Day Trippin' in Sintra
Ahhh, the day trip. The day trip can be so many different things. A rejuvenating escape. A necessary respite from routine. The trip within a trip. Flirtatious mini-vacation. A daydream. While a few rank high in my personal pantheon, one day trip in particular stands out as the most memorable of all – Sintra.
Nestled high in the Serra da Sintra around 31 km or 45 minutes from Lisbon, Sintra has been attracting visitors for centuries. According to legend the Roman goddess Diana the Huntress used the mountains as her retreat. It is from Diana — also known to the Romans as Cynthia — that Sintra derives its name. Conquering Romans and Moors also presumably enjoyed Sintra's cool, verdant spirit. Famed English poet Lord Byron also sung the town's praises while staying at Lawrence's Hotel, considered to be the Iberian peninsula's oldest hotel, and still around to this day.
For over 600 years the Portuguese royal family and aristocracy have used the hilly town as their summer residence. By their guiding hands Sintra developed into a center of European Romantic architecture, eventually influencing the development of landscape architecture throughout the continent. Spectacular palaces and parks decorate the mountainous landscape, most notable among them the Pálacio Nacional da Pena, Castelo dos Mouros and Palácio Nacional de Sintra.
These days tourists descend — or is it ascend (?) — upon the UNESCO-designated world heritage for the same reasons as the blue bloods did; to experience its quiet architectural, cultural and naturalist charm. Or as also as a stopover on their way through the Sintra-Cascais Parque Natural or to Cabo da Roca, mainland Europe's westernmost point. Extremely popular with Lisboetas and foreign tourists alike, Sintra is no secret village hidden away in the hills. Traffic between the town and the capital is notoriously bad, especially on weekends.
However, I romantically remember Sintra differently. I arrived naïve to its pastoral charisma, my mind untainted by internet images and bullet points in guide books. As we winded our way up the hills on rain slicked roads, Sintra emerged as a sleepy, unexpected beauty emerging from the mist of a wet March day like a bright bouquet of flowers among the treetops. It appeared to us like the secret that it isn't, ours to discover, live and now, thanks to you, relive.