The majesty of Sintra
15 February 2020 - Sintra town
Saturday the 15 February was Richard’s birthday. We had decided earlier in the week, based on the advice of one of Richard’s friends, that we would go to Sintra about 2 hours south of Baleal. I had never heard of Sintra prior to this but I am extremely happy that I found out about it. Sinatra is a town at the foothills of the Sintra mountains only 30 minutes west of Lisbon. It was once an oasis for the Portuguese royals with palaces dotted from the edge of the old town up into the soaring mountains around the town.
We had originally planned to see the old town, palaces and Cabo Da Roca in the day but quickly found that there was much more to see in Sintra than we had anticipated, so Cabo Da Roca would be left until Sunday and we would pick only one of the palaces to enjoy.
After coffee on the outskirts of Sintra and an awesome Jam biscuit that reminded me of the ones my nan used to make, we ambled down the hill past Portela de Sintra which is the main train station near the centre of the old town. As you enter the old town it is like stepping into a fairy tale. The streets become narrow and cobbled, winding every which way. Mysterious stone stairways lead through the town linking streets or sometimes running no where at all, lined with shops and restaurants and tiny wine bars. The buildings are are mixed bag of architectural styles; including Renaissance and Manueline. All seem fit perfectly with each other, the varied colours, heights and sizes create the feel of a quaint village of a time gone by.
We entered the main square, which was filled with diners spilling out onto the footpaths, everyone enjoying the winter sun. Opposite the Sintra National Palace we took the only empty table at Tasca Saloia, which advertised Portuguese tapas. Although a little touristy like much of the town, we had a delicious sous-vide chicken and spinach dish, which was rich and Moorish . To accompany this was a cheese board with Portuguese sausage. We have discovered many of the cheeses in Portugal seem to be derived from sheep or goat milk, so whilst I enjoy them, Richard is a little less keen. The sausage was a version of chorizo that was crisp and delicious. Finally the wine, a full bodied white from the Duro valley was a perfect choice for lunch. The only downside was the service was a little lack lustre with us often having to ask for things several times from multiple staff members before they would be remembered, lucky we were not in a hurry.
We had stumbled upon the Quinta da Regaleira, just to the south of the town. This is a palace built in 20th century and the main one we wanted to see. This particular palace although having a beautiful mansion is all about the gardens. The gardens are extraordinary, built into the side of the cliff, the wind through forested areas with secret passages and tunnels jutting of the main path through caves, trees and plants. The initiation well is an impressive engineering feature of the garden, at about 20m high there is a stairwell snaking around the side of the well which you can take down to the bottom, leading to further tunnels and a leaky, damp cave system.
The mansion is worth a walk through but spend your time getting lost in the gardens, with its many turrets, bridges and water features it is a beautiful and peaceful way to spend an afternoon. Entry to the whole complex will cost you 10 Euros which is well worth it.
We had spent more time than anticipated in the gardens so we made the decision not to drive the 20 minutes to the National Palace of Pena which is the colourful palace atop the mountain. By all accounts if you have the time the gardens, palace and the view are said to be wonderful.
With the day coming to a close, what better way to end it than with a glass of wine in the square, taking in the late winter sun. We picked a spot on a wooden patio, sharing a table with a quiet contemplative man at Loja do Vinho. The highlight was easily a couple from Paris and Porto travelling the world and playing their music. Called Coco Pilots I would highly recommend you check them out, they have a freshness and chemistry which made them mesmerising, they were also an absolutely lovely couple.
16 February 2020- To Cabo da Roca we go.
Not having had time to see everything we wanted to see on the Saturday we made the trip back to the Sintra region early on Sunday morning. We had a slight delay in leaving as we had to realign the steering which had been fighting us the day before. I should mention here that the car has no power steering as it is, so you really don’t want it to be fighting you anymore than it already does. Once the steering was fixed we were on the way. The drive down was much the same as yesterday as the farmers fields passed by with orchards dotted throughout the countryside, the one standout addition was Dom's cafe. Dom's cafe was a local favourite and packed to the rafters with cyclists and families out on a Sunday. Located in Torres Vedras, the Pastel de nata is one of the best I have tasted accompanied by a rocket fuel strength coffee. It is spectacular country and I would recommend taking the ‘avoid motorways’ option to explore what Portugal really has to offer.
We passed through Colares, which is a picturesque little town boasting quaint markets and cellar doors, I promised myself I would make the trip back here. We reached Cabo Da Roca around midday and although the view was wonderful it does bear a resemblance to Lands End in Cornwall due to the touristic set up which always has a certain soullessness. We quickly made an exit from the carpark which was filled with motorbike riders and headed for the Atlantic coastal trail heading to the north of Cabo Da Roca.
We decided not to follow a maps but simply follow the trail along the coastline. This was fairly clear for the most part and if it is slightly ambiguous, take the trail closest to the coast, just watch your step as there are some sheer drop offs. The trail starts of as a moderate walk, with some slopes up and down but quickly becomes much steeper with the need to clamber over boulders both up and down hills. The views a breathtaking and we picked a picnic spot which overlooked Praia da Aroeira, which features amazing rock formations and caves that can be explored if you make the scramble down to the beach.
After around 3km the walk along the coastal path becomes more strenuous and much more of a scramble for around 2km. There are increasingly steep hills to climb with uneven and unstable footing. The climb is well worth it and the difficulty adds to the satisfaction at each peak you reach. The trails becomes more defined again and eases back into a more moderate trek still boasting absolutely breathtaking views and dramatic coastline. The path will continue as long as you want to walk it but we turned around to ensure we had enough time to make the drive home in the daylight.
Our walk back took a slight detour as we ventured along a new path to see if there was a circular route back, this turned out to be unsuccessful as the path continued to head in the wrong direction. As we turned, Richard was adamant that there was a ‘path’ to rejoin the main track. Path can be defined here loosely as it was more of a goat track, well for really small goats anyway. Puffing and panting, scratched by thousands of brambles we made it to the top of the tough decent. What went up was much more challenging on the way down with a need to sit on your bum much of the time to ensure you didn't over balance. All in all Cabo de Roca is pretty for a short time, but I would stay for the Atlantic coast path, which was breathtaking, quiet and challenging.