Half an hour from Lisbon is the small town of Sintra, located on a forested mountain. It is home to historic palaces, a Moorish castle, and other picturesque tourist attractions.
We visited on Good Friday and the crowds were out in force. We were glad we decided to go with Lisbon Destination Tours instead of finding our own way on the trains and overcrowded buses.
Our guide Flecha was patient and personable, navigating our small group through the chaos — even negotiating with angry traffic cops — to get us where we needed to go. All the while he shared interesting history and stories from the perspective of a local.
Sintra is certainly scenic, with the castle looming above, but most local life is buried under gift shops, restaurants and hotels. We did have a nice port and cheese tasting in one of the small shops.
Of the three main tourist attractions in Sintra, each of which could take a full day, our group decided on the Quinta da Regaleira, an elaborate Romantic-era “folly” of waterfalls, wells, palaces, waterfalls, sculptures and other elements constructed by a series of millionaires with money to burn on their summer estate.
This Unfinished Well is a deep hole surrounded by many levels of winding stone staircases. At the bottom, tunnels lead into the hillside and emerge elsewhere.
I climbed part way to the bottom and took a photo upwards of our tour group: Justin from Buffalo, Mattie from San Francisco, and Josie.
At the very bottom things were pitch black, and the only light was provided by those with cell phone flashlight apps and a small circle of sunshine high above.
The map of Quinta da Regaleira we were provided with was approximate at best, and I suspect the place was designed to help you get lost. This means every new path and tunnel was an adventure into the unknown.
The Labrynthic Grotto was a series of underground tunnels with viewpoints into a scenic duck-filled pond.
The Main House on the property looked more like a miniature palace.
The interior was filled with elaborate hunting motifs.
In one crowded room, a opera singer was providing some atmosphere.
After two hours of sensory overload, it was relaxing to head on to Cabo da Roca and enjoy some Portuguese roadside scenery along the way.