Despite all my research into the area I was expecting Sintra to be a flat dry small town. It is certainly in no way flat. It is a beautiful charming semi-Mediterranean hamlet living on a hill. A town which I instantly fell in love with and will dream of until I can somehow weasel my way into living there for good.
We very purposely split our 10 day trip into two locations. We wanted a chance to experience both the country side and the city atmosphere of Portugal a country that was a first for all of us. We rented a house and a rental car, and after a 48 hour travel day, my husband very bravely hoped behind the wheel of our Ford Focus and instantly experienced the horrors of Lisbon freeway traffic. That may have been a mistake. But after only missing one exit we made it safe and sound to our house, in the country and promptly drank two bottles of wine and fell asleep.
Our first full day was spent touring Pena National Palace and The Castle of the Moors, both of which you could see from our bedroom. What a way to wake up! Well, I was actually so horribly jet lagged that I woke up at 4am and couldn’t sleep so I laid on the couch watching some pretty horrifying BBC children’s shows and some sort of Antiques Road Show game show type thing until the sun came up and I could make coffee without seriously damaging my sleep schedule.
But! Once the sun came up the views were breath taking and I vowed I would someday live here. Or at least in Sintra, there is no way I could afford to live in the house we rented.
Sintra is both a small town and a municipality within the Lisbon state. The city area is where we concentrated all of our time, but the area is general is quite large and makes up several small town areas that total in a population of around 300 thousand. So while our house was in Sintra, we were not in the city center, and still needed to walk or drive a few miles to get to the actual town of Sintra. When making plans be sure to check maps for exact locations and transportation options. Also remembering that while things may be walkable by distance that doesn’t mean it is walkable when considering your safety. European town are quite old, side walks are rare.
We chose Sintra specifically instead of the hundreds of other pictures small towns in Portugal because of the concentration of things to see and do. There were a lot of sites claiming Sintra is a perfect day trip out of Lisbon, which I suppose if you picked two or so things you HAD to see and took the train out it would be a great day trip, but there was an inexhaustible list of things we wanted to see. Even at three full days (not including our first day settling in) and we still missed over half the sites. You could really spend a week or two just in the area. In fact when we go back this is exactly what I plan to do.
Sintra on it’s own is a UNESCO world heritage site, it has a large concentration of romantic architecture due do it’s long history of being a sort of playground for royalty and the uber wealthy. In fact there wasn’t a single view I found that didn’t have some sort of palatial house sitting in the middle.
And of course amidst all the wealth and splendor are broken buildings waiting for someone to come along and love. Which I love, and very much wish I had the funds to do something about.
Due to the narrow streets and small amount of parking navigating the area can be difficult. While we didn’t have too much trouble finding places, we were also there at the low season and always got into the town area in the morning. I would not recommend driving here during the high season.
Could you imagine trying to move a couch into here? Images of the infamous Friends episode “PIVOT” come time mind. We wound up eating at our apartment a lot but we did have one quite nice diner at a place whose name I have inexcusably forgotten. We went in for tapas but wound up having burgers. Calf burgers to be exact, which means veal, you have been warned. The food was great, the service impeccable, we shared a dining room with a bunny and a staff who kept apologizing every time the power went out. We didn’t mind, we loved the whole experience.
The second full day we spent wandering around the gardens of Quinta Da Regaleira a mansion and gardens turned museum as recently as the 1990’s. On our walk up to the entrance I came across what I think may have been coffee trees. Hot cuppa anyone?! They didn’t look ready to pick.
We also spent a good portion of our days just wandering around the town. Drinking coffee, sampling pastries and getting a feel for the area. I couldn’t get enough of the sun or the details on all the buildings. The tile work is incredible.
Above a panel of glazed tiles on the upper balcony of a typical apartment building in the area. Below the entire façade of a house covered in blue patterned tiles. I plan on writing an entire post dedicated to Portuguese tiles.
The third day we were planning on going to the Sintra National Palace, a building that is now dedicate to art and specifically tile work. However both my husband and my mom had gotten the flu on the flight over and we chose to take the third day as a bit of a rest. We woke up late, packed up the apartment, and moved up our timeline to get into Lisbon. It would up being a blessing really. We hit the airport and car rental return without traffic and without incident. Our shuttle driver showed up bounding across the pickup area with a sign and a giant grin on his face. More on that in my later posts about Lisbon.