Today, on the tour are Shaun and Toya, an American couple, as we head for Sintra on the ‘Mystic Forest’ tour. Rui kept a constant stream of information on Sintra coming as we took in the beautiful views on the 25 minute drive there. Once at Sintra, Rui told us about its unique micro-climate and how it had attracted the Portuguese royalty and some of the European nobility to build their palaces among its lush green forests. The climb from the main entrance of The Parque Palacio de Penha is quite steep, but there is a bus for those not so keen on walking. Once there the Palace knocks you off your feet with its mystical charm and old world beauty.The palace was designed by Baron von Eschwege, and was ‘nearly finished’ in 1847. I say nearly finished because every empire that existed at the time, influenced its design and artistic styles, such that something new was always being added. The Palace boasts a mix of many styles; neo-Gothic, neo-Manueline, neo-Romantic, neo- Indian , neo-Islamic and Christian, to name but a few. The Triton Portico is a huge gateway in the Manueline style, with a Triton, a mythical seabed creature that carries the world on its head, as the focal point. Another part of the palace that cannot be missed is the Chapel, with its retable of alabaster and limestone depicting 15 scenes from the life of Christ, with the Death and Resurrection at the centre.Its beautiful Stained Glass Window, best seen at sunset, cannot be photographed, but cannot be expressed in words either. The tour through the palace is a window into the life of the then Royal
Family, who used it as a holiday home. We were fortunate enough to see restoration experts carefully recreating damaged stained glass works that would later be displayed in their entirety. The town Centre of Sintra is bustling with activity, and you could lose yourself in its thousands of by-lanes with their little shops cafes and restaurants.
We ate at the flamboyant Cafe Paris, directly opposite the Palacio Nacional de Penha, from where we were strategically positioned to watch the busy square. Most of the drinks at the restaurant come in glasses that are one foot tall, with straws to match, and the food too is tasty and well presented.
The drive to Cabo da Roca takes you through the Sintra region and its many palaces until the breathtaking coastline hits you. Cabo da Roca is the Westernmost point in
Continental Europe and offers an amazing view of the expanse of the Atlantic, and the treacherous rock-studded coastline below. The inscription on the monument there reads.
Onde a terra se acaba
E o mer comenca.
We hit the coast roads again making our way to the old fishing village, but now famous resort town of Cascais, and its famous Casino Estoril, known as the nerve centre of espionage during the Second World War. Ian Fleming is said to have based the famous Bond story Casino Royale here, and certainly so because all the nobility of rich of Europe fled the war and sought refuge on the sun-kissed coastline of Cascais. The many palatial houses are as testimony to this and many of them have been restored and converted into hotel today.
Not to be missed is the mind-blowing traditional Italian ice cream at Santini, till today made with secret recipes that Santini brought with him when he feld war-torn Italy.
Back at Lisbon, Rui threw in a bonus and dropped us at the Basilica do Estrela, also called the Basilica do Sagrado Coracao de Jesus. Not for the faint hearted is the 116 steps climb to the roof of the Basilica offering some of the best views of Lisbon and the opportunity to walk in the narrow balcony that runs above the main altar.
That evening was our night out with Tiago and Rui (Gil had to spend the evening with his father as he was leaving for the south the next day), and credit must be given to Tiago for the choice of restaurant. The Casa de Bacalahau us a new restaurant, restored from the stables of a Dukes mansion that has on offer the best selection of bacalahau in Lisbon and an amazingly great cellar. That was indeed a memorable evening, after which the boys took us on yet another whirlwind tour of night-time Lisbon.
Good things must come to en end, and we had to bid adieus to Tigao and Rui. After much hugging and kissing, abracoes e beijos, Tiago made our night with his closing line that perhaps the entire neighbourhood heard – you guys rock!
We are coming back Around Lisbon – and that is a promise, and we are sure that Gil, Tiago and Rui may have some more exciting trips on their menu.