Everyone said you must go to Sintra – so I did and everyone was right. It is only a 40 minute train journey from Lisbon, has over ten national monuments, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is truly stunning. With so much to see I opted to stay for a couple of nights, too much sight-seeing in one day makes me grumpy and very unappreciative.
I stayed in this amazing guest house called Casa Do Visconde De Ouguela, an 18th Century house filled with antiques and artwork, which seemed a suitably appropriate place to live for a couple of days whilst visiting castles and palaces and walking through grand gardens. It is run by the friendliest lady called Bebe and breakfast was served at an antique oak table and eaten off vintage crockery whilst sharing life stories with my fellow guests, which is a lovely way to start the day for any traveller especially a solo traveller.
Sintra is set up for tourists – they have made it so very, very easy to visit and explore. The main downside is that occasionally you feel as if you are in a heritage theme park, a feeling which is only magnified by the European Romantic architecture. Also the prices are high – not to the visitor attractions, they were more than reasonable but eating and drinking in the old town is the most expensive I’ve experienced in Portugal to date. It was also often poor quality, with one exception, a Portuguese tapas restaurant called Tascantiga. Their food was amazing, the prices were great and their presentation was quirky and fun. I wish I had taken photos of the little pots and dishes which served up my tasty dinner (including a kilner jar which had smoke billowing out when I unlocked the lid) but I was so taken up in the moment of enjoying the experience, and the food (I was starving after all the waking I had done that day) that I forgot, sorry.
Speaking of walking, be prepared to walk, far – I used the local buses and once shared a tuk-tuk with a couple from New York (I really hope they weren’t wanting a romantic trip together to the Pena Palace but the driver was very persuasive) and I still managed to walk an average of 7 miles a day. Also be prepared to queue – waiting for the bus, waiting on the bus (traffic congestion is a real problem), waiting to get in to the monuments, waiting in line at the bakery and waiting to get served in the restaurants. I was there out of season so it wasn’t too bad but it must be terrible in the summer.
But don’t be put off by any of these trivial things – it really is an incredible place, the photos below just don’t do it justice, but everyone really is right – if you’re in Portugal you must go to Sintra.