We took the red-eye flight so it would have been nice to have just hopped in a cab at the airport in Lisbon and gone straight to a hotel. But all for putting a little extra “adventure” into every trip we take, we tried to figure out which metro station would take us to the correct train station that would take us to the lovely little hillside town of Sintra, where he had booked a bed and breakfast for our first few nights in Portugal.
It became very apparent very quickly that Portuguese people are some of the kindest we had ever in encountered in the world.
Every person we stopped (with our horrible attempts of asking for help in a weird mix of Portuguese and Spanish) was really eager to point us in the right direction or help us with our metro tickets. We made it to Sintra in one piece (although we considered throwing all of our luggage away because it was just too cumbersome for the train) and found the charming Villa Mira Longa, our bed and breakfast, after a high-speed taxi ride through twisty, narrow mountain roads.
Sintra is stunning. If there was ever a town that could be the backdrop for a fairytale, Sintra is it.
Nestled between lush, misty mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, Sintra is littered with castles and palaces, many within walking distance of the center of town. The first day, we walked down the hill after breakfast to Quinta Da Regaleira, a palace located in beautiful, expansive gardens.
We spent nearly five hours wandering through the gardens in awe. There were tunnels, grottos, caves, towers, and beautiful trees and flowers that just never ended. We were blown away because we were told by the owner of the B&B that this palace was the least interesting of what Sintra had to offer.
Perhaps the one downside to Sintra was the large amount of tourists. It seemed that we were running into Americans at every turn, which did take away from the Portuguese feel of the town. On the other hand, we met people from all over the world who were vacationing in Sintra.
At the B&B, there was a communal breakfast served each morning at large dining table downstairs. The first morning we had breakfast with a couple from Australia who spent nearly half of every year traveling. The next morning we sat down to breakfast with a couple of teachers from Switzerland. We decided we would try really hard not to discuss our dismal vacation time the following morning at breakfast. Luckily, an Slovak family, who was similarly pressed for time on their short vacation, sat with and talked about the millions of things they were trying to cram into their schedule. We felt very at home.
On our second full day in Sintra, we decided to visit two sights: The Pena Palace and the old Moorish castle. You could see both of these up on the mountain after the morning fog cleared each day.
When we woke up that morning, it was so foggy that almost nothing was discernible from our window. Feeling a little bummed, we wandered downstairs and were met by the manager of the B&B, who seemed to read our minds. He exclaimed with a boyish grin that visiting the Pena Palace in the dense fog was his favorite thing to do as a small child, because the large palace would suddenly pop out and tower menacingly over him as he hiked through the forest. As we walked through the winding forest, we did find it to be particularly magical and enchanting. We stumbled across a lonely lamp-post that made my hubby giggle with delight. Suddenly, we were in Narnia!
Around the next turn after the lamp-post, an oddly colored wall began to show itself through the fog. It truly was an excellent “entrance” by the Pena Palace.
The inside of the palace was certainly impressive, but we were plagued by loud tourists in the corralled hallways as we were pushed from room to room. I imagine it would have been an overwhelmingly awe-inspiring experience if it could be toured in silence.
For this attraction, the surroundings outside of the palace were much more enjoyable than the main tour inside. Luckily, the Castle of the Moors, or Castelo dos Mouros, is a relatively short walk from the Pena Palace. Being a world history teacher, I was particularly excited to see this castle that was built in the 700’s C.E. It’s amazing to walk along the walls of a structure as old as that castle. Beware, there are many steep steps at the castle so being in good shape helps. Hiking all the way to the top towers of the castle was very rewarding. The views of both the Pena Palace and Sintra were unforgettable.
Later that night, we were walking back to the B&B after dinner, and we noticed the Moorish Castle was brightly lit. It was a lovely sight on our last night in Sintra. Overall, the trip to Sintra was fantastic. It’s a charming little city full of history, but I was eager to move on to our next destination with the hope of a more “Portuguese” experience. Sintra is not a place where you’ll find yourself needing your Portuguese dictionary as the town caters heavily to foreigners.
The article was written by Natalya Pobedova a travelling nomad and backpacker from beautiful Brno Czech Republic. She is 27 and makes her living as a free lance web developer to support her travelling needs. Also she is running a lowcosters flight search website for backpackers as a hobby called http://www.travelsiders.com/ She dreams to visit Brazil and speak Portuguese fluently. She visited 14 countries already and most of them are European.