After a couple of days in Lisbon, we picked up a rental car at the airport and set out to explore more of the country. Initially I had reserved a Renault Clio because 1. I’ve never driven a French car before and 2. you can’t get them in the United States. I’d also read good things about them and I’m a big fan of “hot hatches”. At the Hertz rental office, unfortunately I made the mistake of asking if they had any other interesting options, and somehow this led to the Clio being snatched up by someone else, and the Hertz rental dude offering us an SUV, despite my making it clear I had zero interest in driving any SUV or crossover. Eventually we settled on this BMW 1 series hatchback. I was skeptical at first but it was a six speed manual and it is a car you can’t buy in the United States. It was also a diesel (not completely sure on the engine specs though).
From Lisbon we took the Bimmer on the short drive to Sintra, in the foothills of Portugal’s Sintra Mountains. When I was writing down notes on the trip, I wrote down “hilly and beautiful”. Not wrong, but probably one of the lazier descriptions of the area. Sintra is wonderful and while I loved driving on the winding roads, it’s pretty dangerous – only because you want to look at everything around you and it makes it difficult to keep your eyes on the road. Beautiful trees, beautiful palaces, beautiful houses, everywhere you look. We arrived on a Monday afternoon and we probably should have done some googling (though we were trying to spend minimal time on smart phones during the trip) because apparently on Mondays in Sintra, lots of restaurants are closed, and the ones that aren’t, are packed. We stopped by three open restaurants and were told that without a reservation, we couldn’t be seated. Thankfully, there’s a Pizza Hut in Sintra. I imagine we’re not the first nor the last travelers to be saved by Sintra’s Pizza Hut. 🙂
We spent a few hours walking around Quinta da Regaleira. It was a fun and visually entertaining tour through the vision of a kooky person with way too much money to spend.
The kooky castle/gardens would likely have been more impressive if they weren’t followed by our trip to Palace de Monserrate. We were both blown away by the intricate details and patterns throughout the palace, both inside and out.
The gardens of Monsterrate were also beautiful.
One of the days we were in Sintra, we took a drive to the coast and stopped to check out one of the beautiful beaches. The water was too cold to go swimming but it was just nice to be close to the ocean.
We also made our way to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe.
Back in the parque, we also made time to visit the Moors Castle and Palacia Nacional de Pena. The views from the Moors Castle were incredible. Pro-tip when visiting these particular spots – if the person who works at your hotel tells you that you should only drive up if you go super early in the morning, listen to them. We failed to heed their advice and drove up, got stuck in the ascending mountain traffic, found no place to park, and went back to the hotel. We eventually made it up via the local bus and came back down via tuk-tuk. I was pleasantly surprised to see tuk-tuks throughout Portugal. I spoke to our tuk-tuk driver in Sintra and he said that there were some being produced in Portugal and others had been imported from Thailand.
The line to get into the actual interior of the palacio was pretty long so we just wandered around the terraces and checked out the gift shop. The terraces and exterior of the palace had plenty of eye-catching detail, though by the time we got up there, the fog had rolled in pretty thick so the views of the rest of Sintra were disrupted.
I don’t know that I can say much about Sintra that hasn’t been said by many others. It’s a beautiful place. We spent about three days in Sintra, which I think was perfect. We didn’t feel rushed and we got to see a lot of the sites. One recommendation I’d like to make – if you find yourself in Sintra, check out the Dona Maria restaurant. It has a nice view from the outside patio seating and when we went, we had the Tabua Mista – basically jamon, chorizo, a few different cheeses, and this pumpkin jam that was amazing, on bread and crackers. My mouth is watering just thinking about it now.
From Sintra, we drove to a town called Obidas, which is a town within old castle walls. Obidas is pretty small but its very cozy and visually pleasing. Cars aren’t allowed within the city walls (with some exceptions) so we found a parking lot outside and walked in. We spent a couple of hours wandering around Obidas before getting back on the road.
I’m now realizing I’ll likely need to write at least one more post to share experiences and photos from the rest of our Portugal trip. I’ll try to get that up tomorrow because I really need to get caught up. Since Portugal, I’ve also taken trips to Toronto, New York City, and Pittsburgh so there’s plenty more to share. I just need to get caught up quickly. Stay tuned and thanks for reading. 🙂