Sometimes my holiday destinations are determined by whether it’s cheap and easy to get there, sometimes it’s about the weather, sometimes it’s to attend an event or exhibition. However, my most recent holiday was mostly determined by Pinterest – a first for me. We’d had Lisbon on our list of places to go for a while but when I saw photos of Sintra on Pinterest and realised it’s only 28km outside of Lisbon, we knew we had to combine the two. Although an easy train ride connects the two, we hopped into a cab at the airport and it was a quick and easy 40 euro trip, much less hassle than heading into Lisbon and then finding the train (although we did get the train back from Sintra to Lisbon and it was super easy).
We checked into our hotel, the Sintra Boutique Hotel and on the recommendation of the hotel staff, headed for Dona Maria where we sat out on the terrace and enjoyed a wonderful lunch and bottle of wine with a view over the National Palace of Sintra (of which we also had a view from our hotel room).
We followed it up with a stroll through town and shots of ginja (a Portuguese cherry liqueur) served in edible chocolate cups – a good idea for all shots!
Sintra town itself is full of small streets and staircases and was decked out with festive garlands, putting us very much in the holiday mood.
Although the old town of Sintra is pretty, the main attraction for visitors are the various castles, estates and other buildings dotted around the area which comprise a UNESCO World Heritage site. Before we went I’d done my research to try and work out what to see first and decided that what seemed to be the main attraction in Sintra, the Palacio de Pena was best visited first thing in the morning to take advantage of our base in Sintra and to get there before the hordes of daytrippers arrived from Lisbon. So, with an afternoon to spare, we decided to visit Quinta de la Regaleira, with the bonus being that it was an easy 15 minute stroll from our hotel.
Quinta da Regaleira was the summer residence of the Carvalho Monteiro family and the house sits within extensive fairytale grounds intersected by paths and featuring a chapel, wells, grottos, towers, statues and intricate benches. It was like falling into Narnia. Upon entry we were greeted by a promenade of the gods and perhaps Aslan?
Wending our way along paths lined with cedars, magnolias, lime trees and a whole host of others I couldn’t identify, we came to the Lake of the Waterfall, a rocky outcrop with waterfall hiding behind it a system of pitch black caves, navigable by stumbling or phone light only. We made our way with trepidation over the stepping stones (the last thing I fancied was ending up in the algae covered water, especially as I had no idea if it was ankle-deep or neck-deep!) and into the network of tunnels.
We popped out at the Initiation Well which feels like a tower but is sunk several floors (over 25 metres down) into the earth with a spiral staircase winding around a central void. It looks like it should belong in Lord of the Rings or something like that.
We spent a few happy hours just wandering around the grounds while I pretended to be Titania in my own fairy kingdom. My photos really don’t do the place justice, only a visit can convey the real sense of the place and its beauty and calm.
The grounds really are the star of the show and so we spent most of our time wandering around, only heading back to the house at the end of our visit, shortly before the whole place closed.
Save for the Hunting Room which contained a beautiful floor mosaic, the interior didn’t quite match the beautifully elaborate exterior. Although the third floor, which featured intricate turrets and finials, offered great panoramic views across the area and over to the sea.
For two city dwellers, we loved our afternoon spent not surrounded by grey buildings but instead just peaceful, gorgeous nature. It was really the most magical place I think I’ve ever been.