Sintra, set among mountains, forests and the sea — with its intoxicating combination of quaint and magical — is one of this country’s must-see cities. With the sun shining, it was only about a half hour drive from Cascais to our hotel in the neighboring town of Sabugo.
When traveling, many factors — location, cost, amount of mid-century-modern furniture in the lobby, etc. — go into deciding where I’d like to stay. This, I’m excited to report, is the first time that I’ve picked a hotel based on its name alone.
While it took some careful navigating to locate, we soon found ourselves at the door of “The She Pine Tree House Hotel,” a small bed and breakfast. We were greeted by one of the friendly owners, Luis, who brought us into the bizarre living room, decorated with just an overwhelming amount of stuff. Drawings, books, pillows, plants, overload.
With a big day in Sintra planned, there wasn’t much time to take it all in, so after dropping off our bags, it was back in the car. Twenty minutes later, we were in the heart of the old town, dodging massive tour groups all jostling for entrance to the Palacio Nacional de Sintra.
Of Moorish origins, the palace dates to the early 13th century and is best known for its conical white chimneys. It houses quiet courtyards filled with orange trees, some of the oldest azueljos (relief tiles) in the country and the Swan Room, adorned with Manueline frescoes of 27 gold-collared birds.
The crowds were a bit much to handle, so we made our way through rather quickly and then embarked on our climb to Castelo dos Mouros, a mist-enshrouded ruined castle from the 9th century. Rising 1,200 feet above us, the walk was a bit intense, although we felt more deserving of the experience than those bus-bound other tourists.
From the Great Wall of China-esque walls, we spied the Palacio Nacional da Pena sitting on a nearby hill. Passing through a park of the same name, we hiked to the entrance and, after a quick lunch of warm goat cheese salad, were completely blown away.
While the colorful and detailed exterior was impressive, it was the interior where this palace really shone. Room after room featured centuries old porcelain, furniture and oil murals. It was as if Queen Maria II, for whom the place was commissioned around 1840, was still living there.
Continuing on our palace binge, we hopped in the car for one last stop that our hotel keeper said should not be missed: Quinta da Regaleira. This villa was built in 1892 for a Brazilian coffee tycoon who clearly had a thing for crazy carved stone structures.
Back in the Corsa, our whirlwind day in Sintra continued west to the sea. Cabo da Roca, a sheer 450-foot cliff, is the westernmost point in Europe, and as Charlotte so acutely pointed out, I’ve got a serious need for geographical tourist sites.
Back at House of She Pine Tree, Luis made a nice home-made meal that we enjoyed with some of the other guests before retiring to that bizarre living room with a carafe of red wine.