One hour from... Lisbon

Retreat to the haunts of kings and playboys

Whether you're a first-time or a returning visitor on a short city break, sometimes it's nice to get away from the centre. This series aims to help you do just that.

Whether you're a first-time or a returning visitor on a short city break, sometimes it's nice to get away from the centre. This series aims to help you do just that.

Lisbon is an extremely popular destination for UK travellers. When you've seen everything in the city of seven hills, follow the lead of homeboy explorer Vasco da Gama and get out and about.

Sintra

This cool, picturesque hilltop town is packed with stunning palaces, castles and convents, which Lord Byron described as "Glorious Eden". It's pure Disney meets Dali – a fantasy of turrets and towers, overlooking the surrounding coastline back to Lisbon. Sintra was once the favourite retreat of the Portuguese kings and the Moorish lords before them, who built a series of gothic piles in lush green surroundings. Don't miss the Palacio Nacional with its massive conical white chimneys and the Palacio da Pena, a mock-medieval castle, complete with ramparts, walkways and drawbridge, surrounded by rambling woodland, follies and lakes.

By train: every 15 mins from Rossio station; journey time 50 mins. By car: take the IC19 and follow signs to Sintra; journey time approx 30 mins.

Cascais

Cascais became fashionable at the end of the 19th century when Luis I had his summer palace there. Today it's a lively seaside resort with three decent beaches, a working fishing port and an unspoilt old town full of atmospheric back lanes and alleys. Visit the fish market between Praia da Ribeira and Praia da Rainha at 6pm to watch the auctioneer selling off the daily catch.

By train: every 15 mins from Cais do Sodre station; journey time 30 mins. By car: take the EN6 and follow signs to Cascais; journey time approx 25 mins.

Estoril

Once the home of exiled European royalty, Estoril is a favoured haunt of the rich, drawn by Europe's largest casino, luxury villas and hotels. Graham Greene and Ian Fleming went undercover here during the Second World War and the casino was Fleming's inspiration for Casino Royale. Praia de Tamariz is a decent beach stretching to Cascais and Portugal's best golf courses are on the doorstep.

By train: every 15 mins from Cais do Sodre station; journey time 20 mins. By car: take the EN6 and follow signs to Estoril; journey time approx 15 mins.

Setubal Peninsula

Vast expanses of unspoilt golden beach stretch along the Costa da Caparica, backed by sand dunes. The northern end is favoured by families; the southern is recognised as gay and nudist havens. Follow the beautiful tree-lined lagoon, Lago de Albufeira, to Praia do Meco, where the coarse-grained breeze-defying sand is pummelled by 6ft Atlantic breakers. Excellent beach cafés and restaurants serve great seafood and snacks. At nearby Setubal there are two important nature reserves, the Reserva Natural do Estuario do Sado and the Parque Natural da Arrabida.

By car: take the A5 from the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge over the Tagus and follow the N378 Sesmibra road, and then the back roads signed to Meco and Lagoa de Albufeira. Follow the minor roads, which give beach access. Journey time approx one hour. Allow plenty of time to return, especially at weekends.

Palacio de Queluz

Extraordinary over-the-top pink palace converted in the late 18th century from a hunting lodge to a summer residence for the royal family. The country's finest example of rococo architecture is a mini Versailles, complete with halls of mirrors, and more state, throne rooms and chambers than you can fit into a half-day visit.

By train: every 20 mins from Rossio station; journey time 25 mins, then 15-min walk from station. By car: take the A9 and follows signs for Quelez; journey time approx 20 mins.

Mafra

This low-key town is famous for, and dominated by, the huge and extravagant Palacio-Convento de Mafra. Created during the reign of Dom Joao V, this fusion of Italianate and Baroque Neoclassicism has 880 rooms and 300 monks' cells. The dome is one of the largest in the world and the rococo library contains 35,000 leather-bound books.

By train: every 20 mins from Rossio station; change at Cacem for slow train to Obidos, alighting at Mafra. By car: take the IC19 north and then the N9, follow signs for Mafra; journey time approx one hour 15 mins.

The author travelled with Inghams Eurobreak (020-8780 7700; www.eurobreak. com) to Lisbon and stayed at the five-star Avenida Palace Hotel. A two-night trip costs from £252 per person, including return flights and b&b accommodation.

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