Travel // Cascais Part Two, Sintra {AD with Visit Cascais}

May 20, 2019

AD, this is not a paid partnership but we were hosted with Visit Cascais for our trip and activities provided, we paid for our flights and everything else. All opinions are 100% my own // You can find Part One all about Cascais itself here.

The real magic of Cascais lies with its proximity to Sintra, a historical town up in the hills that’s often shrouded with mist and a real must visit. Lonely Planet describe it as 'a page from a fairytale' and it really does feel like you've stepped into some other worldly scene. Over the past few centuries, it became a draw to royalty because of the fertility and microclimate making it an ideal escape from the extreme summer heat for lots of Europe's rulers and wealthy artisans to set up their summer homes or palaces. They built elaborate mansions following the Romanticism movement. It’s now UNESCO protected and a world heritage site with five palaces to choose between.

The three main palaces are Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleira and Monserrate Palace. We visited Pena and Quinta on our first visit {they’re the most popular and often the ones that you would choose to visit if you only have one day. Read this past blog post on our trips for maximising your visit to those two without crowds}. Pena is incredible with its bright, garish colours and opulent varied decoration, whilst Quinta is gothically romantic, with a dreamy mini forest of hydrangea bushes in bloom during the summer months.

This time around we were excited to tick the third palace off our list, one that often gets overlooked and as a result doesn’t see half as many crowds as the other two. It’s still worth getting there as close to opening as you can though, especially if you’re visiting in summer. Our trip was with a guide, Andre from Shortcuts Tourism Portugal and it was such a treat to learn so much throughout our day with him. We’re guilty of never normally going for a guided tour or even ever making use of those audio tour things at places like this, we always always appreciate the beauty of wherever we visit but actually you really do enjoy and appreciate everything so much more when you understand the history. It helped that Andre was incredibly enthusiastic and not like your typical tour guide, all his tours are bespoke and private, he’s Portuguese with an American wife and just the coolest guy, by the end of it we’d talked so much about everything and anything {he loves travel like us and has a baby daughter} he felt like almost like a friend. Definitely very good at his job and kept it so interesting for us.

Arriving for opening, we had the palace to ourselves to start with!

The palace was spectacular. Once an abandoned estate, in 1856 Francis Cook bought it and built this Oriental style palace in a Moorish style and taking influence from the Romanticism period which became his summer house for entertaining, with exotic gardens with plants from all over the world. Over the next century, it gradually became deserted and left in disrepair for a number of years. Later, it was rediscovered by the Government who set about restoring it and it only reopened a few years ago in 2015 . This was almost the most impressive part, looking at the photos of how it was found and realising the huge restoration project that’s been undertaken to get it back to glory in the correct manner. The level of detail stunned us, looking up at the tiled ceilings, the ornate carvings, the huge rooms built for entertaining. You can go down and see the original oven in the servants kitchen in the basement. it really was one of the most incredible places we’ve ever visited.

The gardens were a real highlight and have won best European garden of the year, containing so many plants from across the globe. There are cacti from Mexico, a cinnamon tree from India, a giant sequoia normally seen in America, wisteria, hydrangeas, roses, you name it. All growing in harmony in this special Sintra climate. I really loved the birds of paradise, bright orange against the palace and the plants we’d be happy with as indoor houseplants back home - all growing huge outside here. In the grounds there are waterfalls to discover and there’s a hidden chapel thats been overtaken by a weeping fig tree, like something out of Indiana Jones or Angkor Wat in Cambodia perhaps.

For all palaces you can book your tickets in advance online. I wouldn’t recommend driving here as parking is a nightmare. Instead, there’s a direct bus from Cascais or a train station to reach Sintra from Lisbon. In the town itself there are buses that run around the town stopping at each palace or tuk tuks you can take up the hills to the entrances, or even Uber. Even better, you could book a guided tour.

In Sintra town itself, again it’s protected from development. Although a little touristy, it’s worth a small stop on your way through to visit the palaces, if for the famous pastries alone. You must, must visit Piriquita and order their three signature pastries. Like eating clouds of heaven. We had lunch in the main square at Cafe Paris, perfectly good although I’d say it might be nicer to pack a picnic and have it in one of the palace gardens if it’s a nice day.

Sintra has a unique microclimate, with the warm ocean air and the slight altitude which means that although a lot of the time it can be grey and take a while for the clouds to burn off, it allows for a huge range of tropical plants to grow in all the palace gardens.

As if our day hadn’t been awe inspiring enough, Visit Cascais then decided to treat us to a ride back down to the coast in a vintage Rolls Royce as part of a tour with Top Emotions in an old timer. It was SO crazy and so much fun. What an experience to remember. We stopped off at some coastal towns, a couple of fishing villages {Azenhos do Mar would be worth visiting for the popular seafood restaurants if you did have a car in Cascais}, continental Europe’s most westerly point {Cabo da Roca} and past Guincho Beach. There were also a couple of interior shops that were dreamy {Flores de Cabo} but nothing would fit in our hand luggage to bring home!

Just a couple of days but it felt like a proper holiday as we managed to pack so much in.

You can find more on the Visit Cascais website here.

R <3 xx

You Might Also Like


@rvk_loves on Instagram