Whilst on a business trip to Lisbon I decided to take some time out to visit the acclaimed nearby town of Sintra.
Forty by minutes by train from Lisbon’s city centre Estacio Rossio, Sintra is one of Portugal’s highlights, even for a nation with more sparkling jewels than Queen Elizabeth & Melania Trump combined.
The train is a local commuter, plying it’s trade back & forth several times a day. There is also another regular service from Estacio Oriente, handier if you are coming or going by air. Tickets are currently €2.25, though you do need to buy a travel card to store the ticket on costing half a euro.
Just my luck, I missed the 16.00 by 60 seconds so had to wait for another 40 minutes. Handily there is a trendy hostel at platform level serving cheap coffee & snacks so I plonked myself there for half an hour.
The second stop was Benfica, but no amount of neck straining enabled me to spot the world famous Estádio da Luz, home of Portugal’s best known football team.
I arrived spot on time in glorious sunshine but in true Wilbur fashion I couldn’t find my hotel, requiring telephone assistance from the wonderful Casa Pendoa in the Centro Historico.
All my time wasting, together with the fact that the tourist bus 434 that completes a circuit taking in the Moorish Castle & stunning Pena Palace decided to be 30 minutes late, meant that I would have to save the perfect views up in the pine-covered hills of the Serra de Sintra for next day.
I therefore pleased myself by visiting the outside of Sintra Palace with its unusual white protrusions (chimneys I think), wandering the pretty narrow streets and having a cool beer as the sun slowly melted behind the battlements of said castle.
Dinner that night was a late affair at a splendid restaurant called Tulhas. The meal I chose was light as it was nearly 10pm, but the Portuguese red was divine. The award winning blend was called Escada Touriga Nacional and it just so happened that the waiter knew his wine, extolling the virtues of my drop in particular and Portuguese viticulture in general.
I slept well that night, especially as my Casa had provided some tawny port for a nightcap.
Breakfast arrived at 8.30, fresh bread to go with the cheese, butter, quince jam and punchy coffee already thoughtfully provided. I liked Casa Pendoa a lot.
Outside the window all you could see was fog, however I didn’t mind in the slightest as I had been reliably informed that it would disappear by lunchtime. Plans were therefore set – walk to the Quinta da Regaleira Palace & grounds that morning and head into the mountains that afternoon.
Quinta was built from 1904 to 1910, during the last days of the Portuguese monarchy, the romantic property first belonging to the Viscondessa da Regaleira, but later acquired and enlarged by António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro as his favourite country estate.
Monteiro commissioned the Italian set-designer and architect Luigi Manini to create a flourish to the existing buildings and to landscape the large gardens.
The result is wonderful – the main residence is a worthy effort, but it is the grounds that take the grand prize. Crowds of colourful flowers, secluded grottoes, weathered statues, atmospheric lily ponds, a tumbling waterfall, cascades of steps, an ornate bridge and even an antiquated tennis court.
There is also a small chapel and a viewing tower, folly like in appearance, it looked a perfect place from which Rapunzel could drop her hair to her waiting prince.
It was now 1pm and the fog was annoyingly hanging around. I decided to head up hill on any account and didn’t have to wait long for bus 434. €6.90 for a round trip. My plan was to visit the Moorish Castle and save the amazing Pena Palace for a return visit with Mrs Wilbur.
Annoyingly we took an age to get going as everybody had to pay the driver in cash and as a result it was 20 minutes later that we left the next stop (Sintra Railway Station) to then start climbing into the hills.
As we started to get higher the rain started falling and if anything the mist grew thicker. So much for the gloom being burned off by mid-morning as was the norm, murky conditions were here to stay.
Nevertheless, by the time we neared the castle there was a huge queue of cars so that we crawled the last mile or so. In a scene more akin to a Lidl car park, there were several drivers waiting for a roadside parking space that were causing the issue in the narrow thoroughfare. Once those obstacles were cleared we were able to proceed at a decent pace.
As my stop was called out and the drizzle continued I did briefly reconsider my decision, but my stoicism returned and I went for it. The castle as it turned out was only 5 minutes walk to Pena Palace so I figured I would pay the €8 castle entrance fee and then walk to the palace for an external view.
In the event, I sped around a small part of the castle in pretty awful conditions (especially considering my no coat status) and when I got to the palace, nothing could be seen externally whatsoever!
I wasn’t upset in the slightest as I know I will return in the future. It will actually be great to contrast and compare – I hope!
With the weather not much better back down in town, I decided to ‘commute’ back to Lisbon for a final few hours in the sunshine. On the way back to the station I lingered to take in the splendid Camara Municipal (town hall).
An al fresco dark beer and quiche later followed by a quick march by the Atlantic, it was time to venture back to the frankly horrid airport T2 (T1 is a hundred times nicer).
Despite the inclement conditions, I could see that Sintra was a beautiful place with loads going for it. I will probably return next year out of season and pray that blinking mist doesn’t linger.