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davidx Sintra - A travel report by David
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Sintra,  Portugal - flag Portugal -  Lisboa
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davidx's travel reports

Sumptuous Sintra

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Do try to see Sintra, even if only for a couple of hours, although it justifies far longer. It makes an easy day-trip from Lisbon by public transport [round trip via Cascais possible] or a good base for seeing a lot of Portugal with a car.

The town
The town
Sintra has nothing like the public transport potential of Lisbon and, after a short time, you’d find yourself starting with a trip into Lisbon and out again, thus shortening your time. From Lisbon to Sintra the trains are frequent and cheap. It’s far from a lovely journey but it’s mercifully quick. [N.B. There are no toilets on these trains.] On the other hand you DO NOT want a car in Lisbon. The traffic is horrendous and you will waste time getting in and out of the city. You are better staying outside and there can be nowhere convenient to Lisbon more beautiful than Sintra. If you go by train, you will need to travel around Sintra’s principal sights by bus. For this there are two types of Rover tickets, both permitting you to get on and off at will. The cheaper one covers the main Sintra sights, the town and National Palace, the ruined Castelo dos Mouros and the amazing Pena Palace. The other will cover you for any Stagecoach buses and is valid for any bus trip in this report. Another general tip. Sintra doesn’t make much concession to the less able-bodied and both palaces have an inordinate number of steps. The Castelo dos Mouros involves quite a steep, though short, ascent to a ridge. My friend and I only managed the last – but those in this category should still go for the exteriors and the fabulous views. The Castelo dos Mouros and Pena Palace are covered below. About the National Palace I know little beyond its external appearance and the number of steps. Even the external view is enough to label it as something worth seeing. In one section I shall describe a round trip with considerable virtue. However I think it particularly suited us because we couldn’t take full advantage of Sintra. If you’re fit, spend as long as you can in Sintra if you only have the one day. Better, go twice and do the round trip the second time. I guess there’s too much even at three ‘biggies’ for one day and there’s plenty we missed.

Favourite spots:
O Castelo dos Mouros
O Castelo dos Mouros
Even though my heart only allowed one ‘proper’ visit to an attraction, I hesitate here. That’s not because there’s anything wrong with the Castelo dos Mouros. It’s really magic. You leave the bus after it has climbed a long way and there is no payment, just a fine little path to the top of the ridge, fairly flat at first and then increasingly steep. The gorgeously shaded woods restrict the view down over Sintra, so that it’s both sides that are revealed from the ridge top, when you emerge from the trees onto rock. The Castelo stretches for some considerable distance along the ridge and is mainly formed from the old battlements. The views out are stupefying and encompass the town of Sintra, almost vertically below, the Pena Palace at much the same height as the viewpoint and other hills stretching northwards. I think this really is my favourite but the hesitation was caused by our excitement at even the outside of the Pena Palace, which follows.

What's really great:
Pena 1
Pena 1
How can anyone describe the Pena Palace? ‘A compelling riot of kitsch’ is part of the Rough Guide’s description but the word kitsch is surely too mild. It’s gloriously mad, even seen exclusively from the outside, and apparently the interior is just as the last royals left it, when they got out of Portugal in a hurry. When you leave the bus, there’s a sort of tourist vehicle to take you through the grounds to near the palace entrance. This may be a ramp but we found it a relief after the Castelo dos Mouros. Then you walk through a mock-Manueline gateway [there’s mock everything somewhere here!] and there it is with its extravagantly wild display of turrets, towers and domes –following a drawbridge that was never made to draw. On an adjoining peak is a statue of an old knight in armour. Apparently this represents the German architect who did the building in the 1840s to the order of the monarch.

Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros
Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros
The long awaited round trip.
1.] Start with the train to Sintra from Rossio station – no need for a timetable; there’ll be a train soon after you get there. If you’re an aqueduct addict like me, keep your eyes left early on [first or second stop]. There’s nought else to look at anyway.
2.] Note the time of buses to Cascais. Then get the LOCAL bus with the dearer Rover ticket if you mean to break your journey to Sintra later [otherwise the cheap one though it’s cheap enough anyway.
3.] See what you want/can of Sintra’s main sights and your final bus will get you back to the station. Get the Cascais bus.
4.] [Even more optional than the rest] You may choose to break your journey at Colares or Cabo da Roca, the westernmost headland in Portugal.
5.] Have a meal. You will be starving but it also gives time for it to get dark so that you will be able to see the sights of Belem floodlit as you pass on the train. Great!

Pena 2
Pena 2
We ate in Cascais [see under sights]. The Adega de Conçalves at Rua Afonso Sanches 54 is recommended for its large portions of good food and moderate prices and fully lives up to this. The proprietor is very friendly and took great pleasure in pretending I’d ordered chicken. It was actually bass and fortunately the joke didn’t stretch as far as bringing the wrong food!

Other recommendations:
National Palace
National Palace
Incidentally ‘the sights of Belem’ mentioned above at the end of the round trip will be covered when I get round to a Lisbon report. The service between Cascais and Lisbon is as good as that from Lisbon to Sintra. You come into a different station but it’s easy for trams and buses.

I know we missed a lot and it falls into two categories.
1.] Places missed because we were not fully fit, the main ones being the [apparently superlative] palace of Seteais and the villa and gardens of Monserrate.
2.] Places out of season, pricipally the beaches, accessible in the season by bus or cable railway.

Published on Saturday January 8th, 2005

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Sun, Jan 09 2005 - 06:23 AM rating by rangutan

Rail there seems to be a horror, like in Africa! We took a similar tour by luxury coach, only $22 for a wonderfull round trip (included a hearty lunch). The tour office is in the center of Lisabon at the start of Avenue da Liberda near Hotel Orion Eden, have a selection of day tours, all our 3 experienced tours were excellent.

Sat, Jan 08 2005 - 09:59 PM rating by mtlorensen

Great to know how easy it is to get around using public transport, which adds to the adventure anyway. Would be nice if some of these attractions would add means to allow those less physically fit to enjoy fully (lifts, motorized transportation, etc).
Fantastic report!

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