If you have a long weekend or, even better, a week to spare, how about visiting somewhere that was the first landscape in Europe to be classified with the status of Cultural Landscape of Human Heritage?
That place is Sintra in Portugal!
There is so much to see and do in and around Sintra. There’s something for everyone, whatever your interest, whether you want to relax, be active, be close to nature, or enjoy the delights of the local food and wine.
Firstly, there is the historic Old Town of Sintra with its narrow, cobbled streets, and steps that you just have to climb to find out where they lead. Because of Sintra’s unique microclimate and its close proximity to Lisbon, it first gained popularity as a summer retreat for royalty and aristocrats. Thanks to them, you can follow in their footsteps and enjoy the abundance of palaces, country estates, gardens, and forests that Sintra has to offer.
Some of the palaces and parks you can visit include:
The National Palace of Sintra, which is right in the centre of the Old Town. You won’t miss the huge white chimneys that reach for the sky. A little further up is Monserrate Palace and Gardens, where conservation and restoration continues. You might be interested in knowing that the garden of Monserrate is considered to be one of the most important English landscape gardens outside of the British Isles. Quinta da Regaleira has been referred to as ‘…an immense book of stone, telling us of Portugal and of the mythological traditions of the Portuguese people.' It is a sight to behold and quite magical. Pride of place goes to the magnificent Pena Palace, which was orginally a 16th century monastery, and last but not least, the mighty Moorish Castle.
If you like museums, this area has its fair share:
These include a toy museum (Museu do Brinquedo) in Sintra Old Town and the modern art museum (Museu de Arte Moderna) for international contemporary art in the newer part of Sintra. There is also an archaeological museum, Museu Arqueologico de Sao Miguel de Odrinhas.
If you want to be active, have some adventure and be close to nature, there are a number of things you can do:
There are a variety of hiking routes in and around Sintra; over the mountains, along the coast, or through the heathlands. You can make the most of the rugged landscape and go rock climbing, abseiling, or bouldering. These activities will be tailored to your experience and ability. Whether you’ve tried it before or it’s your first time, zip-lining is always fun. Not only that, but the canopy zip-line in Sintra is in the grounds of the Moorish Castle. You will learn a lot about the trees and the history of the forest. There are numerous hiking trails and different types of terrain for cycling whether you are interested in mountain biking or road cycling. You can even hire electric bikes, should you require extra assistance to get up the hills. If you fancy being driven around, how about taking a tram to the beach, going on a horse and carriage ride up to Pena Palace, or riding around in a UMM, an off-road vehicle that is no longer in production. Terra Azul do their bit to offset the environmental impact by planting a tree for every 10 trips they make. If you want to head to the nearest beach, which is only 12 kms away, you can partake in a number of watersports such as surfing and bodyboarding. You can bodyboard in Praia Grande where the World Bodyboard Championships are held there every year.
There are different ways to enjoy the natural beauty:
While on the subject of beaches, there are a number of beautiful sandy beaches such as Praia das Macas. This was the first beach to become popular with tourists back in the late 19th century. Even the tram terminated there when it was built at the beginning of the 20th century. Praia da Adraga is considered to be one of Sintra’s most beautiful beaches. Not strictly a beach, but you could also head to Cabo da Roca, which is the westernmost point of continental Europe.
With an unpolluted sea, there is an abundance of fish and shellfish to delight your palate, which are definitely worth trying. There’s an interesting cheese tartlet that dates back to the middle ages called Queijada de Sintra that you must try. Ginjinha is a typical drink in Lisbon and the surrounding area. In Sintra, you will have the chance to taste it from a chocolate cup, so you get the combined flavours. Obviously, wine is of huge importance in Portugal. Casal Sta. Maria, which has the most westerly vineyards in Europe is unique, not just because of its location between the Atlantic Ocean and the Serra de Sintra but the story of the vineyard.
While in Sintra you could take a trip to Mafra, which is closeby. There you will find Mafra Palace and Mafra National Park, which were used by King João. Near the cute coastal town of Ericeira is a beach called Ribeira d'Ilhas, which hosts the surf championship each year and is considered to be one of the best beaches in Europe for surfing. In the past, donkeys were working animals that people used when tending to their land. There is now a sanctuary which cares for abandoned donkeys. You can visit it for a small fee, which helps to keep it open.
Places to stay:
There are some different and unique options from which to choose. You could stay in one for the whole time you’re in Sintra or you might decide to try two or more places to stay, depending on how much time you have. Here are three very different styles of accommodation in the region that are more than just a place to rest your weary head for the night:
Casa do Valle is only 400 m from the historic centre of Sintra for cafes, restaurants and 700 m from the railway station, which makes it very accessible and easy to get to. Depending on what you are looking for and your budget, you can stay in one of the standard or superior rooms. Whichever you opt for, you will have an incredible view of some of the palaces and forest and have access to the swimming pool and Finnish sauna as well as yoga on the lawn and massages.
If you are looking for a boutique-style B&B, you should try Bons Cheiros in Odrinhas. When you walk in, you will realise just how special this place is. This is at the luxury end of the market. For those of you who love chic interiors and something a little bit different, this is the place for you. Here, you will be pampered and treated not as a guest but as a friend. If you enjoy good food and wine, you really need to have dinner here. It will be worth it. All the food comes from the garden or is sourced locally. This is a place to unwind and relax.
The final option is staying in a renovated, traditional house in a 300 year old village in Mafra called Aldeia Mata Pequena. The smallest is a tiny one-bedroom house that is the cutest thing. There you are surrounded by only a few other houses in the village and by nature. There’s a small farm and you are likely to see peacocks strolling around or perched on high somewhere.
Whatever you decide to do and wherever you choose to stay is entirely up to you. To make the most of your time in the area, if you’re travelling from London, you could hop on an early morning flight from Heathrow with TAP and get the early evening flight back a few days later. When you arrive in Lisbon, you can take the train, bus, or hire a car. Whichever mode you decide to use, you’ll be in Sintra by the afternoon because it’s only 28 kms from Lisbon.
Travel tip shared by indtravhelp on behalf of Travel Dudes.
Thanks to Active Lisbon Coast and Camara de Sintra for inviting Traveldudes and to TAP for the smooth return flight. Traveldudes maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. All views expressed are our own.