Portugal's World Heritage Contributions
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We continued down the road and realized that we had very quickly, and almost unnoticeably, risen high above the sea floor to our next destination the Cabo da Roca which is the most western point of Continental Europe, What a view from the top of the cliffs! After taking a few photos at the monument, I took a stroll in the opposite direction and found a trail head of 12km up and down the cliffs. No, I did not walk the 12kms, but I did go down a bit and found some beautiful vistas overlooking the ocean. A beautiful coastline.
We then entered the National Park of Cascais and Sintra, heading up the hill to the Monastery of Peninha which is perched at the top of the mountain and partially hidden in the clouds. My kind if place and it was vacant too!! After a short hike from the parking lot, we arrived at the monastery which sadly is abandoned (all locked up) and falling into disrepair. I could picture myself living here. The views of the surrounding area is simply breathtaking and we could see all the way to Lisbon (a good 40kms away) and beyond. We stopped a short way from the monastery to have our picnic lunch in a gorgeous pine forest surrounded by large boulders covered in moss. It was so nice and relaxing and so quite. No tourist buses, no cars for that matter, just peace and quiet.
We resumed our journey down this little mountain road hoping we were heading in the right direction since there were absolutely no directional signs but the scenery was so beautiful that even if we were wrong it would be worth it. We passed several walled doors and were speculating about what they were when a car came in the opposite direction so I had to move over and park to get out of the way. This simple fact brought us close enough to read the plaque posted above one of the small doors. These were mines of some sorts and a memorial to fallen firefighters had been created for those who died in this location fighting forest fires in 1996. They had take refuge in these mines but still perished. There was no indication of what these mines were for but we could see that the vegetation was still quite young. We finally made it to an intersection with street signs and believe it or not, we were exactly were we needed to be!! We opted not to visit the second monastery (which we really should have) and headed straight for the castles and the town of Sintra.
After purchasing our combo ticket, we started our journey uphill (everything was uphill today it seemed like) towards the Moors Castle perched high up on a mountain cliff. This castle was built directly into the rock overlooking the steep valley below. The entire complex is still being "discovered" by archeologists which we could observe working in some areas of the castle. I bet it is truly exhilarating to dig ever so patiently and find some buried artifact of the past. I wish I were patient enough to do that. This castle, to me, looked more like a refuge and defense place then a dwelling. There were many water cisterns, natural food granaries and very little "level" ground suitable for a dwelling. It was mostly walls and small guard towers. But let me tell you, the construction, the views and the sheer size the complex are absolutely worth the climb. A castle of sorts has been here since Roman times and this place has been a part of history for centuries. From the top of the towers, we could see our next castle, the Pena Palace also hight above the trees on another mountain top.
We were both tired from our trek up the Moors Castle so were very happy to pay the 4 euros to ride up to the Pena Palace. We knew there would be climbing once we got there so every little bit of help was welcome!! The palace is such an eclectic construction style, it is hard for me to classify it as one style or another. Parts are yellow while others are a dark red and yet some others are natural white stone. A very ugly figure hovers over one of the courtyard entrances while the adjacent area is covered in typical blue and white ceramic tiles. Your eye is continuously captured by a different sight. It is like a visual feast, always looking and seeing something new and different. The interior of the palace is also just as interesting as the outside. Each room is decorated in a different style, some ceilings are painted to look like wood, other are decorated with plaster moldings, another covered in silk fabric, while others are simply arched.
The entire area of the Cascais & Sintra National Forest was the first area in Europe to be inscribed by UNESCO as a Natural and Cultural World Heritage. It is truly deserving of that inscription and should be preserved for all generations to see and experience. We made our way down to the village of Sintra which is full of wonderful buildings but passed thru to our next stop, the Park and Palace of Monserrate. It is situated in a lovely park but it too requires hiking downhill the back up!! For years the palace was left unattended and fell into disrepair so only the grounds were open to the public. Lucky for us a couple of weeks ago, the first floor was open for all visitors. It is still being restored and is a work in progress but the parts that are complete are truly stunning especially the main corridor. It would be great to come back in 5 or 10 years and see it completed and restored to its former glory days. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.
As we exited the Moserrate gardens, a couple of ladies asked us if we were going back to Sintra and if we could give them a ride so I said yes. There were both from France an had taken the bus up but were not sure when the next one back would be. We stopped in the town of Sintra and walked around for a bit, had some pastries in a small local shop and headed back to the big city after a wonderful day of exploring some of Portugal's marvels.