I wish people would give Sintra the chance it deserves. Spend a night, or two or three here. It was a main highlight from my trip to Portugal. Sintra is truly enchanted, a chapter out of a fairy tale book… not to be experienced by hopping on and off buses with herds of tourists pushing and racing. You’re shortchanging yourself if it’s a day trip from Lisbon.
Take a stroll through Sintra’s alley ways, under a stone archway or an unexpected turn down winding stairs with steps protected by thick green foliage. It may lead you to another castle or even a private residential neighborhood filled with homes from a period that you wish you belonged to. It’s truly magical and I’m convinced Walt Disney and co. channeled some inspiration from here for some of the classics.
I chose Lawrence’s Hotel for my accommodation and I was not disappointed. The suite was beautifully appointed, elegant, charming and full of character. It had the perfect upscale B&B feel to it, all with a great view and at a good price. On top of that, it was steps away from my favorite castle, Quinta da Regaleira.
Lawrence’s Hotel, Sintra
Now about Quinta da Regaleira, I am once again going to use this descriptive adjective because it’s the only word that fully embodies its aura: Enchanted. Much of the feeling comes from the rich grounds but also from the Manuelin architecture. Manuelin architecture is detailed, intricate, romantic and ornate. As quoted from Wikipedia:
This innovative style synthesizes aspects of Late Gothic architecture with influences of the SpanishPlateresque style, Mudéjar, Italian urban architecture, and Flemish elements. It marks the transition from Late Gothic to Renaissance. The construction of churches and monasteries in Manueline was largely financed by proceeds of the lucrative spice trade with Africa and India. ….The style was much influenced by the astonishing successes of the voyages of discovery of Portuguese navigators, from the coastal areas of Africa to the discovery of Brazil and the ocean routes to the Far East, drawing heavily on the style and decorations of East Indian temples.
Here are some pics from Quinta da Regaleira
The grounds even have cave like structures which lead you through small tunnels with hidden gems to be discovered. One could spend the whole day here. After doing just that, my travel partner and I ventured to the town centre to grab a bite. Sintra is small and when we stumbled upon a restaurant right in the heart of the centre, we became a little weary of it being a tourist trap. It was a little bit of that but only because of the slightly inflated price and not because of the horrible food like you find in tourist traps in lets say Rome. Seated outside on that fine weather day, we soaked in the sights of little shops, planted flowers and fellow travelers while enjoying a glass of Alvarinio at sunset. The food was delicious. I ordered octopus and he the traditional Portuguese dish of bacalao.
Many chefs have their spin on bacalao, this one was a bit non traditional but still yum. Both of us ordered the chocolate tart with accompanying home made ice cream for dessert. This was earthy, no frills cuisine. A great meal. The restaurant was Cafe Paris, Central Palace Hotel.
Two other restaurants I would highly recommend are Saudade (a cafe with high tourist traffic) and the one situated right at our hotel, The Lawrence’s Hotel restaurant. Just be careful with the latter and go during regular meal times. I showed up at 4pm once and service was very spotty with a reduced menu. Nau Palatina is also a great option, family run restaurant with simple fare. After dinner, we strolled along Sintra’s streets and purposely got lost. I don’t know what was in the air but we were singing with passer byers joining in. Everyone was super friendly. The streets and alleys were hilly in some places and my legs were tired from the evening.
I got a bright and early start and headed to the Moorish Castle as my next stop. I was alone this morning as my travel partner had a meeting in Lisbon to attend to… and very much in the mood for some exploration. And wow, this place really stuns. It will be one of your stops if you’re doing the day trip but its better if you’re not bound by time. The fortress is spectacular and shows off the best views of Sintra. The castle itself is impressive but don’t miss the surrounding boulders, Royal Tower and walkways.
Moorish Castle and Surrounding Fortress and Grounds
I ended at a time in the afternoon where all the tourist buses had left and not many taxis were around. I was told it wasn’t a long walk down the mountain. I threw my sandals over my shoulder and headed down on foot with a few others in front. I think it took a little over an hour. I couldn’t remember a more pleasurable time I had walking on my own.
As always, hotels and restaurants are self funded and reviews on this site are unsolicited unless explicitly mentioned.