Travels, Portugal, Architecture & Design

Xmas in Portugal: Sintra

Castelo dos Mouros, an 8th century former Moorish castle, now a ruin c/o Christianity. Thanks Jesus!

Castelo dos Mouros, an 8th century former Moorish castle, now a ruin c/o Christianity. Thanks Jesus!

Thanks to the happy circumstance of Jed's parents living in Nairobi, Portugal happens to be somewhere in the realm of 'middle distance' for both of us to visit. It could be much worse.

While December is one of Portugal's rainiest months, we were still blessed with some gorgeous sunny days. On such a day like that we decided to go to Sintra to see the royal palaces.

View over the town and National Palace of Sintra (the white cones)

View over the town and National Palace of Sintra (the white cones)

Sintra the town is also very charming, and rather than take the bus uphill we decided to walk through the gardens and up to Pena National Palace, the main palace of Sintra. I couldn't do this until I ate something, though, and through my hungry curiousity I learned the astounding fact that you can get a sandwich literally anywhere in Portugal by walking into a shop and asking for 'um sanduiche de presunto e queijo, por favor.' Even in the smallest, least likely places, the person behind the counter will produce portugese buns and fresh mild cheese from a secret, unknown location and make you a snack for around 90 cents.

We wound our way up on hairpin turn roads for about an hour before reaching the lower gardens, another half hour of slow, touristy pace (ideal for photography) up to the Palace itself. 

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We did look around inside as well - which, to be honest, is never as impressive as you think it will be. People (even royalty, apparently) lived in small, dark rooms filled to the brim with religious tchotchkes and oversized, dark, intricately carved wood furniture. Leading to an overall impression of darkness. 

The light was starting to fade already and we rushed our way down the hill via bus to the Quinta de Regaleira, a 'small' palace by comparison and notable mainly for its gardens with underground caves, grottos, and water features. I find the gardens fascinating, conceived of to be a manifestation of the beliefs of the millionaire owner; they go from carefully maintained to lush, disorganized picturesqueness on a gradient of distance from the estate.

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If I were a 19th century lady, I would probably not be able to resist allowing myself to be dishonoured in such a garden.

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Castelo dos Mouros in the winter's evening light.

Castelo dos Mouros in the winter's evening light.

We walked back in the near-dark to Sintra's centre, and stopped at a wine bar for a taste of cheese, sausage, and wine before catching the train back to Lisbon.