Sintra is not exactly a beach destination, but, being so close to the sea, some of its beaches are a good break in the normal big doses of history, landscape and art.
Praia Grande, not far, is one of the best, easily accessed passing Colares.
This winter brought some problems to this beach, swallowing too much sand. I didn't visit it after the recent news.
A trip along the coast will show some beautiful spots. Maybe the most interesting one is the "natural" pools in Azenhas do Mar.
Nested in the cliffs, this village is a good stop, with a few pools smartly excavated in the rocks and a small beach that changes each year, according to the "humour" of the sea.
Certainly a stark contrast to the grandeur, and playful and even mischievous atmosphere of Sintra, as can be seen in its fairytale like castles and gardens, is this convent which is situated in a system of caves carved into rocks.
The convent, originally named Convento da Santa Cruz, was founded by the son of the viceroy of India, D. Alvaro de Castro in 1560. Legend has it that this was in fulfillment of a vow by the father, who one day during a deer hunt in the forests of Sintra, slept out of exhaustion under a rock outcrop. He dreamed that he was ordered to build a Christian temple in that exact spot. As the father was not able to fulfill this vow, the son took on the construction of the convent.
The convent housed a community of Franciscans. Their vow of poverty is seen in the way they constructed their habitation -- cells carved into and between rocks, with everything in a reduced, even claustrophic scale, with just a few feet of room for each monk. It is still possible to see the cells, the cooking and eating areas, the chapel and other areas as they were during those times - bare and crude in their arrangements (imagine how they must have suffered in the cold of winter). There is also a vegetable garden, and a small forest behind, both of which have hidden corners or small grottoes - places that the hermetic monks sought out for their own prayers and contemplation, in harmony with nature. The convent was abandoned in 1834 when the religious orders were banned in the country.
Visiting the convent is both a humbling and an edifying experience -- amidst the forests and quiet of this serene mountain, this former abode of religious and spiritual life, continues to teach us a few lessons. It is easy to imagine life here then as simple and pure, and somehow we go away from this place feeling a bit more at peace with ourselves.
The convent is 8 km from the historic center, just follow the road EN 247-3 on the map. There is no public transport going there, but if going without car, it's great for a hike.
Two of them have, I suspect, supplied fresh drinking water for the inhabitants of Sintra for centuries, if not millenia (Sintra was settled in prehistory).
You see two of them now in their post-earthquake reconstruction, and one which was actually built in 1922.
The Fonte da Sabuga, high above Sintra on the Rua Marechal Sadanha. Simple tiling, a cool feel.....still being used (I saw a man filling his plastic containers).
The Fonte da Pipa, back towards the town, amongst its narrow streets and stepped cobbles. Its tiles more complex, with human figures. Smaller, but still with built-in benches for locals to sit and rest and chat before carrying their water back home.
The Fonte Mourisca, set into the wall of the park between Volta do Duche and Rua Visconde de Monserrate. This, the most modern, was created by architect Jose da Fonseca in 1922. Beauty of appearance, rather than function, is its prime aim.
High above the village of Sintra, and sometimes in the clouds, is the Castelo dos Mouros. The Moors built the castle in the 8th or 9th Century but was later conquered in 1147 by the self-proclaimed Dom (King) Afonso Henriques. Over the years there have been many attempts at restoration especially around 1860 when the then King of Saxe Coburg-Gotha, also surrounded the castle and its walls with forest. The castle is around 3.5kms up from the Old Quarter of Sintra. The best views of the area can be had from these ancient ruins.
Location : Pena Road, The Serra de Sintra
If you are interested in sculpture you should visit this museum. Here you can see a large collection of sculptures made by two local artists named Anjos Teixeira. They were father and son. The entry is free of charge.
The museum is not far from the National Palace. It is located in Volta do Duche, Rio do Porto.
As we began our hike up the mountain-side from downtown Sintra to the Moorish castle looming above, we were intrigued to pass this villa. It was the only fire-damaged building that we saw on our entire 2-week Portugal trip and, I suppose that it is a rarer occurrance there because of the stone, brick or masonry type of construction as compared to many woodframe houses in Canada.
On the road from Cascais to Sintra. The rocky coastline twists and bends its' way round to Sintra and before you actually reach it you come across Cabo da Roca. The views are amazing, It is very open and obviously quite windy but it is well worth the stop. There is a lighthouse at the top of an impressive cliff, 140m high and it marks the most westerly point of European mainland.
Since we had arrived in town by train, we decided that we would get our exercise by hiking up to the Moorish Castle over-looking the town. Setting out from the main square in front of the Summer Palace, we soon spotted a sign on Saldanha street that indicated the direction of the footpath. It took us along a street past a burned out villa and then to the Church of Santa Maria, originally built in the 12th century but restored more than once since then! Not far beyond the church, the footpath itself began - as we passed through a green wooden turnstile marked with the initials 'DFII'. This stands for Dom Fernando II, the 'artist' consort king who was a cousin of Queen Victoria's Prince Albert. It was he who restored the walls of the Moorish castle in the mid-1800s.
Once past the turnstile, you enter a world of tall and leafy trees and occasional stone steps - the coolness and accompanying breeze being very welcome on this 26 C day!
After about 10 minutes walking from Sintra on our way to the Moorish Castle we reached the Igreja da Santa Maria. The walk had been very easy up to this point but beyond the church we turned off on to a smaller trail which became much steeper. The church is in the Sao Pedro part of Sintra and is the most interesting building in the village.
As we began our walk to the Moorish Castle from Sintra we passed this nice Moorish fountain near the train station. Sintra is full of hidden things like this. You'll see many of them as you hike between the town, the Moorish Castle and Palacio Pena.
It took us about 45 minutes to reach the first sign of the Moorish castle above us - some small rock walls and a gate that led out to the parking lot from where most of the visitors arrive!
If you do take the hike up, it is here where you have to divert out to the parking lot to pay the E3.50 entrance fee if you want to actually enter the castle ruins themselves. After we had done that, we sat down here for a few minutes to cool down before pushing on for the summit !
Sintra and its promontory have, for thousands of years, been a frontier between the known world and the unknown sea, sometimes between the known world and the unknown. Sintra has therefore been a port of arrival since the dawn of Humanity, the end of a long journey for many races and civilisations up until the 15th century which marked the beginning of the epic Discoveries and the Portuguese Mythical Tradition. This is a picture from the 'promontory', the sierra but there is many things in Sintra. I talked about Quinta da Regaleira, but there's also the castle, the various palaces (P. Nacional de Sintra, P. Nacional da Pena, P. de Monserrate and P. de Seteais), the Sao Martinho church, the Santa Maria Church, the Sao Pedro de Penaferrim church, the Peninha, the Convent dos Capuchos and many gardens and museums. yes! it's true! I live near this 'Glorious Garden', as Lord Byron used to say.
The beauty of Sintra, on a sunny day like we had, is that the views are gorgeous from practically any location! Here, we sat on our rocky rest stop to look out over the valley below and to enjoy the cool breezes for a while in the quiet of the forest trail.
The Art Gallery presents a permanent exhibition related to the region of Sintra and an area designed for Temporary Exhibitions.
Having been initiated in 1840, it impresses with its style and its contents which have turned this museum into a true ornamental art museum.