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16. Sintra
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Sintra is a postcard. In fact, it is one of Portugal’s great trademarks. It is the National Palace of Pena, up high in the Sintra Mountains; the Quinta da Regaleira and its initiation well, which has traveled the world; the almost secret and stunningly beautiful Ursa Beach; the chalet and garden of the Countess of Edla; or the oceanic pool of Azenhas do Mar, where you can also enjoy delicious seafood. Sintra is a dive into history, but also a leap into fantasy, with views worthy of fairy tales. Elevated to a Cultural Landscape of Humanity’s Heritage, Sintra is a bucolic paradise, filled with history. It inspires writers and poets, painters and singers, musicians and filmmakers, and various fields for centuries. “Everything in Sintra is divine. There isn’t a corner that isn’t a poem,” wrote Eça de Queirós (1845-1900) in Os Maias, a major name in Portuguese literature. And he wasn’t wrong.

Start by falling in love with the historic center, where you will make some stops that promise to surprise you, from the Fonte Mourisca, a work by José da Fonseca from 1922, made to enhance the entrance to the village, to the National Palace of Sintra, the oldest in Portugal. In the alleys, discover picturesque houses, handicraft shops, and some of the historic cafes, always with the mountain in the background. And don’t be surprised if the day is gray, as the mist is part of the mystique. Being a village full of mysticism, don’t miss the Mitos e Lendas Interpretative Center and uncover some secrets. At Quinta da Regaleira, you will be amazed by the initiation well – the name is believed to be due to the Masonic initiation rituals that took place – which is nothing more than a spiral underground gallery, where you descend nine levels to the depths of the earth. Also at Regaleira, over four hectares, you will find lush gardens, lakes, fountains, towers, terraces, and caves. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

For more adventure, climb up to the Castle of the Moors and explore the walls that wind along the mountain with breathtaking views. Next to it is the Pena Palace. Built on a steep rock, it is the maximum exponent of 19th-century romanticism, with architectural references of Manueline and Moorish influence. It is located in the Pena Park and time is required for the visit, as there is always something to see and appreciate along the way. But Sintra is also made of the sea, and the best way to discover it is by tram, on a journey that has been going on for over a century. The journey, between the mountain and the sea, is winding, about 13 kilometers long, and lasts about 45 minutes. The route starts next to the Sintra Museum of Modern Art, passes through Colares with a stop, and ends by the seaside at Praia das Maçãs. A good place not only to visit on hot days but also to enjoy some good fish.

But if there is one delicacy that you cannot miss, it is the famous Sintra “travesseiros”, a puff pastry with egg cream, almonds, sugar, and a dose of secret.

And since we mentioned Ursa Beach, right at the beginning, know that it is near Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of Europe. The walk to get here is long, but as soon as you set your eyes on the fine sandy beach, you will quickly realize that it was worth it.