The Wages of Sintra

Trip Start Aug 22, 2012
Trip End Aug 28, 2012

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Where I stayed
Lisbon Destination Hostel
What I did
Cabo da Roca Sintra
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Quinta da Regaleira Sintra
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Portugal  , Estremadura,
Saturday, August 25, 2012

The night before with pint-sized mojitos had been tough and it was to be expected that I would be feeling rough this morning. Unfortunately for me, I'd booked a tour to Sintra and despite my delicate condition I had to go. Clearly I was going to pay for the excesses of the previous night...

Sintra is a village, where Lord Byron is said to have stayed in search of inspiration, to the west of Lisbon. The village itself is very quaint but, as It is inside a world heritage site, it is a tourist hotspot. Living in a world heritage site is never going to be cheap, however, the residents are rich beyond belief. The houses are hidden from view of the streets, but as the village is mountainous you can look down on certain 'houses’ and you suddenly see that they are not houses at all, even the term mansions don’t do these ‘abodes’ justice. Essentially, they are mini-castles. Nonetheless they are not garish or ostentatious; they are just classy without rubbing your face in their wealth.

Our tour of Sintra started with a visit to a shop that specialised in Portuguese gastronomy. Their speciality was typical Portuguese goods: port, jams, cheese and, of course, ginja. We received an explanation of what all these things were, as well as a tasting. Jam is not my thing, but they were good, especially the jams made from port, whiskey and even champagne. The different classifications of port were then explained, as well as being able to taste them. Again, I don’t much care for port, but when I even I was able to appreciate the ones that cost €60 a bottle. As for the cheese, there’s a special cheese that they mix with jam which is called ‘The piss of angels’ (sic). Orgasmic, doesn’t even begin to describe it. We finished the visit with ginjinha in a chocolate cup. Ginjinha is a cherry liqueur, normally served in a shot glass, but this time the ‘glass’ was made of chocolate – yes, chocolate! The idea is you drink half of the ginjinha and then pop the chocolate cup with the remaining liquid in your mouth. Heavenly. That alone made my struggle through my hangover worthwhile. Ah, but it was early days yet.

Afterwards we had a look around the village before going for a short walk through the botanical gardens. Let me say this, if I thought Lisbon was a difficult place to walk around, then I was in for a rude shock, for Lisbon is like Amsterdam in comparison to Sintra! Fortunately one of the tour party was a nurse and she often wondered aloud if I was about to have a heart attack. I’m not sure why; maybe it was because I was miles behind everyone as we were walking; maybe it was that I looked as if I’d just stepped out of a swimming pool in the glaring heat; maybe it was because I’d given up trying to speak as I wheezed my way around. Who knows? All I know is that worse was yet to come.

We were given a choice of three places to visit: the Castelo dos Mouros (castle of the Moors), Pena’s Palace or the Quinta da Regaleira. The descriptions were thus; the castle was basically a fortification. There was nothing inside, the only thing to do there was to walk along the ramparts and take in the panoramic view of Sintra and the surrounding area. Walk along ramparts??? Remembering my panic attack just the day before at the Castelo de S. Jorge, there was no way I was doing that! Pena’s Palace was basically a museum that didn’t sound particularly interesting. While the Quinta da Regaleira was like an interactive garden/park plus a house. It was supposedly a fun visit. Well, misguidedly, that’s what I chose.

Quinta da Regaleira is an old summer residence that was taken over Masons. Apparently, even Walt Disney stayed there and found inspiration for Cinderella there.  The garden is enormous and, unfortunately for me, set halfway up a mountain. This meant a lot of uphill walking. It is fun, with caves and tunnels to explore, as well as replica castle towers to climb, but exhausting doesn’t even begin to describe it. 

Copious litres of perspiration later (or two hours if you prefer), it was time to leave. Thank God! I did enjoy the place and I would definitely recommend it, but I won’t be going back unless I’ve done some marathon training first. By the time we were picked up by the hostel van, I was like one of the walking dead, so I was more than happy to crawl into the van. Next up was a trip to Cabo da Roca, which is the most westerly point of Europe. I have to admit, it was beautiful. It’s still only my fourth day here, but I’m continually being surprised.

Finally it was time to head back to Lisbon. We took the coastal road, driving through Cascais and Estoril. Outside the village, Sintra is a dense forest, however, the second you leave the park the terrain changes immediately. It’s virtually a natural border between Sintra and Cascais – lush forests on one side and desert on the other. For that’s what happens, suddenly as you take the coastal road heading towards Lisbon, you have the ocean on your right hand side and a desert on your left.

I tried to take in the sights on the way back, but it was impossible. The day’s exertions (as well as the night before) had finally caught up with me and I was dead to the world! Despite it being a Saturday, there would be no repeat trip to Bairro Alto that night. In fact it was all I could do to walk into the hostel when we were dropped off. Sintra had exacted a high price for my night on the town; that night I slept like a baby.
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