On Her Majesty's Secret Service
John & Susan Simpson
Tue 7 Sep 2021 08:36
Portugal was a neutral country during World War 2 and Lisbon became a centre of spying activity. If it wasn’t possible to go to London or Berlin to find out what was happening then the next best thing was to mix in a neutral country with people who knew what was going on at home. Wealthy, well-connected refugees mingled with secret agents operating under diplomatic cover. Hotels in Lisbon, Estoril and Cascais became the hubs from which webs of espionage were spun, connecting Europe and the rest of the world.
Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, was one of those secret agents. Whilst we were moored in the Marina in Cascais we discovered that he had been based in the Hotel Palacio in nearby Estoril, and that the lifestyle he encountered there, and at the Casino Estoril next door, was the inspiration behind his first James Bond novel ‘Casino Royale’. The Bond film ‘On her Majesty’s Secret Service’ was filmed at the Hotel Palacio in 1968-9, and also on the Praia do Guincho beach further along the coast. There’s a lovely WW2 story about a British spy arriving in the dead of night on Praia do Guincho, complete with German papers and suitcase full of German-made clothing. The next day he checked into the hotel frequented by German diplomats and, speaking perfect German, believed himself to have infiltrated the group successfully. That was until he went to bed and, pulling back the covers, found a Union Jack and an Eton College tie!
The 007 connection gave us the perfect excuse for a scooter safari. Leaving the Marina, we headed first to Praia do Guincho which was ringed with sand dunes perfect for concealing spies. Today the sea was filled with surfers and given that there has been no wind for days but there was still surf, we did wonder how the spies managed to get ashore without getting their disguises soaked!
Praia do Guincho with Cabo Da Roca in the background. Cabo Da Roca is mainland Europe’s westernmost point.
Next we headed back to Cascais and threaded our way through its pretty cobbled streets. The optical illusion created by the paving in this square is quite disconcerting. It feels as though the surface ought to be wavy but it is actually completely flat.
John surfing the non-existent waves of central Cascais
It was a short scoot from Cascais along the sea front to Estoril where we found the Hotel Palacio and Casino Estoril. The Hotel was grand and opulent, and we could see how this would inspire the creation of James Bond as the suave, sophisticated type. The Casino was adjacent to the Hotel and it was easy to imagine the Hotel guests strolling across the lawn after dinner for an evening of intrigue and gambling.
The original ‘Casino Royale’
Hotel Palacio, Estoril
After immersing ourselves in 007’s world all day today, it must be time for a Martini - shaken, not stirred!