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Fall 2004

Vila do Conde | Guimaraes | Amarante | Porto | Aveiro
Coimbra | Sintra | Cascais | Ericeira | Lisboa


We departed Coimbra "B' train station at 10:09 and were warmly welcomed by the conductor when we presented our Eurail Passes in the clean, comfy 1st class car. The train arrived on schedule at Lisboa's Santa Apolonia train station located at the river front just east of the city center. A 10 minute taxi ride got us to the Rossio train station, next to Praca dos Restauradores, in time for us to get the 12:32 suburban train to Sintra. This is a busy commuter line and the trains run at 15-20 minute intervals. It took 45 minutes to reach Sintra.

Costa do Estoril & Sintra is the rectangular shaped area west of Lisboa. It stretches along the southern coastline from the seaside resort of Carcavelos to Estoril and Cascais, considered to be the Portuguese Riviera. It continues north on the western coast past Cabo da Roca (the westernmost point of Europe) to the fishing village of Ericeira.

Rising majestically in the center of the region are the luxuriously forested Sintra Mountains, the heart of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. This is the only area in the world to have been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site both for its cultural interest and its natural beauty. There has always been an aura of mystery about the mountain. Realistically due to the huge deposits of iron ore that are responsible for stopping watches and similar mechanisms and the highly humid microclimate that produces an almost permanent fog atop the peak due to the condensation caused by the merging of the maritime air fronts with the mountain. Thus there are near perfect year round temperatures (around 28C in summer, 10C plus in winter) and an area that is always richly green. The town of Sintra is nestled in the northern foothills of the mountain. North of Sintra, inland from the western coast, is the hinterland, a rural area of traditional villages and farmland. The region is a treasure trove of beauty from the mountains to the sea and shore.

National Palace - Sintra, PortugalSintra is set on the northern slopes of the mountain range among hills and ravines of forests and fresh water springs. The walk from the train station takes about 15 minutes if you don't stop too often to gaze at the Town Hall, the lush Parque da Liberdade, or the National Palace of Sintra. The sweet freshness of the air makes the walk particularly enjoyable. The Praca da Republica is the center of old Sintra. Small cobblestone streets spin off moving up the hillsides or down ravines. As the hub of excursions up the maze of winding roads around the surrounding hillsides, old Sintra is always packed with visitors. The streets are lined with typical tourist shopping as well as very good restaurants, pastry shops and cafes. There is an abundance of choice of regional crafts and foods available day and night.

We would be staying in two hotels during our visit. The Tivoli is located in Praca da Republica and Lawrence’s not far away on Rua Consiglieri Pedroso, 38.

The Tivoli Hotel was our first stop. Although part of a large hotel chain, the design and character of this property is such that it feels unique. The lounge and bar adjacent to the reception area is well appointed with comfortable upholstered furniture positioned to take advantage of the panorama of the wooded mountainside facing the rear of the property. Opposite the lounge is a small room with a complimentary Internet point. There was shoe shining machine near the elevators which really made our day. Our large bedroom, sitting area and bathroom were attractively done in soft yellow and green with complementary furnishings. The bedding was of excellent quality and comfort. The bathroom had a fine assortment of toiletries, comfortable cotton robes and terry slippers. There were sliding glass doors the length of the room that opened to an unbelievable balcony that had to be at least 40ft X 50ft with a garden in the middle. The Sintra Mountain and its villas, castles and palaces felt like they were within touching distance. We enjoyed the view at the start of each day in the main dining room where the lavish breakfast buffet, attended by efficient and polite staff, is served.

Before we did another thing we headed for Piriquita (two locations on Rua das Padarias numbers 1 and l8). We settled in at #18 for their famous specialties, queijadas and travesseiros. There are numerous recipes in different areas but Sintra's, especially at Piriquita, are supposed to be the best. The queijadas are little round pastries made with wheat flour, cheese, sugar, egg yolk and salt. Travesseiros (little pillows), our favorites, were filled with egg, sugar and almond. Some places use fruits such as apricot or apple instead of almond.

Garden at Seteais Palace - Sintra, PortugalPreviously, we had visited the awesome Pena Palace and Sintra's Royal Palace. Today we took a brisk walk up Rua Barbosa du Bocade to Seteais Palace. The exquisite villas along the way were a perfect prelude to the feature event ahead. The Palace was originally built in the late 18th century by the Dutch Consul. A new owner built an additional building and united the two with an archway decorated with the coat of arms of the Royal Family and a medallion depicting the Portuguese King and Queen at that time. The Palace is set in the middle of manicured lawns and a garden from which there are spectacular views of the countryside and sea. Seteais Palace is now a five star luxury property of the Tivoli Hotels group.

The helpful staff at the front desk at our Tivoli Hotel provided us with excellent restaurant recommendations during our stay, one of which was Tulhas, Rua Gil Vicente 4-6, just behind the tourist office, Tel. 21-923-23-78. The owner of this traditional cozinha Portuguesa is Joaquim, a cheerful man who greets his patrons with a warm smile as he ushers them to a table or advises them how long they might expect to wait. It is a small, popular place which fills up quickly. He and one other gentleman wait the tables, guiding menu choices, making sure everyone is happy. Family style seating, cork ceiling, wood beams, stucco, open kitchen, yes, this is traditional Portuguese dinner time at its best.

We generally like to choose from the specials of the day as they are consistently representative of market freshness and regional preparation. Today it was sopa de legumes and borrego assado no forno, lamb roasted in the oven. The crusty and chewy bread was a delight with the tasty soup. The luscious lamb was served with roast potatoes and green beans. The mixed side salad was worthy of praise because each vegetable was fresh from the garden. The house red, Vinho de Mesa, Beira Mar is a decent quality table wine, which was served in other restaurants as well. Melon and mango - how sweet it was! The house-offered Casa da Lousa tawny port was a nice finish. All this goodness and fair prices is why there is usually a wait to be seated.

It is hard to escape the vision of the Pena Palace with its colorful towers, domes and terraces atop the mountain. It takes on different looks depending on the weather around it, from bright sun to dense mist, always ready to have its picture taken. Quinta da Regaleira - Sintra, Portugal

Sintra is extraordinary. Less than one km from Praca da Republica along Avenida Almeida Garrett, a narrow avenue of manor houses hiding behind old stone walls and leafy trees, is Quinta da Regaleira. The palace's gothic pinnacles and intricate neo-Manueline decoration rise up amongst trees and luxuriant gardens. The palace, built in the early 20th century, was designed by Luigi Manini, whose works include the Palace of Bucaco. Although it is relatively young it appears to have been here for hundreds of years.

Approaching the palace, a pretty waterfall captured our attention just before the magnificent façade, framed by the clear blue sky, came into full view. As we drew near and entered, the design, artistry and craftsmanship of the stone work became apparent.

Only the ground floor, which contains the palace’s principle rooms flowing from a spacious atrium, is open to visitors. The sculptured living room fireplace is very imposing as is the Kings room with a fine selection of paintings on the upper lintel and frescoes of the coat of arms of Braga and Coimbra on the walls. At one end of the room is a beautifully sculptured chimney with the formed crest of Sintra on top. Of particular note is the gorgeous multi-colored Venetian tile work and the warmth of the oak and chestnut woodwork throughout.

The other architectural marvel of the estate is the Chapel of the Most Holy Trinity. It is comprised of a single nave, the decoration based of Gothic and Manueline Revivalism. Its orientation, in religious terms, is perfect because its entrance is to the west and its high altar to the east. The facade is amazing. We spent some time gaping at the rich array of statues, stone embroidery, symbols and adornments. Entering the chapel our eyes naturally caught sight of the beautiful multi-colored tile floors with symbology carefully integrated. There are a multitude of crosses of Christ, the Templars and other paleo-Christians. The quality and design of the carvings, tiles and stained glass make the walls of the nave quite imposing. We found a concealed narrow spiral staircase which descended into the crypt, a simple, austere chapel, a place of silence and meditation.

The gardens are a paradise; we just wandered not caring if we got lost. The paths through gardens and woods took us to different levels, belvederes, galleries, balconies and staircases. The plants and trees from around the world and local vegetation is aligned in such a way that even though we were traveling along a designed route, we were surrounded by pure natural vegetation.

Portal da Guardidaes - Sintra, PortugalExquisite architectural monuments kept appearing as we took a turns in the road. The imposing Torre de Regaleira popped up out of the trees and Linda was winding up the stairwell in short order to take digital advantage of the spectacular views. The stunning Portal dos Guardidaes with its 3 towers stood guard over a balcony surrounded by woods as did the 2 towers of the Terraco dos Mundos Celestes. It would appear that the owners were well protected as they enjoyed the solitude and leisure of their tranquil retreat.

A grate-covered deep hole, Poco Imperfeito, was created to express appreciation for Mother Earth. Not far away are Gruto do Oriente and Gruta do Aquario two gorgeous grottos of natural sculptured stone, lush greenery, and sparkling waters. A curious stone door activates a hidden mechanism that enters another world. This is the monumental initiation well, an inverted tower plummets into the depths of the earth. We looked down its depth, galleries and levels and decided not to open the door at the bottom and work our way up. The Regaleira Palace and Gardens are an intricate part of the mystical and magic heritage of Sintra.

Time for a shift in culture. The Museum of Modern Art was built in 1924 in the neoclassical style as the Sintra Casino. As the Casino in Estoril, it was built near the railway station for the convenience of patrons from Lisboa. There is a large collection of 20th century artists. The works are organized according to periods and movements. There was a notable special exhibition called Autobiography, the story of a life, painted by the person who experienced it - Julio Pomar, a great name in Portuguese art. This retrospective includes early works with a social content, paintings which capture the movement in bullfighting and horseracing and his latest works with mythological and literary inspiration. It was quite an interesting exhibit opening with self-portraits and portraits of friends, poets, and writers. Sports was the next theme including rugby, and the aforementioned bullfighting and horseracing. It then focused on the cult of erotic mysteries and explicit and implicit sexual connotation, followed by works expressing a strong sense of caricature, humor and irony. Lastly, on the top floor, sculptures of a hare, tortoise, bishop and warrior were strikingly presented in a blackened room on a brightly lit platform.

Restaurante Apeadeiro, Av. Miguel Bombarda 3-A, Tel.9231804, is located near the train station. We were immediately impressed with the shiny wood floors and the 3 smiling ladies in the open kitchen. Clean is always comforting as are nice aromas from the cozinha. This typical neighborhood eatery did not disappoint. We were warmly served by a husband and wife team who were anxious to please. A top-notch rendition of sopa alentejano (bread, egg, garlic and coriander) was a fine way to start. We settled on the house wine which again was Vinho d Mesa Beira Mar but this time we had white to go with the fish. We thought the white was better than last night’s red.

Linda's grilled espada and my pescada cozida (boiled fish) were prepared as one would expect from three happy ladies with expressions of pride as they watched us from the kitchen. Fresh fish, broccoli, carrots and rice a healthy meal does make. Soooo, it was okay to have Molotov and rice pudding for dessert. Molotov is a mile high meringue covered in a caramel sauce. Both were very good. The prices were very reasonable. Outstanding value!

Cabo da Roca is continental Europe's westernmost point. Standing here high on the cliff we were reminded that at one time this was imagined to be the end of the world. Rising out of the Atlantic Ocean this is actually the base of the mountain of Sintra. It was exhilarating to see the ocean waters smacking into the rocks and cliffs and feel the gentle breezes of the clean fresh air on our faces. Adding to the magic is the Cabo da Roca Lighthouse standing 144 meters high above an abyss cut into the cliffs by the power of the waves. It is one of several lighthouses built to light the Portuguese coast which was known to seamen as the "Dark Coast".

Capuchos Convent - Sintra, PortugalBetween Cabo da Roca and Sintra Vila is one of the most extraordinary places we have visited in Portugal. Capuchos Convent was carved out of the rocks of Sintra in 1560 within a forest that survived the massive wood clearing that took place to build boats. The original name was the Holy Cross of the Mountain of Sintra. The Friars who built it were guided by a life dedicated to obedience, poverty and chastity. In the Boulder Portico, a wooden cross is embedded in stone and around the top are pieces of tile and shells, symbolic of the friars giving up all things material.

This was to be a place of austerity, solitude and meditation. To this end, only elements of nature were used and the rooms were meager in size. It was an education walking through the tiny rooms and passageways that had all been carved out of the stone. The generous use of cork on ceilings and walls provided insulation and good acoustics. The doorways of the friars’ cells were particularly low so that in entering it would be natural to bow to give thanks.

Kitchen in Capuchos Convent - Sintra, PortugalA hole in the wall between the kitchen and dining room was used to pass the food. There was only a sink and fireplace in the kitchen. The friars ate only vegetables except twice per year when they ate fish. Cold water passed under the kitchen to wash the vegetables. Those who thought they wanted this life had to live in the Novice Room for one year. There was a separate entrance in case the novice decided this life was not for him and wanted to quietly depart. The toilet consisted of two holes in a rock, the water running below flushed by gravity. The semi circle Chat Room was where they could sit facing each other and could confess. All the friars were equal. A small sink was used for continuous hand washing, the waters re-used for irrigation. A library was built with high cork ceilings and doors to maximize the light and protect the books. The hospital area had 3 rooms and a pharmacy. Two of the rooms were to treat the body and one the mind. Water was boiled in the pharmacy to make medicines and to provide heat for patients.

Outside there is a pretty cloister, gardens and trails through the woods. The Capuchos Convent is an AMAZING place and should not be missed when visiting the region. Phone in advance to make sure a guide that speaks your language will be there when you plan to visit: 351-21-923-73-00 Web Site:

Just north of Capuchos another memorable experience awaited us, a journey through the Gardens and Palace of Monserrate. History notes that an English writer, William Beckford, spent time here in the 1700's and did considerable landscaping. Another Englishman, Francis Cook, a wealthy merchant, fell in love with the property and transformed it into a fantasyland. The neo-Gothic house became a fantastic Oriental palace and the gardens, a romantic jungle of trees, plants and shrubs not only from Portugal but from around the world. All of it was abandoned for 50 years and has only recently reopened. The restoration of the Palace is still underway but it is possible to visit by appointment as the work continues.

Gardens  - Monserrate Palace Grounds - Sintra, PortugalTime spent in the gardens is a priceless adventure. Thanks to Sintra's unique climate, trees from 5 continents coexist and thrive. Holly berry trees are prickly at the bottom and smooth at the top. Cork oak has small ferns growing on its bark which are watered by holes in the bark. The juicy berries of the native Arbutus, known as the strawberry tree, are used to make a powerful alcoholic beverage. A large American Oak is protected from the environment by a fungus on its bark. A waterfall fills a horseshoe shaped lake near the Valley of Ferns. The Yew tree has berries that can kill, but the same toxins hold the potential to treat cancer. A 16th chapel dedicated to Nossa Seniora de Monserrate in Catalonia, Spain, lies in ruins.

A sweeping green lawn (the first in Portugal to have an irrigation system) climbs upward to the Palace. Nearby is the huge Bunya, Bunya pine from Australia that gives off a fruit that is highly regarded by the aboriginals down under. We made our way slowly up the lawn to the patio enjoying the views of the magnificent forest. Off to one side is a group of New Zealand Christmas trees which grow big bright red balls around Christmas time, naturally decorated for the holidays.

Palace of Monserrate - Sintra, PortugalThe striking gray and peach exterior of the Palace has been restored and the roof has been repaired. The interior renovation is underway but even now it is a sight to behold. A spectacular corridor of pillars and archways runs the width of the palace. It is decorated with intricate lace-like carvings of birds, fruit and flowers, bringing the outdoors indoors. In the center and at each end of the corridor is an atrium with a magnificent cathedral ceiling. A lovely fountain is in the middle of the central rotunda. The exquisite atrium at one end is the music room. There is a good size living room and billiard room. We could not visit the other end as it was under construction. A graceful marble stairway leads to the 2nd level adult bedrooms and the 3rd level children’s’ rooms. The 4th level is a balcony overlooking the central atrium.

The Palace and Gardens of Monserrate where the Cook family spent their summers is now a destination for incredulous visitors to explore.

O Regional, Travessa do Municipio 2, Tel. 21 923944 44 was our choice for dinner. It had been a good day of touring and at 19:30 we were the first patrons to arrive. The owner, Mr. Dantes, greeted us at the front bar where we had the opportunity to chat with him over a delicious muscatel which he offered. The open kitchen was shiny clean and the staff welcomed us with warm greetings and smiles. The restaurant has an adorable Portuguese ambiance with wood ceiling, gorgeous tile portraits on the walls and below the windows and thick cotton napkins in traditional designs adorning the tables.

The menu offered a wide choice of fish, seafood and meats at very reasonable prices. Now if the glistening cozinha delivers what is written it will be ecstasy - deliver they did! While making the serious decisions, we nibbled on a local soft white cheese and dense bread and sipped a light and fruity Sintra white wine.

The boss suggested we start with a pot of sautéed shrimp, garlic and olive oil. Thank goodness the portion was huge. This is a very well run restaurant and the proper time was allotted between courses to digest, relax and look forward to the next delight. The tables were beginning to fill up and there was a happy buzz from locals and tourists. Linda chose filet mignon and I garoupa. Both were served with lots of vegetables and potatoes. Plenty to enjoy! We had been having too many desserts, but heck, it was a 15 minute walk back to the hotel. Three large profiteroles were filled with a large scoop of wonderful vanilla ice cream and covered with chocolate sauce and dashed with whipped cream. Linda wouldn't let me near it. I settled for a marvelous rice pudding. Our host was charming, the service was excellent, the food was outstanding and the prices were right - need more be said?

Lawrence’s is well positioned in a wooded area on one of the streets that leads upwards from the town to the splendor of the forests and historical monuments. The property has the designation as the oldest hotel on the Iberian Peninsula. We were coolly received in the tiny reception area. A walk down a dimly lit corridor brought us to the "Lady Jackson" room. Opening the door we were greeted by the bidet straight ahead in the bathroom with the door ajar. The small bedroom had a tiny balcony overlooking the densely-wooded area, so dense the tiny bedside lamps could not do much to improve the limited light that filtered through the trees. The king size bed and its large canopy dominated the room and further restricted the lighting. The satellite TV was not working and it took forever for the A/C to kick in. The sink in the dim bathroom came up to just below my chest and Linda is shorter than I am. Oh heck, it's just one night. There are 3 attractively furnished lounges that cater to those who love to read and socialize in a subdued atmosphere. The breakfast buffet was skimpy compared to all others so far. The fried eggs we ordered were swimming in olive oil and the requested crisp bacon came soft. Service in the breakfast room was very good and the verdant forest views were beautiful.

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