Secrets, Castles, Caves and Magic

April 25, 2018

So yesterday, once I discovered the train station here in Lisbon, Portugal and knew that I could buy a ticket to get to a popular destination and a place of country pride- Sintra, that’s exactly what I did.

Previously I had been researching tours and found that they were all quite expensive (not my usual way of doing things anyway, because I’m cheap and because I usually have enough energy and time to research doing things on my own). Based on a friend’s recommendation, I figured I’d just get out there by train and wander around – like I usually conduct my tourism. img_2847

Well, I was so impressed with my “free“ walking tour yesterday, my tour guide and the company principles, and learned that they had a tour to Sintra – that I decided to go ahead and book it. Also, personally, I do like opportunities to support small business people who are passionate about what they do. Additionally, I figured from the little research I’d done, that it was a very big place and that having some focus would really help me make the most of my time.

Once again, I came away very happy with my decision. It turned out that I was the only one on the tour and so I got one-on-one attention from Diana who was so amazing and very fun to be with! She is Portuguese, knew the history backwards and forwards, showed me countless specific details that I know I would not have seen otherwise, shared insights about the symbolism, involvement of the Knights Templar and the Free Masons, architectural aspects (her degree at University!), “secret” movable doors and passage ways – I could just go on and on!

Plus she introduced me to two different pastries at two different spots that were pretty fabulous and are true Portuguese specialties –

Queijadas (of Piriquita) are a pastry most famously made in Sintra. It is a small sweet prepared using cheese or requeijão, eggs, milk, and sugar. So delicious!!! I learned that the Piriquita, where they are made, is considered a landmark in Sintra and a “must stop” for tourists visiting this charming village. img_2778

Deanna also introduced me to a Travesseiro (which means “pillow”) of Piriquita- Its made of puff pastry with a filling of almond cream – yet the taste is tough to describe. It really melted in my mouth! Open since 1862, Piriquita became famous for its queijadas. The establishment currently has two units, one right of the main entrance of the alley of Sintra and the other on the same street but higher up. I am more tempted by salty things and can usually say no to sweets. Since I arrived in Lisbon and saw all the pastry shops, I was kind of confused as to why Portugal has this big thing for pastries and really didn’t even plan on having any. But ultimately I figured that I should give in to the culture! I was really glad that I gave them a try – as well as the treat I had yesterday, the famous Pastel de Nata. It’s a good thing I’m doing a lot of walking! img_2777

There is so much to see at Sintra! The Pena Palace (Palacio da Pena) is maybe the most popular. There is an entrance fee and it’s way, way, way up the hill! There’s also a fee to ride the bus up to it. Adjacent is an amazing 100+ acres of gardens and forests, Pena Park (Parque Nacional da Pena). In the vicinity are the Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros), The Convento dos Capuchos, a Franciscan monastery, The National Palace (Palácio Nacional de Sintra), The Monserrate Palace, Santuario da Peninha, Cabo da Roca and Quinta da Regaleira. I only managed to visit the latter!

The train ride is forty minutes each way with little to remark about the views. After spending over three hours there and feeling quite overwhelmed with information and awe – plus not wanting to spend any additional money, I decided I simply must come back another day! And I don’t mean tomorrow! It will just have to be another visit to Lisbon someday…

Quinta da Regaleira, according to the brochure, “is located in the Old Quarter of Sintra and classified as World Heritage by UNESCO. It was built at the end of the 19th century in the spirit of romanticism and its ideals. This ensemble of enigmatic structures and luxurious gardens is a reflection of the philosophical and initiatic pursuits of the owner, Antonio Agusto Carvalho Monteiro (1848-1920) and the talented architect Luigi Manini (1848-1936). More than just another tourist trap, a trip to Quinta da Regaleira is a journey into an imaginary universe of symbolism and metaphor.”

From the website, “The Quinta da Regaleira is an extravagant 19th century gothic mansion that is surrounded with some of the most elaborate gardens of Sintra. The gardens are a joy to explore as they are filled with decorative fortifications, mystic religious symbols and a series of secrete passages and caves. The central feature of the gardens is the initiation well, a well that was drained, expanded and possibly used for cult ceremonies. The Quinta da Regaleira is a popular tourist attraction but not as popular as the Pena Palace or Palácio Nacional and never feels over crowded as most visitors.” img_2794

The combination of ornate architecture, embellishments and symbolism were incredibly fascinating. The different materials, from tiles to rare Brazilian wood and the incorporation of the owner’s interest and egocentricities resulted in quite the eclectic estate. There was a simple but ornate chapel, dining room decked out in all kinds of hunting art and statues, a fountain wall with Mosaic tiles, a palace, fortress walls, and the most fascinating – what they called it an “initiation well”. This is where some of the secret doors were, dark caves to walk through, dripping and standing water and some very cool photo opportunities! I highly recommend it!! The Pena Park looks pretty amazing as well as the palace, so I am sorry to have missed those, but it would’ve been a lot for one day. img_3152

At some point I really would like to summarize some of the history I learned about Lisbon yesterday in my walking tour, and the history of the people behind the many fascinating places at Sintra to share with you here. I’m not making any promises though!

And, today was a holiday! There were festivities, singing and parades everywhere I went today, including Sintra.

From the Portuguese American Journal – By Carolina Matos, Editor – “Since 1974 “Freedom Day” is celebrated in Portugal — April 25 —  as a national holiday to mark the bloodless military coup, supported by the civilian population, bringing democracy and civil liberties to the Portuguese people.” The Carnation is the flower to symbolize this day and is sold and worn everywhere! It is said that the military had them in the ends of their guns looking similarly like blood, but showing that they wanted no violence – and thus were called the Carnation brigade!

Having only had toast for breakfast, and pastries for lunch, I was anxious to get some real food once I got back to town! I ended up having a plate of sardines with a few potatoes and a mixed salad, accompanied with olives and sangria! I then stopped at another outside cafe that was packed with people as I walked to my Airbnb, had a glass of wine and did some people watching for about an hour. I did not pack in as much as I did yesterday, but it was a wonderful, I learned and saw as much as I could handle, and enjoyed everything about it!!

Oh, and I finally road the cable car (#28)! Not much different than New Orleans as far as cable cars go or San Francisco in terms of the winding roads- but when in Lisbon… img_2753

8 responses to “Secrets, Castles, Caves and Magic”

  1. This sounds like an excellent travel day. Now I’m getting interested in visiting Portugal. Very nice that you continue to eat light and healthy while traveling. It isn’t easy to do, how handy that a healthy food store was near your lodging.

    1. HA – getting around to responding a little late…!! I am really just a cheapskate and that’s one reason I shop for food instead of dine out – but yes, it does help me eat mostly what I like and that is generally healthy!!! I had a friend visit Lisbon shortly after I was there and she seemed pretty frustrated that there were so many hills – plus there are a lot of uneven surfaces… There are many things to do in centralized areas though and the trolley cars are a great boon to those who don’t care for a lot of walking. Its very beautiful, charming and SO MUCH HISTORY!!

  2. What a beautiful little city, and those pastries look delicious! I love places like this that are small enough to really let you explore them in depth, but rich enough to keep you interested. A small guided tour is a great way to see all those spots that only the locals would know, and it does save you so much time in the end from researching and planning everything on your own. Great photos too!

    1. Thanks for reading! Seeing your note on this post allowed me to revisit in my mind 🙂 I enjoyed myself so much and left enough unexplored that I will definitely go back! And yes – I highly recommend the walking tour!!

  3. Looks great 🙂

    1. Indeed it was glorious!!

  4. Oh, I wish I could have one of these pastries now! I totally agree with you, it’s so much better to do your own research and being able to go wherever you want to go and for as long as you want to go, instead of being stuck in a travel group.

    1. One of those pastries right now would absolutely be wonderful! I can see the allure of tours, yet I wonder how many people just don’t realize the myriad of resources available for putting together something one’s own…? I have actually missed out on many important local tourist sites just because I haven’t wanted to wait in line let alone be a part of the big tour group waiting in line! Thanks for sharing your comments!

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