This week’s dream
Sintra—Portugal’s royal resort town
The unique charms of Sintra are “enough to bring out the 19th-century romantic in all of us,” said Christopher Muther in The Boston Globe. The historic Portuguese resort town, which royals once used as a summer escape from nearby Lisbon, spreads a dazzling array of palaces and castles across seven green hills. Because Sintra sits just a 30-minute drive from the capital, many tourists treat this glorious place as a day trip. “Listen to me: Sintra is not a day trip. If you think you can properly experience five palaces, a castle, a convent, plus squeeze in time for suckling pig and a trip to the beach in a single day, then it’s time to re-evaluate your vacation priorities.”
I spent my first morning in Sintra at Quinta da Regaleira, an “outrageously Gothic” 1910 palace known for its mysterious “initiation wells”—two semi-hidden structures that bore into the earth like inverted towers and the larger of which wraps the vertical central space with spiral stairs that descend 90 feet to a dry stone floor. The palace, with its park-like grounds, draws tourists by the busload. But I arrived shortly before the morning rush, and unlike the day-trippers I had time afterward for a leisurely lunch and a stroll around Sintra’s historic downtown. There I stocked up on local pastries to tide me over during an afternoon trip to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of mainland Europe. The lighthouse there stands amid a flowery field on the shoulder of a sheer cliff.
Sintra offers much else. It’s become a destination for golfers and hikers. There are Roman ruins, several museums, and a 1904 tram that runs to Praia das Maçãs, a beach not far from some terrific wineries. “But what I treasured most were those moments spent rambling through palaces and sweeping gardens that represented a time when Sintra was a sanctuary for royals and romantics.” My favorite, the relatively lesser-known Monserrate Castle, offers the chance to stroll through a rose garden and a Mexican garden, and past ornamental lakes and a small waterfall. No wonder the poet Lord Byron once called Sintra “the most delightful” town in all of Europe.
At the Sintra Boutique Hotel (sintraboutiquehotel.com), doubles start at $138. ■