We weren’t planning to go to Sintra. Actually we were planning to go and then we decided against it. With 4 days to do something after the Algarve and already having been to Lisbon before, we had thought about Sintra. But we heard there wasn’t much to do here that would take more than a day trip. So we opted for Aveiro instead. We were wrong on both points.
As I mentioned in my last post, rather than hanging around with nothing to do, we decided to leave Aveiro a day early and made a plan to go to Sintra. And bonus, it put us 30 minutes from the airport instead of 2 1/2 hours so it meant more time to chill on departure day. We booked a villa B&B at the last minute via booking.com and it did not disappoint.
We stayed at Villa Das Rosas about a 15 minute walk outside the center. It was quiet, peaceful and absolutely adorable and relaxing with plenty of space to spread out – be it in the game / reading room (which is massive!), by the pool or in the gazebo area next to our room. And the service, extraordinary. Exactly what we needed for our last full day in Portugal.
We arrived around 12:30 after our 2 1/2 hour drive from Aveiro. The hottest day we’ve had (figures since it’s our last), it was tough to forgo the pool and instead explore the town. But explore we did. And while I don’t think you need a week here, at least 2 or 3 days is a definite must and it looks like there are many beaches close by as well so you could actually extend it out if you wanted (we didn’t get to any of the local beaches due to time).
Our first task was to get lunch. Our B&B hostess gave us a local recommendation that did not disappoint. While I’m not an adventurous eater, I did decide to go with the Francesinha, which originated in the Porto area but eaten in many areas of Portugal. It is like a giant multilayered meat and cheese sandwich smothered in cheese type of beer/tomato gravy. It was heavy, to say the least. But it was surprisingly delicious, layered with sausage, ham, linguisa, and many other meats that I wasn’t necessarily able to identify. I’m not really sure how the locals are able to maintain their svelte figures while eating these behemoths.
Bellies full, it was time to hit the road. Like the Algarve, Sintra was on the touristy side but again, in a quaint sort of way. It was hilly which reminded us of Lisbon. But these hills dropped off into valleys very quickly – with homes perched on to the edges of cliffs.
Thanks to another tip from our host, we knew where we were heading. With the castle being driving distance, we knew we wanted to stay within walking distance of the B&B (and tackle the castle on our second day) and so we headed for the Quinta da Regaleira. It was a bit of a walk but we were able to take in the sights along the way including the Sintra National Palace and even hopped on a horse and buggy ride (so touristy, I know).
We made it to Quinta da Regaleira and it reminded me immediately of Parc Guell in Barcelona. It didn’t have any type of Gaudi trademark buildings or nature incorporated into the man-altered landscape, but the way the dirt paths meandered around the park with surprises at each turn, were definitely reminiscent.
Why go here instead of the Castle or the Pena National Palace? Because Quinta da Regaleira has caves! And supposedly mazes (but we never got the the maze, more on that later). We figured we could combine a bit of sightseeing along the way to eventually make it to someplace fun for the kids to explore. If there is anything we’ve learned in all these years of travel with the kids, it’s to make sure the end game has something interesting for them.
With lots of towers to climb and trails to explore, the kids had a great time. And the caves were very cool and unexpected. They led out to a beautiful, small lagoon with a bridge. The perfect photo opportunity. Only when I sent the kids to go to the bridge (while I stayed in the cave to get the photo), apparently they went the wrong way and Aidan fell into the water (I still have no idea how he managed that). And by fell, I mean his shorts and sneakers were soaked. And, of course, he was hysterical as though someone was about to kill him.
Well, so that was that. We slowly made our way back to the B&B. It was getting late anyways. And we still had covered a lot of ground before even getting to Quinta da Regaleira. Would it have been nice to explore some more? Sure… but it is what it is.
A funny aside. We were back at the B&B for the evening and somehow the painter, Bob Ross, came into conversation. I don’t remember how. But now the kids are hooked and we watched several episodes that night. The kids will forever be commenting about putting a little rock here or giving that tree a little friend and other typical Bob Ross comments. Another generation gets to embrace Bob Ross!
The next day, our last in Portugal, had us driving up into the mountains to the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle). It was a long and winding, one way road up to the top. If you miss the parking (like we did), you have to go all the way back down and through a very small village with roads that reminded me of Italy with their 90 degree turns that only a small car like ours (thank god we rent small cars!) could possibly navigate. It may have sparked an argument or two with Josh and I that I missed the parking (I was navigating) but I had to remind him that I, also, had never been here and if he didn’t see it, how could he expect me to?
Problem resolved, we finally found the parking and made our way over to the Moorish Castle. There isn’t really any castle here any more, more so the castle walls which you can climb. And it was extraordinary climbing them. In typical European fashion (meaning, so not American), there were no guardrails preventing you from careening down a cliff hundreds of feet straight down! It’s not for those with fears of heights! This castle was perched so precariously and so far up the mountain that I admire anyone who had considered storming it “back in the day”. I can’t imagine what the roads were like if they were so tough to get up by car in modern times.
Surprisingly, it took us longer to explore the castle walls than we expected and so we weren’t able to go to the Pena National Palace up the road, though we did get some great pictures from the castle looking over to it.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. From the Castelo dos Mouros, we headed to the airport and back to reality. It was an amazing vacation and we loved Portugal! Only 8 more weeks of school (til mid July) and then we are off to visit home for the summer. Until then, after a very busy March and April with 4 trips in 6 weeks, we are staying put!
Knuffels en kussen,