Finding magic in Sintra Hills.

Where Lisbon is gritty, lively, and and a little rough around the edges, Sintra is magical and picturesque, both being different versions of the same Portuguese culture.

You must plan a day trip to Sintra if you are ever planning a trip to Lisbon anyways. You can take a commuter train to Sintra from just about any train station in Lisbon, and depending from which one you leave from, you can get a return ticket for rather cheap, being under 5€. The commuter train does stop at every station, making it about a 50 minute train ride, however, you get to see the different parts of Lisbon along the way.

We arrived in Sintra between 10am and 11am. We accidentally got off one stop too early and ended up being in the outskirts of this small city. Not having a very detailed map on hand, we just starting walking, in hopes of finding a map on the street or signs that point towards the monuments that we were looking to see, winding along roads in the Sintra Hills not being completely sure of the direction we were heading. It took us about an hour to an hour and a half to finally get to the top, following the views of the most beautiful palace along the way, the Pena Palace.

Being a World Heritage UNESCO site, the Pena Palace first started off as a chapel in Medieval times. Then, it was converted into a convent and then later a monastery, where it suffered some damage during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Then, lastly, it was bought by Don Fernando II in the 19th century, when it was converted into the beautifully colored palace that it is today. The palace was converted into a museum in the early 1900s, with UNESCO listing it as a World Heritage site in 1995.

Though the Pena Palace is the gem of the Sintra Hills, it’s not the only historic building that one could come across. There isn’t just one more beautiful place to see, nor just two more. No, there are 7 different historical buildings that you can wander through in these beautiful hills! 7! Isn’t that absolutely amazing?!

So, if you are really looking for an adventure I’d advise to hit up all 7.

  1. The Pena Palace, of course
  2. The Moorish Castle
  3. National Palace of Sintra
  4. National Palace of Queluz
  5. Capuchos Convent
  6. Monserrate Park and Palace
  7. Chalet and Garden of the Countess of Edla

Now, unfortunately, our day trip to Sintra was kind of last minute and our wallets were running a little low, as it was nearing the end of our trip. So, we didn’t actually go into any of these historical buildings. However, I did do some research, and if you are feeling really determined, you can buy a combined ticket with as many of the historic sites as you’d like. You can use this online price simulator to see how much it would cost to go see all of the sites of interest to you: http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/plan-your-visit-en/price-simulator/

For just one adult, it would cost around 60€ to see all 7. That seems like quite a bit of change! However, for 7 historical sites where you can learn about the rich history of Portugal, I would consider it worth it. Plus, I’m pretty sure that getting a combined ticket ends up being cheaper. Another great thing about getting a combined ticket is that you don’t have to see all the sites in one day. You can use it two or even three days in a row. That way you don’t have to feel rushed to see each place.

However, if your personal wallet is running quite a bit low as well, there is a respectable, much much cheaper alternative option: visiting the Pena Palace Park. The park itself is only 7.50€ for an adult entrance. Though you can’t go into any of the palaces with just a park entrance ticket, you do get the glorious opportunity of at least seeing the outside of a handful of them as well as enjoying one of the biggest and most beautiful parks that you’ve probably ever seen.

You get a free map of the park with your ticket purchase. The main entrance is near the Pena Palace. So, you can walk up and at least admire its beauty from the outside. Just staring at it made my soul happy because how well built and colorful it is.

After you’ve gawked at that for a few minutes, I advise continuing climbing the path up towards the left. You’ll come across the Temple of the Columns, which is gives you a fantastic viewpoint of the Pena Palace.

As you continue, you’ll come across the Statue of the Warrior. Now, this statue is atop a massive mound of giant rocks. I don’t think you’re technically suppose to climb them, however, we did anyways. I advise you to do the same. Not only is it a fantastic workout, especially if you really enjoy hiking, but this is where you can get an even more amazing view of the Pena Palace. Plus, I felt like a cool kid for having conquered my fear of heights and gotten all on up in those giants things.

12715373_10207500720690113_2454239117909087267_n

After you’ve had your fun there, feeling like a kid again, keep going up and up and up and up to the highest point in all of the Sintra Hills. Now, as gorgeous as that Palace is, and as much as I would’ve liked to explore it, hands down the highest point in these beautiful hills was my absolute favorite part of my entire trip in Portugal.

I’ve seen many beautiful places in all of my travels, but never have I ever felt so at peace, so in love with the world, than when I was sitting there, overlooking the Atlantic ocean, Sintra, Lisbon even, and the cross right in front of me. It also really helped that the sun was shining brightly with no shame and with no cloud in sight. This is where I found magic in Sintra.

1899626_10207500721370130_3653084166501229068_o

Though the Cruz Alta was my favorite part in the park, there are still many other beautiful points. It is a massive park after all.

There are trails upon trails that lead to places such as greenhouses, gardens, fantastic outlook points, and where we ended our hike, the Valley of the Lakes, a small valley with about 5 small ponds, where you can sit and watch the ducks as they flap about from the duck house in the middle of the largest one.

12717797_10207500723130174_6447816834206814867_n

So, really if you think about it, just one day won’t properly suffice for exploring all that Sintra has to offer, especially if you continue down out of the hills to explore the beautiful town below, where I had the best coffee of my life, a Portuguese café au lait (who knew a café au lait could be so delicious), while waiting for the train back to Lisbon, at the most adorable café right next to the train station (the correct one that you should get off on, the one at the very end of the train line).

12745855_10207500724730214_6998401139109209586_n

Sidenote: Don’t forget to pack your lunch to save yourself from having to spend ridiculous prices at the cafés inside the park and allowing yourself the opportunity to enjoy the beauty while enjoying a meal.

For me, I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the roughness of Lisbon with the picturesque beauty of Sintra. I felt I saw different sides of Portugal, reminding me that all countries and all cultures have many sides to them. They are just one specific thing. They don’t just claim their respective stereotypes. There is a lot more than what is just in front of you or what you find on the internet (My blog included). Do your research. Use those blogs as guidelines, but don’t always go in with expectations. Open yourself up to being surprised by what you might discover. You will always leave those places feeling more knowledgeable and more accomplished if you just allow the places to show you what they have to offer rather than you choosing to see what they have to offer.

This is part of what traveling is all about.

Lisboa, Lisboa

As I looked out over the city of Lisbon from the Sao Jorge Castle, the sunshine blanketed mon visage with the warmth of complete and utter happiness. There is nothing like this city, filled entirely with colorful homes for miles, resting upon hill after hill. The world never ceases to amaze me, and Lisbon did not disappoint.

After our adventures in Sevilla, Spain, my travel companions and myself decided to pop over to Portugal for a hot second. After all, you cannot visit the Iberian Peninsula without putting at least one Portuguese city on your list.

When we initially arrived, it was 5:30am, too early to check into our Airbnb, too early to look for a café, too early for anything really. So, what did we do? Why, we slept in the freezing cold bus station, because what’s travel without a little bit of a struggle? After about an hour and a half, we walked the 40 minutes to our Airbnb, where able to set our bags down and nothing more until later that day, and thus began our journey into the city of Lisboa, looking rough and all.

The day continued roughly, with rain pouring down on us for the first hour or so, but hey, we were in Portugal after all and thus decided to stay positive. I think that’s why the sun eventually chose to come out from hiding for us. Thus, from then on out, you could be convinced that Spring had arrived.

Our first stop in this unique city was the Praça do Comerico, primarily to acquire a map from the visitors center, but this square proved a great first stop because the view: the bay on one side and the hills of Lisboa on another, as well as a fantastic opportunity to people watch. 12733517_10207500697609536_4189311094160840799_n

Afterwards, the Sao Jorge Castle was calling our names from atop its high point in the hills of this beautiful city. If you enjoy a good hike, then I suggest you meet this castle by way through the many streets of the city, however, if you want to go back in time ever so slightly, take the well-known Lisbon tram. It’s an experience like non-other. Plus, if you obtain a day pass for city transport (I believe it was about 6€ for a day pass), you can ride this tram up and down the city streets as many times as your heart desires all day long.

It’s super old school, about a quarter of the size of a tram of these days, with old school pulleys to hold onto and old school manual doors. Looks like something straight out of the 30s to 50s.

The Sao Jorge Castle is not, unfortunately, free to visit. However, you can get a reduced fare with your student ID if you are under the age of 25 (they’ll probably also ask for your passport for proof of your age): 8.50€ for adults and 5€ for students. It’s worth the euros spent to get a glimpse of what the old Lisbon citadel looked like in Medieval times. At one point being a Moorish fortress, this castle displays a lot of history in its walls, many of which were either destroyed completely or damaged during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Its brokenness give it its charm though, I think. With your ticket, you receive a free brochure that explains each part of the castle, how it used to function in Medieval times. So, you learn a lot about the city’s history, if you have a great interest in history, and not to mention, you catch a glimpse of the most breathtaking view of the city.

 

While you’re here, you must absolutely put strolling through the city streets on your list of things to do, because not only do you get a glimpse of the culture of the city but also it’s FREE. There’s also a handful of street art and graffiti that you might appreciate.

Unfortunately, we only had one full day in Lisbon, for the next day we spent exploring Sintra, a small town about an hour train ride west of Lisbon, and our last half day we spent exploring Belem, a suburb of Lisbon.

So, after exploring the streets and catching a nap at our Airbnb, we ended the day with a quick dinner (sidenote: food in Portugual is actually rather cheap compared to many other countries in Europe. Just don’t eat the bread that they put in front of you at the restaurant, you know, the bread you think is free with the meal, because you will get charged for it), and by watching the sunset down by the bay.

12734012_10207500727570285_7143972177409207264_n

Of all the cities thus far on our Iberian Peninsula journey, I loved Lisbon the most because it was a complete shock of cultural experience. I had no expectations of what Portugal might look like. Lisbon has an edge, a liveliness, a roughness, that gives it its character. The language alone is enough to surprise a person. Many people might think that Portuguese is similar to Spanish because of the way that it’s written. However, don’t judge too soon, for once you hear it spoken your previous notions fly out the window. It sounds more rough, more abrupt, and less fluid than Spanish, with much variances in the emphasis of words and syllables. I would also say that the Portuguese are the kings of a good cup of coffee. The best coffee that I’ve ever had during my entire time in Europe was while I was in Lisbon (or maybe that was just due to the fact that having traveled for a week and a half already, anything tasted absolutely amazing). Unfortunately, we did not come much into contact with the locals themselves, except for our Airbnb hosts, whom, even then, we did not see much at all. Tant pis.

I suppose that means that I just have to go back some day.