On one of Husband’s working days in Lisbon, I decided Son and I would treat ourselves and take a guided tour to Sintra and Cascais. Good reviews online steered me towards Viator, not cheap by any means, the price for the two of us was £100 but they promised a small tour and seemed to be going to fit quite a lot into the day – that swung it for me in the end.
We walked to the Hard Rock Cafe in Lisbon where we were collected promptly at 9am and along with six other couples made our way to a small mini-van with our lovely guide Maria. She explained how the day would proceed and pointed out places of interest as we left the city.
Our first main stop was the Pena Palace in Sintra. This is about 20 miles north west of Lisbon so not a long journey at all but we did make a quick stop en-route at Queluz. This is a lovely pink faded palace which apparently they say is the Versailles of Portugal. Not quite sure about that but pretty nonetheless.
We carried on to Sintra, noted for its slightly cooler climate which once attracted the nobility and elite of Portugal who built exquisite palaces, extravagant residents and decorative gardens here. The closer we got, the worse the weather became. Lisbon was bright, sunny and very pleasant but gloomy, misty and rather wet were the keywords for Sintra. I totally see how appealing in summer it would be to escape the heat and intense temperatures of the city, not so much though in early spring, Son and I huddled together and braced ourselves for the weather.
We drove past the little town, up an extremely steep and winding hilly road which twisted and turned until we reached the top. We parked in Pena Park, a lovely place with a diverse collection of plants and trees and what looked like some beautiful trails – I got all of this from a notice board. It would have been nice to walk, explore and see the park properly but we had to stick with our tour guide and this was not on the agenda. To be honest I wasn’t too disappointed, it was super chilly and very damp with plenty of mist and fog, I didn’t feel we were missing out too much. A warmer day I would have most definitely felt differently.
We had the option of taking a little tourist train up the very steep hill to the palace – Son’s preferred option and he did lobby heavily for this – or a hike with our guide. All the other couples went with the hike option including one elderly couple, I over-ruled Son and we did the walk. Short, sharp and out of puff it was a good way to get up there quickly.
The Pena Palace is stunning, dominated by two huge towers and standing right on top of a hill. It is like something from a fairytale.
There are drawbridges, turrets, ramparts, battlements, domes, gargoyles and an array of pastel colours – Son and I were wowed.
Our guide strolled around with us telling us about the architecture, pointing out things of note and explaining a little of the history of the place.
We then had free time to explore and do as we pleased. Son and I took the wall walk around the edge, despite the mist there were some good views of the old castle in the distance.
We also explored the interior – it is late Victorian and Edwardian – but was just way too crowded. We were in a line of people who moved slowly from room to room. A member of the Royal family lived here but left suddenly just before the Revolution. She took nothing and asked for nothing from the palace. It is so out of the way it was never looted so all remains as it was on the day she left. I rather like that story.
We wandered through the various rooms, checked out the gift shop and then hung around waiting for our guide to escort us back to our van.