Sintra – A Town of Castles

Sintra, Portugal is located to the west of Lisboa, a short train ride out of the busy capital.  It is a magical mountaintop on the edge of a national park that is the home to many castles built by many conquerers.  Romans, Moors, and Christian crusaders fought many battles and all occupied the space for a time before Portuguese kings began to use the town as a weekend retreat.  Now it is one of the most touristy places in Portugal but well worth fighting the crowds to see.  From perfect castles to ruins of ancient fortresses to cobblestone hikes through thick forests, Sintra has a lot for everyone.  We didn’t actually go inside any of the castles because they are expensive and we would rather just take pictures and walk around the outside.

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Quant old houses with the Moorish Castle visible on top of the hill

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The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (like everywhere else in Europe, it seems) and has many nice restaurants and cafes.  We brought some food for a picnic because everything in Sintra is overpriced.

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Hiking to the Moorish Castle at the top of the mountain.

SintraWe enjoyed the hike to the top.  There were amazing views and it felt like we had escaped the city life for at least a short time.

Part of the Moorish Castle in Sintra

We continued along the trail to Pena National Palace.  They made you pay like 15 Euros before you could even see anything.

 

If we had a little bit more cash to spare, we definitely would have gone inside the palace.  As it was, we felt more like hiking and enjoying some nature anyway.  Sintra was a very good escape from the big city!

 

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Porto, Oporto. You’re old but still awesome.

Upon seeing Oporto (Porto in English), Portugal for the first time, we felt a little lost in time.  The streets were narrow and cobblestone and a bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel looked down upon us.  The old boats once ferried barrels of wine up the Douro River from the Douro Valley to be stored in the cooler cellars of the city.  Now they existed to taxi tourists up the river to view the city and six bridges.  The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great place to get lost.

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Puente Maria Pia, Designed by Gusave Eiffel.

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We walked up the river then across the top of the bridge where the view was amazing.  It was hot and sunny which was a nice change after a lot of rain in northwestern Spain (Galacia – The Tower of Hercules in A Coruña, another UNESCO site).  We loved the colorful buildings and streets, too small for most cars.  The people were extremely friendly, helping us out with our poor Portuguese.  Our method was to mix the few words we knew with Spanish and change the pronunciation.  It worked pretty well after some practice but people would still use English before we even opened our mouths.

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After getting lost for awhile in the old city, we made our way back to the river and did a tour and tasting at Sandeman Cellars, one of the more famous port producers in the world.  It’s hard to sample a lot of port because of the high alcohol content but they still give you very large pours!

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A terrible picture but that’s vintage port from 1904!

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We loved Oporto and would like to return someday.  Unfortunately it rained our second day there so we were forced to take a much needed resting day.  Stay tuned for details of our adventures in Portugal’s capital, Lisbon.