I think that everyone harbours a fantasy that they should have lived in a time gone by. It might be as recent as the swinging 60’s that you feel connected to, or it might be as far back as the times of the Romans that calls to your soul. I happen to harbour the fantasy that I could have fitted in to many different eras across time but my strongest attachment is possibly to the Medieval era. Castles, royalty, working the land, magical men and women brewing potions to cure and to curse.
Of course there was also plague, corporeal punishment and serfdom but you know, I pick and choose what I like to imagine.
So, keeping these fantasies in mind, it is no surprise that as soon as I saw pictures of Sintra and the majestic castles and gardens that it contained I put it at #1 on my list of things to do whilst staying in Lisbon.
Sintra is not actually in Lisbon, a 40 minute train ride north west (costing less than €3!) will get you to just outside the town of Sintra itself and a short walk uphill will take you in to the windy streets of the town filled with restaurants and souvenir shops. As soon as I had exited the train I had seen the turrets of the Moorish castle perched higher on the mountain than I had expected, the most obvious landmark around. I quickly passed through the hubub of the town and started the ascent.
As I climbed the stairs, at first past houses but eventually through thick, cool forest, I was reminded that I am young and healthy and strong enough to do something like this climb. Despite the strain I was feeling in my knees I was thankful to the stairs for reminding me of my youth as I overtook many much older people on my walk upwards and I commended them silently for making the climb.
The Moorish castle was an amazing series of discoveries which started well and finished spectacularly.
It started with my first glimpses of the countryside stretching out through the trees.
Then that discovery was trumped when I got to my first section of the outer wall which I thought was pretty damn cool and I stopped to wonder at it for a bit (as well as catch my breath).
The outer wall was again trumped when I came to the inner walls and saw the remains of the old chapel and houses. Then finally, everything previously was overshadowed by actually climbing the inner walls and the 360º view of what I felt was surely all of Portugal but was more like 30km in all directions.
I had a grin plastered across my face and just kept laughing to myself at the crazy magnificence of the whole thing. The walls are perfectly up-kept and you are able to walk on about 80% of them. They fall off sharply in 3 directions to rocky mountainside and when standing on top of one of those sharply descending spots it feels like I imagine it does for an eagle in it’s eyrie, the world is at your feet.
I could have spent all day up there, all week even, but I had another site that I was looking to fit in to my day.
The Quinta da Regaleira.
This spot is the focus of many of the pictures you will find when researching Portugal (or at least it was for me). It looks and feels as though someone in recent times put their mind to creating a disney-esq fantasy garden filled with perfect sculptures, grottoes and monuments all lost between stunning, bloom filled, gardens that twist you this way and that with a maze of paths that reminded me intensely of Alice in wonderland.
However, the really magical thing about this garden is that it hasn’t just been created as a beautiful tourist trap. Instead, the main house and gardens have been around since 1892 when Carvalho Monteiro bought the land from wealthy merchants in Porto and designed his ideal space, just for himself. All of the aspects of the gardens and houses have been perfectly maintained so that you can still get lost in underground tunnels, climb all the turrets and even get married in the small chapel.
Again it was a space I could have spent much longer in than I did. In 2 hours I covered most of the top of garden as well as underground in the network of tunnels linking hidden caves and sunken wells and also toured the house which is like a miniature sized palace.
I was so so satisfied with my day in Sintra as I took the train home. I don’t think it is high enough on peoples list of places to go. I certainly had never heard of it before this trip but it was one of the best excursions I have ever done and I came away from it feeling refreshed from living out my fantasies for a day.