Sunday 8th of April by CarpediemEire
Our final day in Lisbon, we endeavoured to leave the city behind, and visit the Sintra Hills. It was the summer retreat for the kings of Lisbon for many centuries and the many palaces and mansions attest to that. This was one of those road trips that show how organic travelling can be. We had intended to visit the palaces of Pena and Sintra, along with Praia de Adraga beach but the day took a turn for the unexpected.
We rented a car for the day booking on rentalcars.com my favoured site. The pick up location was near Parque Eduardo VII, about 10 minutes walk from our hotel. I always book everything in advance; full insurance, car seats, so when I get to the counter all that remains is to sign it over and check the car. I had pre-booked a Volkswagen Polo, for which the insurance cost more than the car, so we were pleasantly surprised to get a Fiat 500 convertible. Using my iPhones google maps off we set to Sintra, which is about 25km northwest of Lisbon.
We arrived in Sintra around midday and first impressions were it certainly lived up to expectations. Second impression was that it is difficult to find a parking space. We did eventually after doubling back on Volta Duche. From here we had caught our first glances of the handsome town of Sintra, dominated by the unusual Sintra National Palace with its iconic conical chimneys. We walked back to the gothic and gorgeous Camara Municipal. It’s the town hall of Sintra, constructed in the early 20th century, and Neo-Manueline in style.
We next drove up to the Palace of Pena, where the car that took us to Sintra proved to be a liability. Try as we might, we could not find parking. We eventually abandoned the plan and backtracked. We had intended to visit Praia de Adraga and return to the Palace of Pena after but while passing Quinta de Regaleira we were enticed inside.
We weren’t disappointed. It’s rare a place impresses me so much when I didn’t expect it. The house and estate are like an extract from a fantasy novel. There is a magical and mythical feeling within. The Estate was purchased in the late 19th century and work began to create a location that reflected the owners ideologies and interests. He had a vision of a property that blended imagery from alchemy, masonry, and the Knights Templar, with Gothic, Manueline and other styles. What resulted is bizarre and brilliant.
We found parking in a local hotel called the Tivoli Palacio de Seteias. Entry to the UNESCO recognised grounds was only €6 for an adult. This is for an unguided visit but maps are provided. Guided tours are available for €10. Ornaments and structures litter all corners of the four hectare estate. The grounds are supposed to represent the cosmos and each monument is significant in this.
There is a cafe outside the main house and we refueled there before heading in. The ground floor is lavishly furnished with murals adorning the walls. The upper floors are more barren, but there are balconies from which to view the grounds. One notable room is the library, which has a partially mirrored floor, guaranteed to induce vertigo.
But the grounds without doubt are the main attraction, and easily traversed in an hour or so. Tunnels link different parts, and several of these converge on the initiation well. This is a fascinating subterranean structure and a winding stairs takes one back to the surface level.
There are a number of really interesting structures most notably;
- The aforementioned initiation well,
- The labyrinth grotto, an underground grotto
- The terrace of the gods, a statue lined walkway
- The small chapel with its beautiful stained glass windows,
- The towers that line each and every corner of the ground, and mini me (Nina) endeavoured to climb every one.
Praia de Adraga
Next we motored west towards Praia de Adraga, stopping at a bar in Almocageme for lunch. Not too much imagination as hot dogs and sandwiches are served. Then it was on to the beach. It’s a thirty minute drive from Sintra, through a collection of narrow snaking roads. Having found this beach breathtaking during my research the real thing duly emptied my lungs.
It is perfectly remote with no bars or beach clubs to ruin the natural beauty. Large sea stacks provide a target for the Atlantic’s booming waves, with deep caves and arches cut into their base by sea erosion. The immaculate sand stretches from there for several kilometres of uninterrupted beach. It is backed up by wild hills and giant boulders. This is my idea of a beach. The wildness was magnified by a strong coastal wind, but we spent an hour here, Nina playing and us exploring.
The round trip to the beach took longer than expected so when we arrived back in Sintra we deliberated that there wasn’t enough time to see our original destination the Palace of Pena. Instead we stopped at the Castelo de Mouros.
The Castelo de Mouros was built by the Moors in the 9th Century but fell into ruin after the Christian reconquest. It was restored in the 19th century. What remains are the significant battlements that snake around the Sintra hills, high above the town. Entry is €8 to see the castle. Be prepared for a lot of walking and a lot of steps. The castle is a series of stairs connecting the battlements which sit atop the various hills in their path. The views to Sintra below and across the hill to the Palace above are exhilarating. It is not for those who are immobile. I was prepared for this, or so I thought. What I wasn’t prepared for was Nina’s idea to run through most of the site. She thought it was hilarious and I struggled to keep up. Sadly my opportunities to take photos suffered and I only had a fleeting appreciation of the castle. Irony struck hard for Nina too, as we descended from the final tower, she realised she had outdone herself and got a stitch. Her requests for me to carry her fell on very deaf ears.
I didn’t anticipate the volume of things to do in Sintra, and one afternoon didn’t do it justice. I advise to take the train, spend the night, don some good shoes, and spend the days walking the trails between the palaces. Hopefully good fortune will take me back here again.
Returning to Lisbon I had another dose of drama as I looked to refuel the car. Every service station that GPS took me to was actually a car rental garage. I went through about 5 before I found an actual one. I’ll admit I can be an angry driver at times, and this was certainly one of those times.
For our final night we had dinner in an Italian restaurant called Italy Caffe Ristorante. The omens were good, it was a large restaurant and very busy on that Monday and had glowing reviews. Sadly the pasta that appeared was only passable and my entrecôte of beef was barely edible. Disappointing when so much seemed to be going for it.
Our Lisbon Adventure was drawing to a close. The new day brought with it an early taxi ride to the airport and a flight back to Dublin.
Lisbon justifiably lives up to its rep as one of Europe’s most interesting capital cities. It’s friendly populace endeared themselves to us, and it’s history broadened our minds. It’s diversity attracts solo travelers, couples and families. I foresee a future return.
To read days 1-2 of my Lisbon Adventure ….Lisbon with the Little One- Days 1 & 2
To read days 3-4 of my Lisbon Adventure….Lisbon with the Little One – Days 3 & 4