Generally included in the visit of Lisbon, Estoril has its own attractions, topped by the oldest Casino in Lisbon's area, and some good and calm beaches.
Together with Cascais, this is the residential area preferred by foreigners
Half an hour distant from Lisbon, Sintra is one of the few Portuguese "must see". My many visits were superficial, but recently, VT forces to a more atemptive look and new photos.
The great point is that, each time, Sintra has something new to reveal.
Be my guess in my Sintra's page.
To complete the visit to Lisbon and included in the trip to Sintra and Mafra, you'd better allow some more time to see the generally called "saloia" area, meaning rustic, because, in the old days, their agriculture fed Lisbon.
By the sea, Ericeira was a great fishing port, still showing well the traditional look and it being a good place for a quick stop, from two hours to two weeks.
This is, also, one of the top destinations to eat seafood.
Capital of the district and the country, Lisbon it's one of the top places to visit.
It has not the variety and richness of most european capitals, and some foreigners become disappointed with the degraded condition and even dirt in some of the old quarters. But to enjoy the visit it is important to skip those unaesthetic areas (that all the towns have, as a matter of fact) and to dedicate more attention to the effects of light in the clarity of town.
It is also important to follow the river from Expo 98 (a well succeeded project of modernity) to Cascais, the british preferred place. In between, Belem is a world by itself. But Lisbon is also a good base to short trips to the many "must see" in a short distance.
This immense convent is the perfect example of how to spend money without control. Gold was coming from Brazil, the king had no strategic concerns and... spent. Of course it is big, of course it is beautiful, of course it is rich. Meanwhile, Europe was investing in industry and development!
Mafra is important to see, and even more important to understand. We, Portuguese, are still paying the invoice.
From Lisbon, gazing across the wide Tagus, one can easily see Almada, farther on and quite hidden, Seixal, Barreiro, Montijo, and from across Expo Area, Alcochete on the other side, connected to Lisbon by the Vasco da Gama bridge. Few visitors, however, cross to the other side of Lisbon where these towns are, except perhaps to go up the Cristo Rei monument in Almada, or eat in the seafood restaurants of Cacilhas, just a few minutes by boat from Cais do Sodre.
This is a great pity because the margins of the delta, for its location, its geography, and proximity to the capital was where many of Portugal's traditional industries and crafts developed and established throughout the centuries, so a good way to know the country's history is to also visit these places. These same places, during the Roman times, were themselves centers of activity, as can be found in the many ruins scattered around these towns.
The towns of Seixal and Alcochete are especially worth a visit, not merely for their views, but for a trip back in time. In Seixal are several ecomuseums which include abandoned factories and structures now reconstructed, which includes the Mundet cork factory, and the traditional boatmaking museum. Visit the 16th century tide mills of Corrois, the only one now working in all of Europe, see the former codsalting facility, the Roman necropolis of Sao Pedro. See the fascinating gardens of Quinta da Fidalga where the nobilities of the Middle Ages, including Vasco da Gama himself, came from Lisbon to spend leisurely days in. Take a leisurely ride on one of the century-old traditional boats reconstructed and now offering trips around the river, and just have a walk along the path beside the river. The center of Alcochete is also very nice, with some small historic buildings and churches, and very good seafood restaurants.
These towns are an easy and nice ride from Lisbon. Take the fastboats in Cais do Sodre (for Seixal) or in Terreiro do Paco to cross to the other side of the river, and spend a day exploring the charms and surprises of these little visited places.
The mountains of Sintra west of the Pena Palace are covered in a beautiful forest of cedar, oak, pine and eucalyptus trees - part of the legacy of protection afforded by Royal decree!
As we climbed further up into the mountains on the narrow N247-3 highway, we came across this amazing sight of trees totally covered with vines. After driving past a small un-paved road to our right, we came to a beautiful picnic area beneath the tall trees - with huge moss-covered boulders interspersed. Although we had hardly seen a vehicle to that point, this place was absolutely packed with people, cars and large trucks. What were all these people doing here at 2 PM on a Wednesday afternoon? There were even policemen wandering among the crowd. Although we were getting quite hungry by now, we did not feel like crashing their party!!
It was not long before we realized that we should have taken the un-paved road to reach that building on the peak that we had spotted from Cabo da Roca. So, we turned around, passed by our picnic friends again and wound our way up the dirt road to a large parking lot. This was looking better, only one old Mercedes parked there! We grabbed our picnic supplies out of the trunk and headed up the rest of the way on foot!
After finishing up with Monserrate, we continued on our drive toward the most westerly point of continental Europe, where the Cabo da Roca lighthouse is located.
However, this was easier said than done for us. We spent about an hour on the drive, including getting lost two or three times in the twisting and narrow streets of Colares and Penedo, with a great view out over the Ocean! Many of these streets were only one car-width wide and required mirrors mounted on posts so you could spot on-coming traffic around the sharp corners. We had to laugh as we found ourself at the same intersection three times before we finally picked the correct road (and this was with a good map!).
When we finally did arrive at Cabo da Roca, at about 1:30 PM, the big parking lot was almost empty of visitors, so we were able to enjoy a leisurely walk around the lighthouse and along the 140-m (460 foot) cliffs of this Cape.
As a very important navigation point in the maritime affairs of Europe, a lighthouse was established here in 1772. The present 75 foot high square masonry tower was constructed in 1846, but is not open to the public. With a total height above sea level of about 530 feet, this powerful light can be seen by vessels 30 miles off-shore.
There was also an interesting display mounted beside the parking lot, describing the flora and fauna of this particular area.
Ah, it is always nice to be perched high above the sea on a sunny afternoon with the breezes blowing! The trouble was, we could see another building high on a mountain top, with dark rain clouds occassionally obliterating it from sight as the wind coasted them past. This looked like another place we should try for!
Here, I am ducking that dark cloud as it passes by, almost obscuring my view down to the sandy beaches stretching back toward Lisbon. Cabo do Roca was now completely blocked so, we decided to give up on our picnic lunch and head back down to the car.
Just as we were almost back to the parking lot, we met a very good-looking couple approaching us. We smiled as we passed and then almost fell over as we finally returned to the parking lot. The entire expanse was filled with those cars and trucks from the earlier picnic. There were large electric cables running across the lot and plenty of people milling about, including those policemen again.
We finally figured it out - they were shooting a movie (we must have passed the 'stars') and the policemen had been needed to control the traffic on the section of road that we had not yet completed. This was because of the size of the trucks needed to power the lights and cameras, etc. Probably a good thing we were not sitting on the mountain top sipping our wine when the police and film crew arrived!
After that, we continued our drive through the forest back to Sintra and made ready to depart for the Airport!
Whether I am eating it or staring at it, I like my vegetation! The estate grounds at Monserrate have a network of walking trails that wind through the fantastic assortment of treats that have been growing here for the last 200 years. There are little signs to help you along the way, as well as information plaques to explain a bit about what you are seeing.
There are also some man-made attractions such as Beckford's Falls, a Chapel beside a massive Banyan tree and an ornamental lake. These are interspersed with oaks, palms, bamboo, evergreens, orchids, vines and blossoms - a new sight at every turn.
It took us about an hour to walk around one part of this garden - very relaxing on a nice sunny day such as we had! Here I am, with the 50-m tall Norfolk Island Pine tree beside the open lawns.
Old Sir Frederick Cook certainly knew how to site a Palace! The view from its front side was spectacular, with its broad sweeping lawn (one of his modifications to the original gardens) sweeping down to the many ornamental trees and shrubs that had been planted all over the estate. There was a massive tree growing beside the Palace itself, with branches as wide as it was tall and with strange growths dangling down to ground level - a Chinese Weeping Cypress?
At the foot of the hill was a magnificent 50 m (155 foot) Norfolk Island Pine - the tall one in the middle, native to the island off Australia - as well as dozens of other exotic species from all over the world. The combination of warmth and moisture trapped by the Serra de Sintra make this one of the most spectacular gardens in the world.
We soon emerged from the forest onto a rocky and wind-swept mountaintop. We had found our lofty target perched on top of a 490-m (1600 foot) peak. This was the 17th century chapel of Peninha. However, we were a bit disappointed because it looked like it was brand new - must have been a lot of restoration work involved. It just did not have that old feeling to it. There was no one else around - had the place to ourselves! So much so that we could not even enter the chapel to admire its Baroque interior, decorated with blue and white azulejo scenes of the Virgin Mary.
However, we continued to climb up to the highest possible point to enjoy the views. The trouble was, the wind was chilly up here and those grey rain clouds that we had spotted before were still scudding by. One minute we had a great view down to the Ocean, and the next the clouds were either drifting by BELOW us or enveloping us.
In typical fashion, we ended up going around the Serra de Sintra Tour in the reverse direction! As a result, the first place of interest that we decided to stop at was Monserrate - the site of an huge estate with a very intersting past. We paid E3 (US$4.20) each to enter its grounds, a reduced price because the Palace itself was closed due to renovation work.
The estate was lavishly decorated with a large garden in the 1790s by its eccentric English owner, William Beckford. Its next owner was another Englishman, Sir Frederick Cook, who purchased the then abandoned estate in 1856. It was he who built the large Moorish-style 'Palace' on a tall hill overlooking the gardens of the estate.
We were not able to enter the building due to the work, but there was a large crowd of young Portugese school children on an afternoon outing, having a great time on its huge front lawn. Wandering around the building, we came across stone embellishments such as an Indian arch and a Cromlech.
The now empty building is being restored by the Friends of Monserrate society.
Sintra's ex libris. A 19th cent. fairy tale palace built by Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg Gotha, consort of Queen Maria II.
21 910 53 40
Winter, Sept. 16/June 15, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. (last entrance 4.30 p.m.).
Summer, June 1/Sept. 15, 10 a.m. - 6.30 p.m.(last entrance 6.00 p.m.).
Sintra (Sintra line)
Former royal palace. Architecture a captivating mixture of Mudejar, Manueline, Gothic and Renaissance. Noteworthy tiles.
Largo Rainha D. Amélia, Sintra.
21 910 68 40
10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m (last entrance 5:00). Closed Wed.
Sintra (Sintra line)
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