DESPITE being a massive fan of live music, I’ve developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with outdoor festivals.
Perhaps it comes down to my years spent covering T in The Park or Glasgow’s TRNSMT for work rather than basking in the atmosphere with the rest of the care-free revellers.
I usually find myself trudging home feeling miffed about mud, toilet queues and bar prices.
However these concerns were the last thing on my mind when I was offered the chance to watch the great Van Morrison perform in the Portuguese sun.
The Belfast-born singer was top of the bill for the 18th CoolJazz festival taking place in Cascais this summer.
Other big names there were Lionel Richie, Kings of Convenience, Snarky Puppy and Norah Jones — all performing shows throughout the month of July.
Unlike many UK festival experiences, CoolJazz was relaxed, intimate and aesthetically pleasing — surrounded by exotic trees, bubbling streams and fairy lights.
Held between a number of venues including the Hipodromo Manuel Possolo, The Gardens of Casa Das Historias Paula Rego, and Parque Marechal Carmon — festival-goers could enjoy local food and drink as they wandered around the picturesque gardens between each performance.
Van Morrison’s headline show was held at the Hipodromo.
Despite being well-warned, the gig may have frustrated Van fans looking forward to hearing his classics, as the majority of the set was drawn from his new album Moving On Skiffle.
The music icon unapologetically embraced his favourite genre and presented a mix of vintage country, skiffle and blues without a Brown-Eyed Girl lyric in earshot.
Nonetheless, the 77-year-old never fails to impress.
In his trademark pork pie hat and cool shades, Van The Man, along with his backing band, tore through flawless renditions of 50s favourites such as Freight Train and Green Rocky Road.
The singer’s notorious “grumpy” demeanour wasn’t apparent during the set, Van seemed focused, confident and content as he took the crowd on a journey of treasured tunes.
A fellow fan told me his band don’t even work to set lists, Van tends to decide after each song what is going to be played next, keeping everyone — including the audience — on their toes.
The town of Cascais was the perfect backdrop for the intimate show allowing the crowd to watch the burnt orange sunset warm up the sky as talented Van switched between guitar, harmonica and saxophone during his immaculate performance.
Although the festival was my main reason to visit Cascais, I had plenty of time to explore the wealthy beach town — which is often dubbed “Portugal’s best-kept secret”.
Just a 20-minute drive from Lisbon and sitting on the Portuguese Riveria, Cascais is known for its year-round sunny climate, idyllic beaches and surfing spots.
The once-quiet fishing spot flourished at the end of the 19th century after King Luis I chose it for his summer residence, resulting in many of Portugal’s aristocracy following him.
Many built lavish homes by the sea but a lot of the town’s traditional scenery remains intact.
As a result tourists will now find rustic fishermen’s houses sitting next to grand mansions and high-end designer boutiques next door to quaint artisan shops.
Speaking of mansions, Portuguese football royalty Cristiano Ronaldo purchased an £18million pad in the luxurious Cascais neighbourhood of Quinta da Marinha last year.
The home — measuring 2,720 square metres across three floors — is the most expensive property in Portugal.
Although I passed it on my way to the hotel, there wasn’t much to peer at inside the exclusive closed-off community.
I stayed at the stunning Vila Galé Cascais, a four-star hotel overlooking the sea and just a 10-minute walk from the marina and town centre.
Despite guests having everything they need just a short stroll away, the hotel boasts a great restaurant and a bar as well as affordable spa facilities and an outdoor pool.
The hotel’s best feature is that it is just a stone’s throw from the picturesque Praia de Santa Marta. A rocky cove with turquoise waters and a view of the Santa Marta lighthouse, the beach is the perfect hub for tourists who want a bit of quiet time to soak up the sun.
The town centre is rich with unique shops, market stalls and traditional restaurants — which definitely back up Portugal’s reputation of serving up some of the best seafood in Europe.
The tuna tartare and seabass at Lota da Esquina were to die for — served up in a little restaurant located in the historic auction building on the bay.
GO: CACAIS, PORTUGAL
GETTING THERE: easyJet fly from Edinburgh to Lisbon three times a week on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fares from £35pp one-way. See easyjet.com
STAYING THERE: Rooms at the Hotel Vila Galé Cascais from approx £103 a night, B&B. See vilagale.com
MORE INFO: For more on the Cool Jazz Festival see cooljazz.pt and for more on visiting Cacais see visitcascais.com/en
However, the food highlight of the trip had to be Cascais’ famous salt cod in Marisco na Praça, while overlooking the sunset across the marina.
I discovered the best way to appreciate the coastline of Cascais is by bike — more importantly an e-bike.
Not having to pedal in the 30°C (86°F) heat, I could take in my surroundings without breaking a sweat or pulling a muscle.
The private three-hour cycling tour stopped off at the breath-taking site of Boca Do Inferno — meaning the Mouth of Hell.
The popular feature is the remains of an ancient cave within the cliffs with its wide-open mouth, through which the Atlantic waves dramatically crash. Another poignant spot was Cabo De Roca, a rugged cape which forms the westernmost point of continental Europe and the Sintra Mountain Range.
To add a little magic to a holiday in Cascais, a trip to the historic town of Sintra is highly recommended.
The Unesco world heritage site is a tourist favourite — giving visitors the full fairytale experience along the way.
Nestled in the — usually cloudy — hills around 20km north of Cascais, the town boasts palaces, castles and its own microclimate.
The hilly streets are made up of brightly coloured buildings, cobbled pathways and vibrant flowers growing along the walls. One of the area’s most stunning gems is the palatial villa Monsserate Palace and its impressive grounds.
I wandered the corridors of the immaculate palace — which combined both gothic and Indian influences — before exploring the exotic botanical garden which boasted species from all corners of the world.
As a loyal traveller to Portugal’s Algarve coast, I feel my heart has been stolen by this glamorous lesser-known area.
Strolling by the mansions, designer stores and vintage cars gives the allure of a luxury getaway yet the prices are affordable and you’re only a 20-minute drive from the capital city, Lisbon.
Borrowing the words of the great Van Morrison, Have I Told You Lately that I love Cascais?
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