Returning to Sintra feels a little like how the Pevensie children must have felt after they returned to Narnia the second time. There’s magic in this place that you can never grow tired of, from the serenity of the Convent of the Capuchos to the Moorish opulence of the Palace of Pena, Sintra is a world unto itself.
The town, which probably hasn’t changed much since the days Quinta da Regaleira was raised, certainly didn’t change between the short time when we had visited Sintra first, and now. The old town remained the maze of shops, delis and restaurants serving food the Portuguese way – delicious and unfussy, but with artistry.
Walking around the town, it’s not easy to figure out when the town ends and the country estates begin. From the middle, looking around at the slopes, opulent manors surround the charming core of old apartments and narrow streets – the town of Sintra itself stands as an attraction in its own right.
It was a place where people less highly born lived out their lives, while their lords lived theirs in the surrounding palaces and manors. That said, many of these people were nigh on wealthy beyond imagining themselves, when compared to the average peasant at the time.
Quinta da Regaleria
Quinta da Regaleria will always be worth a visit. I feel I could come back here time and time again, without ever tiring of the mystic architecture imbued with symbolism from different ages – beginning with the Greek gods and goddesses, to artefacts from the Enlightenment. The star attraction as ever is the Initiation Well at the heart of the palace, an architectural interpretation of Dante’s Inferno, the path leading down into the ground only to open up to a beautiful pond under a small waterfall.
The gardens surrounding Quinta are beautiful all year round, and some day soon I would like to visit it in a different season, perhaps late autumn, when the leaves of the trees around will turn red and gold. But when we were there, they were the still maintain the verdant green of summer, with an occasional sprinkle of yellow.
The gardens are lush and thick, hiding the palace and its ornate stone structure and all its symbolism in vegetation. The architect had certainly intended it – at the time, Quinta represented enlightened views that were only just beginning to take hold in the West, and perhaps the lord wanted a private space away from the rest of the world that would not understand these views.
As you are driving or walking around Sintra, you will notice the breathtaking silhouette of the Moorish Castle lining the edge of the mountain. We visited it the last time and it was quite nice, but we didn’t feel the need to revisit it.
Convent of the Capuchos
The Convent of the Capuchos remains a delight. The last time we visited, the entire place was shrouded in a mysterious fog. It was one of the most truly beautiful places I had ever visited. It had felt as if the fog had came and taken us back in time. This time around, however, the sun was shining full and bright, giving the place a completely different character.
The squat little buildings in the small monastery remain as charming as they ever were and as they had been the past hundreds of years. Covered in green and orange moss, with creepers, tiny and slightly larger ones, covering so much wall and roof you could barely make out the buildings from the forest. There is always something magical about places that have been conquered by nature, but whose structure yet still stands. Almost as if saying nature and man could live together, given the right attitude and sense of interior design.
More impressive than the Monastery, however, is the forest that surrounds the place. There’s a few paths that go on for quite a bit, you could walk down on and explore. Unlike the gardens of the Palace of Pena, the gardens of the Convent of the Capuchos… well, it isn’t like a garden at all, more like a private bit of forest, whose association with the Convent is marked by how silent it is and how every visitor walks about with a reverence you don’t find elsewhere in Sintra.
Palace of Pena
The Palace of Pena, standing high up on the mountain, a riot of colours, was an exciting repeat visit, with lots of history and spectacular views from the balustrade.
To be honest, to visit it once is enough, but some friends were with us, and we decided to join them again for the tour. It was still interesting to see all the opulent rooms in the Palace and imagine the lives people use to lead back then.
As ever, my favourite place in these kinds of places is the kitchen. I also really like old libraries, but there were no libraries here, unfortunately. The Palace of Pena does have a kitchen such that any chef that ever lived would be pleased to work in.
It doesn’t even look that much different from a well equipped modern kitchen. I guess no matter how far haute cuisine has progressed today, we can still make the most delicious dishes from the simplest of tools.