“Fortaleza do Guincho, A Gorgeous Chunk of Portugal”

By Robert K. Stephen on March 16, 2013

If you are looking for a gorgeous chunk of Portugal you really must stay at the Fortaleza do Guincho situated in the Sintra Cascais Nature Reserve some 10 minutes away from Cascais, the trendy resort suburb of Lisbon.. This is not a hotel as most of you will know a hotel. It is a small hotel within an old fort perched on a cliff overlooking the crashing waves of the Atlantic. It is part of the Relais & Chateaux brand dictating strict standards of luxury accommodation and food.

The actual fort, the Fortaleza was first built in 1642 by order of King Joã and has evolved through a long history including a shorter period as a hotel commencing in 1959. It was renovated in 1998 becoming a 5 star hotel joining the prestigious Relais & Chateaux brand. It is very small in terms of capacity with 24 rooms and three junior suites. The suites have their own private terrace for greater disconnection power. All rooms come with a view of the rugged and crashing Atlantic Ocean below. Set on a cliff as the Fortaleza is your view to the right will be the Guincho Beach a wind surfer’s paradise. On the left you have Cresimina beach. Both beaches are sandy but with very rough and cold water. The Fortaleza is in an unspoilt and very rugged costal area. The crashing waves of the Atlantic are your constant background noise and for relaxation and disconnect is there nothing better than the rhythmic effect of the waves? Arguably there are few distractions at the Fortaleza other than walking and relaxing on the beach, sleeping and eating like a king who has just captured a fort. It is a perfect place to disconnect and in terms of getting there it is a 10 minute cab ride from Cascais. Sure you should be all means welcome to come out for a visit to the Fortaleza and enjoy its bar or one Star Michelin Restaurant but this relaxing chunk of Portugal deserves at least a few nights stay. 

As you enter the Fortaleza you are faced with two cannons and then you walk into an open air courtyard recently covered by a glass roof so light floods into the arched courtyard which has become the lobby. Walk further down and there is both the lobby bar and restaurant. The lobby feel is very castle like. Numerous comfortable chairs and sofa are located with tables all leading into the entrance of the restaurant. An inlaid stone floor replaces the usual hotel carpeted lobby. Roof tiles jut out overhead reminding you the lobby was once an open air courtyard. The heavy wooden doors for all Fortaleza rooms and suites make you think a fair lady or damsel awaits you or goodness no and even worse a torture chamber! The lobby bar to your left also has an outside terrace directly facing the ocean.

Most rooms are a bit dark but being a fort and get used to it. The rooms are comfortable with a strange but loveable décor that to my uneducated fashion sense is a combination of Moorish and roaring twenties. Particularly the golden coloured and crystal tassled chandelier style lamps make me think of the roaring twenties and the heavy furniture shouts “early castle” period! The room is quite unique and if you have previously stayed in some of the older styled paradors in Spain and pousadas in Portugal it certainly won’t surprise you. To the uninitiated welcome to nouveau fort decor! Room rates run from 160-420€. Fresh fruit delivered daily to your room. Free Wi-Fi internet for those who can’t disconnect completely.

The highlight of the Fortaleza must certainly be its magnificent dining room with stunning panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and the rugged coastline. This is one of the most spectacular dining rooms in the world and if you are staying at the Fortaleza it is all yours for breakfast lunch and dinner. And for lunch and dinner you have priority on the window seating. Watch the sun set over the Atlantic while enjoying dinner. The dining room is decorated in colours that match the coastline, the beaches it overlooks and the ocean. All artwork has a blue green theme. In fact the dining room is perfectly integrated into its exterior surrounding leading to a sense of unity and being one with nature. The carpet speaks of the sand, sea and the rugged coastline. The excellence of the décor is matched by the excellence of the food.

The Fortaleza Restaurant has a one star Michelin rating and given the quality and the presentation and service of the food perhaps another star is justified. Without asking I was invited to meet Executive Chef Vincent Farges who hails from France. I was then taken into the bowels of the Michelin starred kitchen where 16 cooks and one sous chef work under the direction of Vincent. The kitchen has its own bakery where fresh bread, rolls and pastry are made thrice daily. There are two wine cellars. A larger one for the 33 pages (850 different wines) of wines that are in the wine list and a smaller one where the top end Portuguese and French wines are stored. There are three Canadian ice wines on the wine list! Virgilio, the assistant sommelier, is passionate about Portuguese wines and his selections were flawless with the food I ate at the restaurant. The cuisine is described by the hotel as being strongly influenced by Haute Francais but there is a deep Portuguese streak running through it so I will happily and without misgivings call it Portu-Gallic cuisine. And it is internationally top rated, well awarded and praised. Stemware is perfectly tuned to the wines served and is primarily Schott Sweisel.

My first experience at the Fortaleza was at breakfast with a delightful collection of freshly baked bread and Portuguese pastries. Your choice of egg is presented to you by a special egg menu. Portuguese orange yolked eggs are so superior to Canadian eggs! Lots of fresh fruit, Serrano ham and cheeses certainly help you on your busy day of disconnecting. Impeccable and attentive service. The Pastéis de Nata served at breakfast is to die for with a light crispy crunch to it. I am not a foodie but I say try one of their little custard tarts and you’ll be thinking about making a return reservation next year. As I write this I am sadly missing my Fortaleza Pastéis de Nata. The cheese selection is also very solid.

While breakfast will please, lunch and dinner draws out the real culinary skills of Farges and his team. There are no fast meals at Fortaleza. You better come hungry and prepared to sit back and enjoy for three hours and it’s a challenge to get through so much richly prepared and savoury food. I won’t repeat the menu but you may want to leave things to Chef Farges who will prepare a custom meal for you (give advance notice of your preferences). You’ll start with an amuse bouche then have an appetizer, a couple of main courses, a pre dessert, dessert and a post dessert. I will not run through the menu but as quick example there is Anjou pigeon, Alentejo black pork, coastal stone bass, blue lobster in red grapefruit. There is nothing simple. It’s 100% gourmet and once again on a spectacular chunk of real estate!

(Fortaleza do Guincho Hotel e Restaurante, Estrada do Guincho, 2750-642 Cascais, Portugal, Tel. 351 214 870 431  wwwguinchhotel.pt)


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