Discovering the best of Sintra Cascais…
145 square kilometres of a UNESCO World Heritage Site brimming with natural wonders and historic treasures. Hidden sandy bays, rugged coastline, towering cliffs, thick forests and shimmering lakes. Fairy palaces, exotic architecture and paradise gardens. All within 30 km of Portugal’s capital city. Lisbon itinerary minus Sintra-Cascais Natural Park? No-can-do!
Pena Palace and Park: Crowning glory of Sintra
Grasp the big picture: Sintra town. Summer residence of Portuguese royalty for six centuries. With a name inspired by the Roman goddess of nature. Home to one of the world’s dreamiest, most flamboyant of palaces. Converted from a defunct monastery in the 19th century by Don Fernando II, king consort to Queen Dona Maria II….chapel, cloister, dome and all. UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. History quotient high. Fantasy quotient super high. Expectation level sky high!
Give in to the obligatory: Hilltop palace above a thickly forested landscape, pretty town below. Parapets, turrets, towers, drawbridge…all the usual suspects. A surprisingly harmonious blend of Neo-Gothic, Manueline, Islamic and Renaissance architectural styles. Endless rooms with opulent interiors. And of course, the piece de resistance…a bold colour riot of yellow, red, and purple highlighting three distinct wings.
Gun for the top takeaway: Short coach ride to the palace or walk up the winding road? No brainer, specially if you’re blessed with a cloudless blue sky. Let your feet be your guide…your heart will do the rest. Encased in the thick folds of the forested grounds of Parque da Pena. Dwarfed in the presence of the tall trees kissing the skies. Sensing the velvety softness of the moss hugging the trunks. Under the shadow of the highest peaks of the Serre de Sintra, through the 200 hectares labyrinth dotted with walking paths, fountains and lakes. No ancient forest this, its an elaborately landscaped magical woodland. Romance has a new destination.
Monserrate Park and Palace: Mansion extraordinaire
Grasp the big picture: 16th century chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Monserrate changes hands from one influential family after another till a neo-Gothic palace is built over the chapel ruins and finally reconstructed into a fabulous mansion for the family of Sir Francis Cook, Viscount of Monserrate and textile millionaire. 2,000 men laboured for five years to make this fantasy come to life.
Give in to the obligatory: Portuguese Romanticism at its best…the blend of Victorian, Italian and Indo-Persian sensibilities makes an unforgettable impression. Pastel pink hues of the exterior complement the intricately-worked facade. Exotic and plant motifs adorn the interior. Pointed arches and marble columns add elegance. Beautiful entry corridor and lavish rooms makes bold statements. A giant staircase spirals towards the sky under an extravagant dome. In the library, a ceiling painted to mimic carved wood takes your breath away.
Gun for the top takeaway: At 350 acres, its virtually impossible to explore this magnificent estate overflowing with waterfalls, lily ponds and over 3,000 exotic plant species, from across the world. In what is considered one of the most diverse botanical gardens in Portugal, plants are arranged based on their geographical origin…from New Zealand red flowering trees to Mexican cactus…each has a home here. Traverse the steep slopes of the densely vegetated paths and bask in the glory of the gorgeous gardens.
Adraga Beach: Secret hideaway to escape the crowds
Grasp the big picture: Winding, narrow, slow road through the deep green forest. Cedars, pines and gumtrees looming large. Unprocessed raw wonders on offer at every gentle curve. Hide-and-seek glimpses of elegant chapels and stately mansions. Lush mountain valleys below and wooded hillsides above. Windows rolled down, hair in disarray, eyes wide open…hungrily drinking in the infinity. Charms of rural Portugal, rich countryside, quiet villages, two enormous hills…and finally, the deep blue of the sea.
Give in to the obligatory: Lunch at a beachside restaurant. Correction. The only beachside restaurant on Adraga. And the ultimate luxury? You have it all to yourself! Except for the servers. And the aquarium with live king prawns…shop for your choice before they’re tossed into the hot pan. Table facing the picture windows. View to kill for. Divine food. Fresh as the sea outside. You could pitch a tent in the sand and stay over, if that was a possibility. This is the life…
Gun for the top takeaway: Happy stomach? Now time to feed the soul. On to the golden beach. Lacy, frilly waves. Silky soft sands. Towards that rocky formation resembling an elephant trunk. Thank you, Lady Luck for this unexpected treasure.
Cabo da Roca: Where the land ends
Grasp the big picture: 16th century Portuguese poet Luis de Camoes was right when he described Cabo da Roca as the place where ‘the land ends and the sea begins’. Here, at the western-most edge of Europe, where the North Atlantic stretches endlessly into the horizon…that is the universal thought crossing every visitor’s mind. There’s a whole world behind and a whole world ahead, across those fathomless waters. Tipping point, so to say! Just being there is an event in itself.
Give in to the obligatory: Beaches are beaches, but coastal cliffs and something else. And as coastal cliffs go, this one takes the cake. A rendezvous with the dramatic, vertigo-inducing verticality is in order…and that translates to 100 meters above sea level! Windswept coastal walk along the weather-beaten wooden fences, with a lovely red lighthouse for a spot of vibrance. Frothy waves breaking the blue-green of the ocean. An isolated sail boat dotting the silvery surface. A spectacle of nature to lock in your memory forever.
Gun for the top takeaway: Chances are…an impromptu trail is what your heart desires. Wander off into the rugged landscape…trail the picturesque…blend into the scenic. Succulents claiming the land for miles. Habitat scattering the distant hills. Its just you…your gypsy soul, and the clear blue skies for company.
A phenomenal sundowner…
For the happiest of endings, drive down N247 to the fishing port of Cascais on the Estoril coast for ceaseless ocean-gaping. Stop to marvel at the collapsed cave, now famously flaunted as Boca de Inferno (Hell’s mouth) before parking at Portuguese Riviera of Cascais. Laze away the evening at the waterfront boulevard, admiring the typical black-white Calcada paving. 19th-century King Luís I had a summer residence here…aristocracy still oozes from the British, French Dutch styled houses and the chic restaurants. Top tip…drive on to catch the metallic glow of a phenomenal sunset, made sensational by the image of surfers tackling the Atlantic waves. Epic!
Pin this post for later!!