We picked up the car and headed off towards Sintra, it was a beautifully sunny day, so we decided to stop along the way at a couple of the beaches on the Atlantic coast; Praia do Guincho and Cresmina. They were incredibly windy and full of surfers, windsurfers and other active people, but they were also really pretty. We braved the water about up to our ankles, but the cold wind pushed us towards the man-made shelters on the beach.
From here we turned back into the hills. Sintra on its own is such a pretty village, in the hills of Portugal with narrow lanes and amazing architecture. Hills on all sides of the villages are home to castles and huge holiday farms for royalty (Quintas). However, it was ridiculously touristy. Much more than I had imagined. The traffic was bad and there were people everywhere. The queue for the tourist circuit bus which takes you up and down the mountains to the castles was about 1 hour long! We were a little overwhelmed, so headed straight for our hostel just outside Sintra near the Quinta da Regaleira; the main place I wanted to visit here.
Our hostel was a new experience for Pete. He has never stayed in one before so didn’t know what to expect. Hostels vary greatly in my opinion, even the same hostel can have a different atmosphere to it, depending on who is staying there at the time. Ours certainly had a hippie feeling to it, with people playing the guitar and singing in the common area. We also requested a ‘vegan breakfast’ from here, which we were told by the owner was ‘very good’, but unfortunately, it was literally just bread and jam… oh and some “vegan organic butter from some local cows” – so we were very confused…!
The following morning we woke early (for holiday) and headed to the Quinta da Regaleira, there was a small queue when we got there and it took about 10 minutes to pay and get in, but the queue was massive by the time we got our tickets and headed out into the park, we must have timed it just right!
The Quinta was strange and spectacular in equal measures. I read reviews that described it as ‘an adults theme park’ which was quite a good description actually. It’s essentially a big house and gardens which was built in 1910 and is now open to the public. It has secret caves and passageways which take you from different areas of the gardens and to a high inverted tower or initiation well, which is thought to have links to the Knights Templar. It was really interesting and fun to walk through, especially since by the time we got there, we were the only ones in the tunnels!
The palace was also beautiful, with views up to the Moorish Castle, which we weren’t going to go to, but seeing it at the top of the mountain encouraged us to visit it!
So from the Quinta, we grabbed an Uber up to the top of the hill to the Moorish Castle entrance, this helped us avoid the tourist bus, and was actually cheaper than taking the bus anyway!
The castle was a great contrast to the Quinta, with spectacular views over the valley and Pena Palace. It was built in the 8th and 9th centuries but is clearly well maintained. Pete was especially fascinated with these circular holes which appeared everywhere. We read all the signs, and even googled it, but there are still multiple theories as to what they actually are and nobody knows for certain.
After a very strenuous day of walking we had a few drinks in Sintra (sampling green wine and muscatel), a tasty indian curry and an early night!
We liked the sights of Sintra, and we only scratched the surface of what there is to do! But the village was too busy for us to really enjoy and relax. We began to get worried about the rest of our holiday and how busy the Lagos region might be… Only time would tell!