Thursday, March 12, 2015

MONTE ESTORIL-STREETS OF PORTUGAL HISTORY

AS THE TRAIN FROM LISBON COMES TO A STOP AT MONTE ESTORIL STATION,IT BECOMES EVIDENT I AM STEPPING INTO THE STREETS OF AN INCREDIBLE HISTORY OF THIS SMALL ENCLAVE SITUATED ON THE HILL(MONTE)BETWEEN CASCAIS AND ESTORIL, 30 KILOMETRES FROM THE CENTRE OF LISBON AS THE RIVER TEJO MEETS THE ATLANTIC OCEAN. AS THE TRAIN PULLS AWAY TO CASCAIS THE PANORAMA IS A PERFECT MIX OF WHITE SAND BEACHES WITH GENTLY ROLLING WAVES AND THE GRANDIOSE HILLTOP VILLAS OF MONTE ESTORIL NESTLED BETWEEN TOWERING PALM TREES PLANTED A CENTURY AGO. AS I GAZE SKYWARDS INTO THE MOST AMAZING BRIGHT BLUE SKY,YOU SEE THE WORLDS JET AIRLINES AND THEIR LONG TRAILS OF JETSTEAM HEADING TO DESTINATIONS FAR AWAY,MESMERISING MOMENTS! WITH THE WALK ACROSS THE TRAIN TRACKS AND UP THE COBBLESTONE STREET AND STEPS,I COME ACROSS MY FIRST PIECE OF REMARKABLE HISTORY...."MR BUSBY'S PUB",THIS OLD STYLED ENGLISH ESTABLISHMENT NAMED AFTER THE FAMOUS MANCHESTER UNITED MANAGER MATT BUSBY SURVIVES IN A SMALL CORNER OF A BUILDING OVERLOOKING THE COAST OF ESTORIL WITH THE BUSY AVENIDA MARGINAL BUZZING ALONG UNDERNEATH WITH A STREAM OF VOLKSWAGONS,RENAULT,SKODA'S,MERCEDES AND PEUGEOTS TAKING THEIR ERNEST PORTUGUESE DRIVERS SOMEWHERE.IT'S A FINE WELCOME TO MONTE ESTORIL WITH A COLD GLASS OF BEER AND THE MANDATORY PLATE OF POPCORN FROM THE MOST ENTHUSIASTIC BARMAN I HAVE EVER MET!MY TRIP BACK IN TIME HAS ONLY JUST BEGUN. AS A SNAPSHOT OF HOW MONTE ESTORIL EVOLVED IS FASCINATING BASED ON TWO CLIMATES,THE WEATHER AND POLITICAL.FOR MANY YEARS THE ALLURE OF BEAUTIFUL WHITE SAND BEACHES AND YEAR ROUND SUN MIXED WITH A GREAT ENVIRONMENT ATTRACTED A HUGE CROWD OF HOLIDAY MAKERS TO WHAT THEY DUBBED"COSTA DO SOL"(THE SUN COAST),ONCE THE ORIGINAL GRANDE CASINO INTERNATIONAL WAS BUILT IT SOON BECAME THE PORTUGUESE RIVIERA,THE ORIGINAL CASINO IS NOW THE SIGHT OF THE EDEN HOTEL...NEXT DOOR TO MR BUSBYS.THE NEW ESTORIL CASINO IS NOW 1 KM BACK DOWN THE ROAD NEXT TO THE HISTORIC PALACIO HOTEL. AS HOTELS APPEARED TO CATER FOR THIS INFLUX,NAMES LIKE THE ATLANTICO,GRANDE AND ESTORIL BECAME PART OF THE LANDSCAPE,THEN WORLD WAR 2 CHANGED THE WHOLE DYNAMIC OF MONTE ESTORIL, PORTUGAL WAS A NEUTRAL COUNTRY IN THE WAR YEARS,SO IT EXPERIENCED AN INCREDIBLE MIX OF SPYS,UNDERCOVER AGENTS, EXILED KINGS/QUEENS AND ROYAL FAMILYS ALONG WITH REFUGEES FLEEING EUROPE(SEE MOVIE CASABLANCA)ALL WALKING THE SAME STREETS OF THE PORTUGUESE COASTLINE. AT ONE STAGE DURING THE MID 1940'S MONTE ESTORIL HOSTED 6 EUROPEAN ROYAL FAMILIES LIVING IN EXILE,WITH THIS HEADY MIX THE AREA BECAME VERY COSMOPOLITAN IN ATMOSPHERE,AND SOON STREET PARADES,SPORTING TOURNAMENTS,RESTAURANTS,BARS,ELABORATE GARDENS,DANCING VENUES ALL BECAME PART OF THE SOCIAL SETTING.THIS ALSO LEADS TO THE "COSTA DO SOL"BECOMING A VERY SOUGHT AFTER PLACE FOR INTERNATIONAL TOURISM.THE DRIVE CONTINUED AS PORTUGUESE PRIME MINISTER ANTONIO SALAZAR ORDERED THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE AVENIDA MARGINAL(N6),THIS TRANSFORMED AN OLD DIRT WINDY TRACK INTO A MAJOR ROADWAY THAT LINKED LISBON TO THE ESTORIL COAST,IT ALSO MADE HIS JOURNEY FROM THE SUMMER RESIDENCE IN CASCAIS BACK TO CENTRAL LISBON MUCH QUICKER AND EASIER.BY THE MID 1940S ESTORIL WAS CONSIDERED THE "ENGINE ROOM"OF ALL PORTUGALS TOURISM,WAY BEFORE WE HEARD OF THE ALGARVE,PORTO AND MADEIRA. ON TOP OF THE LAVISH HOTELS CAME THE GOLF COURSES, BUILDING THE ESTORIL FOOTBALL STADIUM IN 1939 AND THE CHALETS/VILLAS WHICH STILL SURROUND THE HILLTOP AND COASTAL LANDSCAPE. ALTHOUGH MISSING THE MOMENT,THE ESTORIL AUTODROMO BUILT IN 1972 WAS A "MUST HAVE"FOR THE LOCALS AS PART OF THE FORMULA ONE MOTOR RACING CALENDER,ALONG WITH THE ESTORIL AIRPORT TO TRANSPORT PRIVATE JETS/CHARTERS DIRECT INTO THIS HOT SPOT,BOTH STILL OPERATE TODAY. OK,ENOUGH OF THE HISTORY,LETS GO ON A TOUR THROUGH TODAYS PORTUGUESE RIVIERIA, MY INDUCTION TO THIS INCREDIBLE COMMUNITY COMES COURTESY OF ALWAYS STAYING AT THE BED AND BREAKFAST ESTABLISHMENT OF CASA SHANTI NIKETAN ON THE ROUNDABOUT IN AVENIDA ACACIAS,ORIGINALLY BUILT IN 1939 AS CONSULTING ROOMS FOR DOCTOR ROBERTO DE FARIO,THE CASA HAS NOW BEEN TRANSFORMED TASTEFULLY INTO A 7 ROOM PRIVATE BED AND BREAKFAST,MANAGED BY THE GOOD DOCTORS DAUGHTER SOFIA,IF YOU EVER WANT TO GET A FEEL OF THE AREAS HISTORY AND CHARM ALONG WITH MODERN HOSPITALITY RIGHT IN THE CENTRE OF MONTE ESTORIL,BOOK AHEAD FOR THE EXPERIENCE.WWW.CASA-SHANTINIKETAN.COM OUTSIDE THE CASA IS THE BLUE ROOFED ROTUNDA SNACK BAR SITTING RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROUNDABOUT,ALTHOUGH NO LONGER OPERATING IT PROVIDED THE MEETING POINT HALFWAY BETWEEN THE TRAIN STATION AND FOOTBALL GROUND/AUTODROMO FOR SPORTS FANS TO SWAP STORIES OF THE GLORYS AND FAILURES OF THEIR DAY OUT,AS YOU AVOID THE PORTUGUESE DRIVERS HITTING THE ROUNDABOUT LIKE A FORMULA ONE DRIVERS UP THE HILL,YOU CAN STILL HEAR THE CONVERSATIONS FROM THOSE GLORY DAYS.NEXT STOP AS WE STROLL UP THE AVENIDA SABOIA IS THE REGULATION COFFEE AT THE GARDENS OF CARLOS ANJOS NEXT TO THE OLD GRANDE HOTEL(NOW BEING TRANSFORMED INTO APARTMENTS),THE PARK UNDERNEATH STILL RETAINS IT'S CHARM WITH BENCHES,PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT FOR THE KIDS AND A BIRD AVIARY,AND DURING THE CHRISTMAS MONTH IT LIGHTS UP AT NIGHT WITH FIGURINES PLACED ACROSS THE PARK,SIMPLY MAGICAL. WITH A MAZE OF SMALL WHITE COBBLESTONE ROADS LEADING IN EVERY ANGLE,MONTE ESTORIL IS A WALKERS WONDERLAND,FASCINATING LITTLE HOLE IN THE WALL SHOPS,THAT APPEAR CLOSED ONE MOMENT YET NEXT THEY ARE OPEN,SELLING THE MOST BIZARRE ITEMS FROM A PAST,IT IS LIKE PLAYING A GAME OF HIDE AND SEEK. AS YOU WIND YOUR WAY UP THROUGH MONTE ESTORIL,YOU SEE A PAST THAT HAS NOT FOUND IT'S FOOTHOLD IN MODERNISATION,SO MANY HISTORIC OLD BUILDINGS THAT ARE BOARDED AND BRICKED UP,NO LONGER PART OF THE GAME,MAYBE JUST WAITING FOR THE NEXT OWNER TO REJUVINATE THEM?WHEN NIGHT FALLS THE AVENIDA SABOIA CALLS US BACK TO EXPERIENCE SOME OF THE SOCIAL SIDE OF THE AREA,AND WHAT A TREAT THEY OFFER,O'SINALEIRO RESTAURANTE IS A FAMILY RUN BAR THAT JUST OOZES THE GREAT DREAM OF FINDING A PLACE THAT YOU LOVE BEING IN,IT GIVES YOU THE CHANCE TO REALLY MEET LOCALS WHO FREQUENT THIS BAR WITH THEIR DAILY STORIES OF LIFE,MIXED WITH AN INFLUX OF FOREIGN VISITORS IT CAN MAKE ANY NIGHT INTERESTING, BY THE WAY THE FOOD MENU IS TRULY PORTUGUESE AND ABSOLUTELY AMAZING,VERY HARD TO GO PAST THE GRILLED SEA BASS! BETWEEN A LOCAL FISHERMAN COMING IN SELLING A HUGE LIVE CRAB,AND THE STREAM OF SOCCER MATCHES ON THE TV THIS IS MUST PLACE FOR VISITING.AFTER CLOSING TIME AT O'SINALEIRO THE LOGICAL STEP IS 50 METRES DOWN THE AVE SABOIA TO "RAYS BAR". IF YOU EVER FELT LIKE BEING TRANSPORTED BACK TO 1960 IN PORTUGAL THIS IS THE TIME MACHINE BUTTON YOU WOULD PUSH,IT IS IF TIME HAS STOOD STILL!AND YOU WILL LOVE IT, ORIGINAL IN ITS PLACE AND ORIGINAL TO HOW IT LAUNCHED IN 1964,RAYS WAS STARTED BY AN AMERICAN CALLED RAY!MAYBE INFLUENCED BY RICKS IN THE MOVIE CASABLANCA? ORIGINALLY RAY SOLD FURNITURE FROM THIS SAME LOCATION BEFORE DECIDING A BAR WAS A BETTER OPTION,WHEN RAY PASSED AWAY IT WAS HANDED OVER TO HIS LONG SERVING BARMAN RAFA TO CONTINUE THIS LATE NIGHT LEGEND.INSIDE RAY'S IS A DIZZY MIX OF HOLLWOOD MOVIE SET AND A MUSUEM,ART DECO LOVERS WOULD BE BREATHLESS AMONGST THE ORIGINAL SOFAS,TABLES WITH LAMPS AND FURNITURE PROBABLY FROM RAY'S ORIGINAL SHOP. ON THE CEILING YOU'LL BE GAZING AT A COLLECTION OF WORLD BANK NOTES FROM EVERY COUNTRY AND VINTAGE,AS IT CONTINUES TO EXPAND DOWN THE WALLS.THE HAT COLLECTION ROUNDS OFF THE MUSUEM,WITH COUNTLESS POLICE/ARMY HEADWEAR ON DISPLAY.THE BAR ONLY OPENS AFTER 7PM AND CONTINUES WAY INTO THE EARLY HOURS AFTER MOST OF MONTE ESTORIL HAS RETIRED FOR THE DAY.OUR LAST SPOT OF INDULGANCE COMES 100 METRES FROM RAY'S AT THE CIMAS ENGLISH BAR RESTAURANTE,LOCATED IN THE LANEWAY NEXT TO THE EDEN HOTEL, OPENED IN 1941 BY ENGLISHMAN HORACE BASS,IT WAS THE CHOICE MEETING PLACE FOR THE HORDES OF GERMAN SPIES BASED AT THE TIME IN THE ATLANTICO HOTEL.TODAY IT IS A VERY UPMARKET RESTAURANTE,SERVING TRADITIONAL PORTUGUESE GAME FOOD AT A HIGH PRICE,WITH A HIGH QUALITY SERVICE.IN THE LAST 2 YEARS MONTE ESTORIL HAS SEEN A HUGE SWING OF APARTMENT COMPLEX'S BEING BUILT ON THE OLD HOTEL SITES,BOTH THE ATLANTICO AND GRANDE HOTELS ARE NOW MULTI STORY APARTMENT BUILDINGS WITH PRICE TAGS THAT REACH INTO THE MILLIONS OF EURO'S RANGE,IS IT THAT WE MAY BE SEEING THE NEXT SURGE OF THE PORTUGUESE RIVIERA?AS I WALK THESE STREETS AND TALK TO VISITORS LOOKING AT INVESTING/LIVING FROM THE NORTHERN EUROPEAN COUNTRYS IT SEEMS THE LURE OF WHAT THE "COSTA DO SOL"OFFERS IS BACK ON THE AGENDA. THIS ARTICLE IS DEDICATED TO FELICIDADE NETO XIMINES(MY TOUR GUIDE FROM EAST TIMOR) GREAT ADVENTURES TO ALL DON FOSTER/2015

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