecture.
During the Second World War, the region was the centre of spies and diplomatic secrecy, situations that provided the region with a cosmopolitan atmosphere and sophistication. Due to the vision of Fausto Cardoso de Figueiredo and his business partner Augusto Carreira de Sousa, it became an international tourist destination both during and after the Second World War.
In July 1940, Edward, Duke of Windsor (former Edward VIII of the United Kingdom) and his wife, Wallis Simpson, moved to Estoril, where they lived at first in the home of Ricardo de Espírito Santo, a Portuguese banker with both British and German contacts.
During that time, several dignitaries and exiles came to Estoril: Miklós Horthy, the regent of the Kingdom of Hungary (lived and died in exile after the Second World War); the Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona (father of Juan Carlos I of Spain) and the King resided in the territory, as did Umberto II of Italy and Carol II of Romania.
It was also in this location that former Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar had a summer house. It was Salazar who ordered the construction of the E.N.6 motorway, more commonly referred to as the Avenida Marginal, in order for him to quickly travel by car between Cascais and Lisbon (until then the accessway was nothing more than a dirt road, where traffic could only circulate at low velocities and make frequent stops). The roadway permitted the dictator to travel rapidly, and with fewer stops, it wasn't possible for him to be recognized easily in transit.
Today the towns of the Portuguese Riviera continue to host the Portuguese elite and be a vacation destination for international tourists. The Riviera plays an important part in tourism in Portugal.
A large expatriate community continues to exist, primarily in Cascais and Sintra, leading to the majority of Lisbon's international schools being located within the area (with Carlucci American International School in Sintra, St Julian's School and St Dominic's School in Cascais, and Oeiras International School).
Luxury gated communities have greatly developed in the region in the late 20th and early 21st century, including Quinta da Marinha (Cascais), Quinta Patino (Estoril), Quinta da Beloura and Quinta da Penha Longa (both in Linhó, Sintra).
Since the middle of the 20th century, the region has come to play host to numerous international sports and entertainment festivals, such as the Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival (in Estoril), the 4 Hours of Estoril endurance race (in Cascais), and NOS Alive music festival (in Algés). The Cascais Marina has hosted many important events, including the America's Cup World Series.
The Sintra Mountains are considered moderately humid, with precipitation in the mountains is higher than in the surrounding areas. The position of Sintra in the natural landscape of the Sintra Mountains is influenced by the existence of a micro-climate. Due to its micro-climate, the area has developed a dense foliage with a rich botanical diversity.
The coast along Praia do Guincho, located within the bounds of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, is known for its particularly strong winds and powerful waves, making it a popular destination for surfing and wind-surfing.
Places following the broadest definition of the Portuguese Riviera:
The Portuguese Riviera is famed as a bastion of culture in Portugal, as the home to numerous prestigious institutions, art galleries, museums, and a cultural agenda including various international music festivals, film festivals, concerts, international summit meetings, and cultural festivals, among others.
The Palace of the Counts of Castro Guimarães, in Cascais, Monserrate Palace, a Romanticist villa in Sintra, and Quinta da Regaleira, 19th-century Neo-Manueline palace, are all estates that are open to the public, serving to show the Portuguese nobility historically lived on the Riviera, with notable differences in the architecture and lifestyles between Cascais aristocrats and Sintra nobles.