This Portuguese Eden brings together a great diversity of landscapes and heritage displayed between the lush Sierra de Sintra and a rugged Atlantic coast.
As soon as the traveler enters the Sintra-Cascáis Natural Park, he is immediately ecstatic. It is inevitable that emotion and melancholy surface before the ingredients of its potion: incalculable architectural treasures, large doses of exotic green and wild blue. All this in perfect harmony and combined with a special light that conquers at any time of the year.
Located approximately 30 minutes from Lisbon, this Portuguese orchard ranges from the Sierra de Sintra to the Atlantic coast, where it takes over beaches of dunes and dizzying cliffs high over a hundred meters above sea level.
WORLD HERITAGE SITE SINCE 1995
Culture and history beat with special force in Sintra, heart of the park and first European place to be considered, in 1995, Cultural Landscape by UNESCO. A fairytale town coloured by stately houses and palaces surrounded by fantasy gardens, each more spectacular. The romantic aesthetic glides between winding paths, waterfalls, passages, caves and countless unimaginable corners surrounded by lush vegetation.
ROADS AND ‘QUEIJADAS’
Getting lost among cobblestone slopes is discovering the essence of Sintra and also its sweetest flavors, those of the transvestites and the queijadas that are baked in the numerous pastry shops of the city. Outside the historic quarter, a labyrinth of winding roads lead between the palaces dotted by its hills, which, a little further down, end up merging with the ocean.
ESCENARIO DE PALACIOS
The microclimate of the Natural Park of Sintra-Cascáis is ideal for the proliferation of all those plant species that fill it and, in addition, is responsible for the area was chosen by kings and aristocrats throughout history to build their palaces, Stately homes and gardens with magnificent ocean views.
In the historic quarter of Sintra, the National Palace, combining Gothic, Mudejar and Manueline styles, is the most sober of all and also the oldest. It was inhabited for almost eight centuries, mainly during the Middle Ages, a period in which it was used by the Portuguese monarchy and its court to escape the plague or as a holiday retreat. In its whitewashed facade stand out two huge conical fireplaces of 33 meters high. They are those of the kitchen, which were built by King John I to serve the entire palace. Inside, the Coat of Arms Room and the Cinema Room, with the painted ceiling of these birds, are the most outstanding spaces.
QUINTA DA REGALEIRA: A WELL AND MUCH MORE
This particular tale continues in the illusory gardens of Quinta da Regaleira, four hectares full of secrets hidden among fountains, caves, stone tunnels, waterfalls and passageways that hide meanings related to mythology, cosmology and masonry. The most special secret is a 27-metre-deep well that runs through a spiral staircase to its depths, communicating with a system of tunnels. As if it were a mysterious inverted tower, it was devised by Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, the first owner of this palace.
El portentoso Palacio da Pena
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THE PORTENTOUS PALACE IS WORTH IT
In the highest part of the hills, built on a huge rock that had previously been a monastery, is the Pena Palace, the main icon of the park. The colors of its anarchic towers and the extensive gardens that surround it give meaning to this story of wild nature thanks to plant species from all over the world that get lost in viewpoints like the High Cross or discover jewels like the Chalet of the Countess of Edla, a house ordered to be built in 1864 by King Ferdinand II and his second wife, Elise Hensler, following the style of European alpine chalets.
THE THOUSAND AND ONE ‘SORROWS’
In the Pena Palace the visitor will be immersed in The Thousand and One Nights, especially when the mist of the mountains covers it giving it a more enigmatic halo if possible and erasing at times the panoramic views of the valley and the ocean that it enjoys. Its construction was the greatest example of Portuguese romanticism in the 19th century. Access is not possible by private vehicle, so to get there you will have to do it on foot, by bus or taxi from the center of Sintra.
THE UNKNOWN MONSERRATE
Four kilometres from the centre of Sintra, the Monterrate Palace is another ode to romantic architecture. Poetry full of symmetries that move towards exotic gardens, the richest in international botany of the country. This visit is usually less crowded, proclaiming itself as a true haven of peace within the oasis that is already Sintra. The place was a mandatory stop for English travellers, conquering Lord Byron himself in 1809 or silencing the merchant and art collector Sir Francis Cook to the point of making it his summer residence.
A CASTLE IN THE HILL
Another building that dominates the perspectives of the park and the sea merging is the Castle of the Moors, a fortress that zigzags on top of one of the mountains of Sintra and was built during the Arab rule, between the 8th and 9th centuries.
THE OTHER SECRETS OF SINTRA
Bordered by the Sierra de Sintra, the park protects other more unknown and solitary wonders such as the Sanctuary of Peninha, the Blue Lake, from which part a long network of trails, or the Convent of the Capuchs. The latter, inaugurated in 1560 and surrounded by primitive forest, stands out for its austerity as opposed to the luxurious buildings of the hills, thus representing the ideal of the Order of Saint Francis of Assisi. Entrances camouflaged among rocks are opening unexpected towards cork cells that fill with sobriety the most mystical chapters of the park made count.
THE WESTERNMOST POINT IN EUROPE
At 18 kilometers from Sintra the mountains converge on cliffs up to 140 meters high before those who break furious waves. They are those of the windy Cabo de Roca, responsible for guarding the last sunset of the European continent before being lit by one of the oldest lighthouses in Portugal. Very close to the tower of light, with white tiles and red roof, the geographical coordinates of the place are engraved next to the words of the Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões “Aqui… onde a terra se acaba e mar começa”. Words that push you to get a certificate that guarantees that you have visited the westernmost point of continental Europe. Just five minutes by car it is possible to continue enjoying the views of the coast in Moinho Dom Quixote, a café where the decoration plays with the illusion between colorful pictures, plants and lamps of different design.
UN PUEBLO, UN ACANTILADO Y UNA PISCINA NATURAL A VILLAGE, A CLIFT AND A NATURAL POOL
Besides Sintra, in the park there are other villages that deserve a stop. Colares, on the slopes of the Sintra mountain range, surrounded by vineyards from which comes the popular wine of Colares. Azenhas do Mar, a small white village carved on the cliff. At its feet, a natural pool delights the holidaymakers next to a restaurant and a bar bohemian style.
THE ESSENTIALS OF CASCAIS
In Cascáis, a tour of the old town, with the medieval fortress of Nuestra Señora de la Luz and the citadel, will be a good start to end up becoming absorbed with the Boca del Infierno, on the outskirts of the city, where a polished arch on the steep rock allows you to enjoy the Atlantic penetrating through it.
The best way to explore the rugged coastline, and stop at its wild beaches, is to do so through the bike path provided next to it. The kites take flight while some surfers jump in to overcome their energetic waves: Guincho Beach, the most extensive and popular beach located next to a sophisticated beach bar; Maças beach with fine sand; Ursa beach, known for its rock in the sea shaped like a bear that discovers small pools at low tide or Adraga beach, close to which there is a huge and deep natural well that communicates with the sea. Another of the busiest beaches during the Portuguese summers is Playa Grande, famous for having a total of 66 dinosaur tracks that are approximately 110 million years old.nto al mar, jugar al golf en uno de los mejores campos de Portugal con 18 hoyos y vistas al Atlántico, practicar surf o paddle surf, montar a caballo e incluso subirse a un helicóptero para capturar las mejores imágenes aéreas de Sintra.