We had been to MegaJesus and walked through the town of Cacilhas, but otherwise hadn't explored the area across the Tagus from Lisbon. So on one of our final days in Portugal, we took the ferry from Belém to Trafaria, to check out the town and its Atlantic-facing beaches.
After having spent five days in Sintra, Jürgen and I had easily reached our palace quotient for the year... and it was still early January. But we couldn't possibly leave Lisbon without visiting the Palácio Nacional de Queluz, just fifteen kilometers outside the city.
The westernmost point in continental Europe is the Cabo da Roca, part of the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais. We bundled up and headed to the point, joining a horde of wind-whipped tourists, all of us drawn inexplicably to the continent's terminal edge.
The "Initiatic Well" that symbolizes the connection between Heaven and Earth? A maze of subterranean paths called the "Labyrinthic Grotto"? The "Portal of the Guardians" which hides an entrance into the underground? A garden meant to reflect the Cosmos and the unending human search for paradise on earth, with symbolic nods to mythology, alchemy, masonic rites and Dante's Inferno? Stop, Quinta da Regaleira, just stop! You had us at "initiatic".
"Another day, another palace." This was our creed during our week-long stay in Sintra. Today, we'd be visiting the Palace of Monserrate, an eccentric estate constructed by a pair of wealthy Englishmen in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Elise Hensler, an American songstress who won the heart of the king, might as well have been living in a fairy tale. Her Swiss-style chalet in the woods of Pena certainly looks straight from the minds of the Brothers Grimm.
After having visited the Palace and Park of Pena, your legs are likely to be done. Even if you arrived at the top of the mountain in a car, visiting these two attractions entails a lot of walking. And then you'll look at the Castelo dos Mouros, at the end of yet another long path, with towers reaching into the sky, and the steps. All of those steps! On one hand: nope, forget it. On the other hand: you're already here. So you might as well.
More from Our Trip to Sintra Sintra | Palácio Nacional de Sintra | Palácio Nacional da Pena | Parque da Pena Castelo dos Mouros | Chalet de Condessa | Monserrate | Convento of the Capuchos Quinta da Regaleira | Cabo da Roca After having visited the Palácio de Pena, we turned our attention to the park which extends behind and above it. A vast network of paths snake through the forest, leading to special buildings, statues, gardens…
Little known fact: the architect behind Sintra's Pena Palace completed the original draft in 35 minutes. Six-year-old Doris Schneebaum submitted her proposal at the end of Arts & Crafts time, having rushed to complete the assignment: "Draw a Silly Castle". Her teacher, King Ferdinand II of Portugal, took one look and was convinced. "It's perfect! This shall be my new home!"
The first of Sintra's many palaces that you're likely to spot is the one which shares its name. The Palácio Nacional de Sintra is located in the dead center of town, and everything else seems to radiate around and outward from the castle. Actually, that's probably exactly how Sintra developed.