We’ve spent the last part of our stay in mainland Portugal north of Lisbon, close to Sintra. That is a very unique area which requires a great deal of planning before the visit, but it pays off. For relaxing evenings, get a sundowner in Azenhas do Mar. Lisbon was not on our list, since we were there before, but we did visit Torre de Belém as Michal didn’t see it before.
As I already said, Sintra does require a lot of planning to enjoy it properly and beat the crowds at least a bit. It is an area full of exquisite palaces used as summer houses by aristocrats and royalty. It is very touristic, but if done right, it offers great unique experiences. Rule number one, go off-season. It is more important here than anywhere else I have been. Rule number two, if you must go by car, find at least three parking options. But better go without a car. One round around the one-way system takes approximately half an hour, if not stuck in traffic. Rule number three, choose wisely which palaces you want to see and buy tickets in advance. Then be at the entrance slightly ahead of time.
We chose Quinta da Regaleira for our visit, mainly because of the famous Poço Iniciático, a deep well which can be climbed down by stairs leading into a cave system. It was used for initiation purposes back in its time, hence the name. The entrance to the Poço is right at the top of the park, so you can enjoy the walk through it first. There are plenty of ponds, towers, caves and hideouts and it is truly a lovely place. The palace itself can be visited, too, with its living spaces and also a chapel.
Hi above all the palaces of Sintra towers the Castelo dos Mouros. Built on the 8th and 9th c., it served a strategic defence purpose. Nowadays, outlines of the walls and fortifications can be admired. It involves a lot of climbing, but the views are spectacular, all 360 degrees around.
As mentioned in previous posts, the cost can be pretty wild. In many places, the ocean created beautiful cliffs, which now offer opportunities to relax and take in the breathtaking sunset scenery. One of those places is Azenhas do Mar.
For the best sunset, two options offer themselves here. The Baobezi bar is on top of the cliffs and offers great cocktails, fresh sandwiches and seating on a wooden deck.
The Restaurante Azenhas do Mar is located down in the gorge, right at the foot of a natural pool. It is a bit more posh, but the views from their terrace over the pool are worth it.
We have already been to Lisbon before, so we decided to skip the big city this time. Except Torre de Belém, which Michal hasn’t seen yet. It was a very nice bike trip, with a bit of technical difficulties, but we enjoyed it nevertheless. The Tower was built in the 16th c. as part of the city’s fortification and was used as an embarkation point for the Portuguese explorers during the age of discoveries. Rightfully, it is now a UNESCO site. Recommend buying tickets in advance to avoid the long lines.
On the way back, and also a few times before that, we stopped in the HopSin BrewPub, to taste their beer and some tapas. The tram tracks to Sintra also start here.