If Lisbon felt bold and real, Sintra was pale and dreamy. Bolthole of the Royal Family for many years, it’s hard to believe that anyone actually really lives there and yet beyond its centre it is clear they do, albeit that it is often behind large walls in grand houses. It’s likely that its inhabitants keep well anyway from its mystical core in the height of the summer, thronged with visitors, and I had the benefit of staying outside it in a quiet residential area.
This meant that on the days I stayed there and went exploring I experienced its full magical effect through contrast. Roads twisted and turned, seemingly disappearing behind us, glints of light flashed through trees that seemed to form a guard of honour over Sintra’s secrets. Unofficial paths crumbled under foot with its bold architecture and colours like lighthouses for the lost. No pictures can fully capture the essence of this place, its like an elusive ghost hunt- you try to capture it but it is impossible. Sintra’s beauty can be seen but its potency is in the experience, the smell, the feel, the excitement of the senses.
The Pena Palace is the grandiose image of Sintra with its bright towers and turrets. The journey to it is both a challenge and an illusory puzzle. You move towards it and yet it seems further away and then it seems to emerge from nowhere. Broad domed towers of gold stand against Moroccan red towers. These offer views of the whole of Sintra, green forests rising and falling out of the mist. I got lost in the grounds of the palace, its expanse and pathways confusing me. Again it is the sense of the place that you remember, at many points it felt like hidden eyes were watching as made my way back to the palace entrance.
Quinta de Regaleira is another of Sintra’s magical residences. Its gardens are a labyrinth of wells, nookies, hidden seats. I felt rather underdressed here as well as at the Pena Palace. I imagined previous inhabitants dancing through the pathways in tight trousers and flowing shirts. I mooched through in jeans and t-shirt but id arrived in Portugal with 7kg of hand luggage, whereas I imagined when the residents of these properties travelled they did not travel light. If the properties were anything to go by the whole of life was exuberant and rich.
After all this sensory overload I needed some R & R and so I took the train down to the Algarve. I loved the journey on the train. If Sintra took me back to a previous century, the train ride journeyed me back to the 70’s due to a buffer car that was like the set of a bad sci-fi series. Beautifully moulded seemingly out of one piece of plastic it was the perfect quirky colourful place to sit and watch the countryside roll. I felt like I should be drinking a babycham cocktail, I settled for a can of the barman’s finest portugese lager
There were many choices on where to stay in the Algarve. I settled for Tavira in the Eastern Algarve. I stayed there for two nights. Enough to enjoy its cobbled streets, its delicate architecture, its waterfront and its beautiful beach. It was the perfect end to my time in Portugal