As the winter slowly but surely departs and spring appears, thoughts turn to holidays. The reason to go abroad for holidays is normally driven by desperation to see some sunshine or to have a new experience in a foreign country. Whatever the reason for it, I am going to try and encourage people to come and explore my part of Portugal.
For those who do not know much about the country, the capital of Portugal is Lisbon. A city spread over seven hills with so much to see it would be impossible to fit it all in - you might need to come back! Lisbon has its own castle - Castelo de Sao Jorge (St George's Castle) which overlooks the city and the rio Tejo (River Tagus).
Castelo Sao Jorge at night (courtesy of Lonely Planet)
However much as I love Lisbon, I think the part of Portugal I live in deserves a bit more publicity. It only takes about 40 minutes by car or train to reach Sintra. So near and yet so far for some tourists who come to Lisbon via cruise ships. Recently someone told me that the cruises offer Sintra as an optional extra. They drive from Lisbon via Cascais/Guincho/Cabo de Roca to Sintra where they have just 40 minutes. 40 minutes. Good grief. There is no way you can explore even the Royal Palace in the centre of the town, in that time. What a shame. If only there was a way to persuade people to ignore the coach outing, grab a train and in 40 minutes you are in Sintra and can spend a few hours, not minutes, looking around and marvelling at the views, the buildings, the palaces and fitting in a quick snack or lunch to get a bit of an impression.
The Sintra Council has a great website detailing what's on and where to go at www.cm-sintra.pt and it has a button for English in case you worry you won't understand anything. There is also a great site for accommodation www.sintrainn.net which has English and Spanish options. Wonderful choice of places to stay too.
Sintra is full of hidden gems like fountains where people fill up their water bottles weekly, because tradition has it that the water from the Sintra hills is very good for you.
Fonte Mourisca (Moorish Fountain)
It has Palacia de Pena (The Pena Palace), Palacia Nacional de Sintra(the National Palace of Sintra), Palacio e Quinta da Regaleira (the Palace and Farm of Regaleira), O Castelo dos Mouros (The Moorish Castle), Palacio de Monserrate (The Palace of Monserrate) and that is just a hint of what there is to explore. There are museums covering art, toys, literature, science - so much to see and do all within the city of Sintra.
If you are a keen walker, then the hills or Serra, are ideal. There is a lot to explore not least the Convento dos Capuchos (Convent of the Capuchos) right on the top of the Serra.
The ruins of the Convent of the Capuchos
There really is something for everyone in Sintra
If you prefer the countryside to staying in Sintra, why not try a really authentic holiday and stay in one of the local villages like Almocageme, Colares or Praia das Macas? All of these are within 20 minutes of Sintra, on regular bus routes to either Cascais or Sintra, where you can get the train to Lisbon. It is also only 40 minutes to get to the beautiful seaside town of Ericeira. You will gain a feel of what everyday Portugal is like as this part of the world does not suffer from the commercialism that blights other parts.
The old part of Colares showing the Church
Colares has local shops selling newspapers, gifts, groceries, hardware shops, hairdressers, estate agents, banks, post office, chemist, petrol stations, some rather good cafes, restaurants, hotels, a river with ducks to feed and is on the tram line from Sintra to Praia das Macas. It is also only minutes from three beaches - Praia das Macas, Praia Grande and Praia da Adraga. A regular bus service to Sintra and Cascais and Praia das Macas.
A street scene in Almocageme
Almocageme, like Colares has various mini supermarkets, gift shops, laundry, butchers, cafes, hairdressers, electrical shops, bread shops, restaurants and is only a few minutes (by car, longer by foot) from Praia da Adraga. Also a regular bus service to both Cascais and Sintra. A market on a Thursday and then on Saturdays and Sundays, there is a street market selling fruit and vegetables by the side of the main road from Colares to Cascais.
Praia das Macas
A very sweet seaside town which is at the end of the line for the tram from Sintra. It has restaurants (including seafood ones), grocery shops, butchers, cafes, hotels, chemist, gift shops, newsagents - everything you expect down at the seaside. Again has a regular bus service to Sintra (if you are going to Cascais, you can change buses in Colares).
A pretty street in Ericeira
The interior of Ericeira is very traditional - all painted in blue and white and has a lovely atmosphere. It has everything a town requires from large daily market, to supermarkets on the outskirts of the town. The shops are a mix of traditional and modern, mixed in with butchers, bakers, cafes, banks, tourist office, hotels, restaurants. Something for everyone. A very popular resort for surfers as is all of this coastline. You can also get there by bus from Sintra.
Accommodation in all of the places I have written about varies from expensive hotels to bed and breakfast. You can, of course, always go for the self catering option and there are many that advertise on the internet.
Lisbon airport is served by most low cost airlines from late March to October and obviously the major airlines fly daily.
I do hope you consider trying this part of the world for its wonderful views, beaches, food, wine and history.