If you’re in Lisbon for more than a few days you absolutely must take a day trip to Sintra. Someone had told me about Sintra before I went so this was definitely on my ‘to do’ list. I thought it would be an excellent way to get a taste of the Portuguese countryside and also to see more of Portugal through the journey there.
The only mistake of that glorious day was planning the trip from Rossio train station. Unfortunately we arrived at the station to find it closed. I managed to ask a passer-by how to get to Sintra and was told that we needed to go down to Cais do Sodré train station instead. Luckily although it was a bit of a walk, this wasn’t too hard to find (head down towards the river). Once there I was told that there were no trains to Sintra but could travel to Cascais instead and get a train from there. We were in it for the adventure so purchased tickets from the machine. If memory serves me correct it cost €1.50. The trains run around every 25 minutes and it takes about half an hour. Timetables and prices can be found at here (click the little symbol on the top right hand side to get the English version) then choose Lisbon under ‘Urban Lines’. On the next page click the Cascais line on the left hand menu.
The journey is a pretty one as it runs along the Estoril coast. On arrival at Cascais we had a look around (an article on Cascais will be posted at a later date) then started to make our way back to the train station. On the way however, we spotted the bus station and this seemed like an interesting option so I caught one of the drivers and asked him if any buses went to Sintra. It turned out he was the bus driver for Sintra and the next bus was due to run any minute so we were lucky.
Taking the bus was another good move as we wound our way up from the coast towards the mountains. The scenery was stunning and we passed through many villages along the way. It was a very good way of getting a taste of true Portuguese life as this wasn’t a tourist bus but a local connection for local people.
It took another 20 minutes or so to get to Sintra and we were dropped near the train station. A tourist information point was near here so I dropped in to get a map and asked the way to the castle. It was then I realised there were several ‘castles’ and I didn’t know the name of the one I wanted and I couldn’t for the life of me think of the word for ‘magical’ or ‘fairytale’! I knew from the bus ride that there was a castle right up on the mountain – I also knew there was no way I could walk all the way up there! Also, even looking at it from a distance I was pretty sure this wasn’t the one.
A photograph on the map I had been given made me realise the place I wanted was Palácio Quinta da Regaleira. We began to wander through Sintra, past the Palácio Nacional da Pena and the horsedrawn carriages, through the tiny back streets (we enjoyed taking detours!) and finally along the quiet country roads winding up the mountainside.
Sintra is a magical place, the trees are ancient, mosaic and azulejos are still found everywhere. The Romantic poet Lord Byron was inspired to write poetry about it and I can quite understand why.
“Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes
In variegated maze of mount and glen.
Ah me! what hand can pencil guide, or pen,
To follow half on which the eye dilates
Through views more dazzling unto mortal ken
Than those whereof such things the bard relates,
Who to the awe-struck world unlocked Elysium’s gates?”
I was certainly awe-struck and felt a great sense of ease and tranquility flooding through me as we passed through the dapple of sunlight. The day was hot but underneath the ancient boughs we were cool. Flowers grew everywhere, along stony walls and from little gardens as well as the wildflowers in the meadows to the side of the spiraling road. We stopped for a coffee and queijadinhas (a Portuguese cheesecake type pastry that is to die for!) at a little cafe which is opposite to where Byron used to stay before taking up the walk again.
I must have taken a hundred photos as we walked, there was something interesting to look at at every step along the way and people seemed happy as they wandered past us or were driven past in old fashioned 1920’s cars!
The Quinta is a giant fairytale castle, opulent and expansive and completely over-the-top. It’s all the more glorious for its decadence. As we began to reach the walls that surround the grounds to the Quinta we came to a gate with a giant bell. Like probably many irritating tourists who’ve gone before we rang the bell just because it seemed like it was a bell to be rung! Two of the friendliest labradors can belting out from nowhere and proceeded to excitedly greet us through the gate.
The Quinta itself is classified as a world heritage site such is the beauty and interest of it. It was built in the early part of the 19th century and was influenced by gothic style and also esoteric beliefs and practices. As one who has a long time interest and practice in these things I can catagorically say the Quinta has a ‘presence’. It’s peaceful but it’s strong as well and reminds me of a similar vibe to English stone circles. The building may be ‘new’ in comparison but the land upon which it is built is steeped in mystery. Perhaps it is the gothic architecture, perhaps it is the ornate gardens, hidden places, wells and pools. Perhaps it truly was built by someone who understood this place to be an ancient sacred space. The castle reaches up to the sky in ornate turrets and down into the earth through an spiral staircase. It does not surprise me to learn that the Knights Templar may have had some kind of influence here (and with them the Masons).
It costs just €6 to enter the grounds and the castle itself and there is plenty to see and do. There is a cafe and toilets within the grounds so you can definitely make a day of it. As we arrived early afternoon I felt like I could easily have spent a lot more time there.
Quinta da Regaleira seems to both demand and invoke reverence. It’s a place to come when the world has been hard on you, when you are in love, when you are grieving and when you just want to take time out. Simply put, I sense it as a place of healing and inspiration. Artists, writers and musicians could find many paintings, stories, and songs within these walls.
Wandering back we passed the Palácio de Seteais and a walk into the grounds is a must. Just head for the main entrance and you will find yourself walking up a path that leads to a giant viewpoint which looks out across the whole of the surrounding landscape – it is breath-taking.
Our afternoon trip was dedicated to the Quinta but there is also Castelo dos Mouros, Palácio Nacional de Sintra, Palácio Nacional da Pena, and Palácio e Quinta de Monserrate. There is more than a days outings here.
I can safely say that I will return to Sintra, if only to find the piece of my heart I left there.
Quinta da Regaleira official site