For those who find geography a black art – an orientation!
Lying some 30 minutes travelling to the west of Lisbon, Estoril has drawn people for over 150 years; some settle down to live in this Atlantic coastal resort, others visit briefly on holiday. The Hotel Palacio, the five star establishment whose de luxe rooms overlook the swimming pool and beyond to the gardens, in front of one of the largest casinos in Europe, opened its doors in 1930 and the ground floor corridors are lined with fading photographs of those who came to stay.
European royalty, for example the Italian, French, Bulgarian and Romanian ex-royal families, mingled with actors and actresses, heads of government and Portuguese aristocrats. During the Second World War it was the home to both British and German spies and in 1969 featured in the James Bond film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.’ I personally don’t think it is the best 007 film (starred George Lazenby and the gorgeous Diana Rigg) but it was in the Hotel Palacio that Ian Fleming had conceived the idea for the series, and that’s a great coincidence!
A sumptuously appointed corridor in the Palacio
My mobile rang when I was in Saloio, a very up-market grocer’s store on Avenida de Nice, a street in front of the hotel. It was my chum Stewart calling from Wimbledon in London to wish us a Happy Christmas. I could easily picture him as I know his house and whereas he might have some notion of the sort of place I was in, being a well-travelled chap, he would have been amused to actually witness it.
I call it a grocer’s store as this is what it is, like Partridge’s on the King’s Road in London for instance; one central shelving unit snakes down the centre, each part crammed with particular foodstuffs. On the walls to one side are little bottles of condiments from every corner of the globe, jars of jams and marmalade (Marmalade is a very English description and coveted by the international clientele who shop here.) and then racks of vegetables, dairy produce and cheeses. If you want more specialist cheese the deli counter on the other side of the shop provides countless alternatives. Meats and poultry, raw or already prepared, lie on the next counter, under the watchful and attentive Paulo.
A rather empty early morning on Boxing Day!
I told Stewart it was lovely and unexpected to hear his voice and that we were in the basement of the Saloio grocery store in Estoril. Down here, away from the shoving and pushing around the delicatessen counter, there is a moment to reflect in peace about which packet of loo paper to buy and to search for the dishwasher rinse aid.
On the narrow stairs back up to the frenzy of Christmas Eve shopping, towers of boxes of tea, of every make, type and taste, confuse and irritate one in equal measure. Those who linger here in indecision risk the wrath of the staff, moving in both directions, downwards empty handed, struggling up with replacement boxes to stack a small shelf, or clutching a single item asked for with an imperious tone and raised eyebrow in answer to the ‘they are downstairs madam’ response.
The old-moneyed Europeans mingle with the nouveau riche, both stretching past one for a packet of smoked salmon for instance without any consideration or acknowledgement of your existence. There’s a certain haughtiness, a sense of birth right, that gives them the confidence to act in this rude way, whether the disdain is obvious or not. Can you smell money? I think here there is a certain scent, whether it’s the classic Austrian Loden jacket that may not have seen the inside of a dry cleaners, ever, or the fur coat’s slight whiff of moth balls worn with a disregard for those who fight for animal rights. Maybe it’s the aftershave and perfume, or the cosmetics that cost a month’s wages. The younger generation, with their modern gilets and designer trainers, mix well, as they belong to this group where an excess of cash is the common currency.
The staff who stack the shelves, inquire whether it’s the smoked or unsmoked bacon of which you need 10 slices, ensure the baskets of warm fresh rolls are fully stocked, smile when you ask if they have any pickled ginger as you can’t find it, despite looking high and low, or simply take your euros at the checkout, unfazed by the bill for five items and a bottle of fizz that they wouldn’t consider value for money are, of course, lovely, polite, helpful people, with the patience of some saintly horde. Recognise them in some way, acknowledge them, and they ooze warmth and helpfulness, just like anyone in a similar position.
You can tell from the top-of-the-range cars hustling for parking space outside in the little narrow street that this is a very up-market shop. In amongst the Mercedes and BMWs I spot a beautiful deep-blue Bentley convertible with a Principality of Monaco licence plate. Just stunning, if of course you can afford a car that probably costs about £175k? Of course the Portuguese will park anywhere convenient to them. Pedestrian crossings? Why not? ‘I never walk anywhere so why should I recognise something for other people?’!!
Hotel Palacio to the left, Saloio just right of centre
Down Avenida de Nice, towards the sea, you can see the end of the queue that stretches for over 100 metres to Pastelaria Garrett, a real cornucopia of all things bad for you, but just so yummy! Pre-ordering cakes, puddings and pastries is fine, but someone has to collect them! In Portugal the traditional Christmas cake is either the Bolo de Rei (King’s Cake) or a less showy Bolo de Rainha (Queen’s cake).
Bolo de Rei
Just some seasonal observations gleaned from looking up and down one little street in Estoril, Portugal on Christmas Eve 2018. More scribbles in 2019 no doubt.
Richard 29th December 2018