Time to deliver on the expectations I set in my post on Lisbon. Portuguese capital is by all means gorgeous but the real enchantment is 30 minutes drive (or train ride) away.
I learnt about Sintra from the poster in Lisbon airport (so much for the trip preparation). Later our self-appointed guide slash Uber driver Joao suggested we go see it. He also kindly volunteered to drive us there. We took him on his offer the day after. It costed us 30 EUR one way, and in case you decide to do the same (i.e., go to Sintra by Uber), be sure to agree with your driver to come for you to take you back to Lisbon: clearly, there is no Uber service in Sintra (miracles end here). The advantage of this arrangement, apart from getting some life wisdom from our guide, was saving time and effort of going up the mountain. Life wisdom came handy as well: Joao showed us the shortest (and most picturesque) way down to the village.
Sintra is a small village at the bottom of the hill (and part of UNESCO heritage, even though I became skeptical about UNESCO selection after the main square of Marrakesh and, most of all, Colonia in Uruguay). The hill is crowned by the famous Pena Palace, (Palacio da Pena), surrounded by an ecosystem of parks, lakes and less significant castles. A view on one of them, the Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros), opens up from the walls of Pena Palace (so, logically, the palace itself can be seen from Castle of the Moors, in case you are as obsessive about documenting your travel with photos as I am). The bright colors of the Pena Palace, its delicate ornaments, whimsical carved towers and elegant arches make you feel like you are living the fairytale. Or visiting Disneyland.
Ideally, you should plan to spend the entire day in Sintra to properly explore everything the ensemble of the Pena Palace has to offer. We did not have the entire day (of course), so did some of the gardens on our way to the Castle of the Moors.
The only interesting thing about the Castle of the Moors is the view that opens up from its walls (not much remains of the castle itself, and I am resisting the appeal of the plastic skeletons, generously spread under the glass throughout the castle’s territory). One view you should be able to recognize already. The other one is on the gorgeous National Palace (Palacio National).
Sintra itself is quiet fascinating. A small artistic village, in part it reminds of Lisbon’s historical Alfama. And, as Lisbon itself, it has music, great food and 1 EUR alcohol on every corner. The one in small chocolate cups is cherry liquor, Lisbon’s trademark drink.
Cascais is all different story. There is not much to see except for a symbolic city hall and an old fortress, renovated inside in glass and concrete to house numerous art shops (definitely worthy of a passage!). And there is a sea. And a beach. We follow Joao’s advice (he himself is off this day) and get to Cascais by train. The same 30 min journey now costs us less than 10 EUR both ways for the two of us (and we can spot some old mansions from “the Discovery Time”).
I love that about Portugal: beach is a part of life, it is absolutely affordable, everyone can take a towel, hop on the train (which departs every 20 mins) and enjoy it. So do we, despite the unusually cold, at times rainy weather.
This post ends my story about Portugal. It was my first time there (country #38!) and I have absolutely fallen in love with it. For me, Portugal is underrated: compared to the traditional tourist meccas as Barcelona and Nice, it has so much more to offer. Including the food. And the sea.
Can’t wait to get more of it: adding a new travel destination to my dream list: Porto!