Sintra and beyond

Trip Start Apr 02, 2012
Trip End Jun 04, 2012

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Where I stayed
Living Lounge Hostel Lisbon
Read my review - 5/5 stars
What I did
Quinta da Regaleira Sintra
Read my review - 5/5 stars
Palacio Nacional de Sintra
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Portugal  , Estremadura,
Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Despite our late night and Julia feeling a bit under the weather, we set out on another awesome hostel-provided-tour to Sintra and beyond. Sofia led our tour for the day, sharing her awesome insights into Portuguese history, stellar driving skills, an amazing home cooked feast, and most importantly her good company. One of the most memorable insights she shared with us was that she feels a bit self conscious saying “beach” with her accent because it sounds like “bitch” - thank goodness she was the one driving because we could not stop laughing after that. Sintra was beautiful, definitely a must see if you’re in Lisbon. Our first stop was the Palace of Pena, where I had the opportunity to confront my fear of heights yet again. The colorful Disney looking palace was situated high up on the hilltop (or mountain top?). Either way, it offered unbelievably breathtaking views with many narrow walkways winding around the exterior of the castle, with sheer drop offs. We wandered around the interior, as well, which was spectacularly well preserved. They had a crew set up in a room, hard at work restoring chairs and scaffolding and other original pieces. With the rain chasing us, we headed to a mansion - Quinta da Regaleira - that was built by a man named Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, who also happened to be a Mason. The place was fantastical and eerie. We didn’t spend much time inside the mansion, as the most fascinating elements were within the large gardens surrounding the house. Peppered through the gardens were cave entrances that lead to mysterious rooms, gathering circles, and in other places beautiful ponds with stone steps serving as a path for crossing. It felt like being in a weird secret garden and getting lost in the dark caves was a blast. The architecture of the house, and even the interior, add to the intrigue - as well as all the black cats who seem to call the lawn their home. We spent the rest of the day touring small town shops and sampling sweet pastries, tarts, ginjinha (Portuguese liqueur) in chocolate cups, piri piri sauce, cheese, chorizo, the oldest type of liquor in the world (made from honey), and various port wines. It’s amazing how, after all of this, we somehow had room for the feast that Sofia prepared for us. By this time, the rain had caught up with us, impeding our ability to have a picnic outside as Sofia had planned. The solution we devised ended up being quite the special experience. Since we were such a small group, we were able to fold down one of the rows of seats in the van and set it as a table, complete with table cloth and all. Safe from the rain, with good music and good company, Sofia began to unpack the spread she brought. She started with fresh bread, three types of cheese, chorizo and Iberian ham, olives and this amazing pumpkin spread she made from scratch. All of this was accompanied by green wine, which is a very unique tasting sparkling white wine, native to Portugal. How we then made room for the seafood, potato, veggie dish that she made is remarkable (in fact I believe we all had two helpings). At this point, it was a joke when she pulled out the most decadent chocolate cake I had seen in ages, yet we ate it and marveled over every bite. The Portuguese I know and love sure can cook! Utterly stuffed and pleasantly exhausted from our day, we headed back to the hostel, winding our way along the coast, visiting the western most point of Europe, Cascais beach and more. Back at the hostel, we met up with our crew for another evening full of Sagres, wine, cards and loads of laughs. 

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