Day 25 – Sintra

Sintra. Well… it is like stepping off a train and in to a fairy tale, really. Like most of Europe there is Sintra, then there is Old Sintra. We, of course, were interested in Old Sintra. A World Heritage Site whose name means “Mountain of the Moon”, Sintra was made famous by the English poet Lord Byron who referred to it as a “glorious Eden”.

Built on hills and their valleys, there are quite a few castles, palaces and stately homes in Sintra as this used to be the summer home of Portugal’s royalty. From the 8th Century Moorish Castle, to the magical and mysterious Quinta Da Regaleira (a manor house built by a very crazy mind, with caves, tunnels and more) and the Disney-like Pena Palace, there is more to explore in Sintra than we had time for, especially with me hobbling up hill and down hill.

Edu and Simryn tried to squeeze as much in to the day as they could, but we decided to take it easy and make it one of the very first destinations for our next holiday, so we walked from the hotel Pensao Residencial ( to the Liberdade park, where we walked around looking for one of the famous fountains, which we only found, in the end, on our way back, but we had a great walk through the gardens. We found our way very indirectly to the National Palace which had at its origin an Arab palace, but today is a museum where concerts and exhibitions are regularly held.

We spent some time walking around the shopping area of the ‘Old Town’ admiring the ceramics which are produced on site. We looked at and photographed such structures as the Clock Tower, and St Martin’s church, and then took the 434 bus to Pena Palace. On arrival we decided that we would walk directly up to the palace and then take the scenic route down. With all the stairs I wasn’t really up for going inside with my sore foot. The walk down was fantastic. The palace was started as a monastery in the 1400’s but after it was damaged by lightning in 17 something and then almost destroyed in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 it lay in ruins until it was built in to an amazing cake frosting looking castle in 1838. The grounds still have two chapels and a herb garden on it, as well as various other weird and wonderful structures, like a Turkish Bath looking fountain, a Water Wheel which would make an awesome wedding chapel, a ‘Valley of Lakes’ which literally is a valley down the mountain with landscaped lakes and duck shelters on two of the lakes that look like mini palaces. We took about an hour and a half to walk the intricate network of paths towards the exit.

In the evening the four of us went for dinner at a wonderful restaurant that had a fantastic Portuguese flair where we ate delicious duck, steak, sea bass and cod, and Simryn and I had absolutely phenomenal deserts of Strawberry, Chocolate and Vanilla Ice cream (Simryn) and I had the best chocolate mouse I’ve ever experienced! Perhaps not the cheapest meal at E95 for the four of us, but certainly in the top three meals of the holiday.

I for one, cannot wait to go back to Sintra to really do it justice.

Day 24 – Spain to Portugal

We woke early this morning, had breakfast and walked outside to see that the beautiful sunshine of yesterday was hidden behind rain clouds. We cancelled our plans for a stroll to Columbus’ castle as the rain began, quickly loaded up the car, went to the toilet and began the journey to our final destination, Sintra.

You might have wondered for a second why I felt it necessary to tell you that we went to the toilet, right? Well, about half an hour away from Benalmadena, having out driven the rain and for no particular reason I suddenly realised that I no longer had my camera with me. We searched the car before turning around and driving back in to the rain to hopefully find it again. By the time we got back, now just on an hour after we left, the roads were flooded under about 20 cm of water, water was gushing like fountains out of cracks in the road, storm drains spurted like cartoon fountains with their lids hovering above the road, and rain pounded the earth with the force of hailstones. Martin and I ran back up to the reception desk, and from the desk to the flat where I recovered my camera (gratefully) and then back to return the key. By the time we got back to the car we were both soaked to the point that we could wring out our clothes and probably fill a litre bottle! It is interesting how things sometimes only become valid in retrospect. This is the same rain we had two days ago, but as yesterday was so beautiful it didn’t seem to matter, but now we feel exceedingly blessed with the weather yesterday!

Fortunately, even though we stayed wet for some time, we did out drive the rain again, and enjoyed a beautifully scenic drive through some really remote parts of Spain for the next few hours. We drove past some stunning villages, as quintessentially Spain as you could imagine, before the invasion by the tourists and a landscape dotted with ancient castles and ruins.

We eventually arrived in Badajos where we left the car and took a coach across the border to Lisbon in Portugal. From there we took a (very very cheap!) train to Sintra but by the time it arrived it was dark. We checked in to our hotel, which we’ve all agreed was the most beautiful of the trip. It is an old villa in the hills of Sintra with 20-odd rooms, large landscaped gardens, a swimming pool and lovely breakfast room. The rooms themselves were spacious, gorgeously decorated and extremely luxurious, and room service is a definite added bonus!