Home PLACES OF INTEREST
PLACES OF INTERESTDISCOVER LISBON AND ITS SURROUNDINGS
BEACHES AND COASTS
EXCURSIONS FROM LISBON
A beautiful town at the foot of the mountain range of the same name, its unique characteristics have led UNESCO to classify it as a World heritage site. It was even necessary to create a special category for the purpose – that of “cultural landscape” – taking into account its natural riches as well as the historic buildings in the town and mountains. Endowed with luxuriant vegetation, the mountains are part of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
From early times Sintra has been the place of choice for the settlement of various peoples who have passed through the Iberian Peninsula and left traces of their presence, which are now displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Odrinhas, in the outskirts of the town.
In the 12th century, Dom Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, captured the Moorish Castle, and his successors later built their holiday residence. Their physiognomy is marked by the two enormous conical chimneys built in the Middle Ages.
Much appreciated by kings and nobles as a country resort, and praised by writers and poets like (inevitably) Lord Byron who called it “glorious Eden”, Sintra has a wealth of cottages and manor houses, some of which now provide accommodation in the form of country-house tourism.
The palaces, too, are outstanding, such as the Pena Palace, built in the Romantic period on one of the mountain peaks, and the 18th century Palace of Seteais, now converted into an elegant hotel, and the Palace of Monserrate, famous for its beautiful gardens with their exotic species that are unique in the country.
Sintra’s confectionery deserves a special mention, particularly the travesseiros (puff pastes stuffed with a sweet eggy mixture) and the famous cheese-cakes, which according to ancient documents were already being made in the 12th century, and were part of the rent payments.
Near Sintra are the beaches (das Maças, Praia Grande, Praia da Adraga), Cabo da Roca (the westernmost point of mainland Europe), Colares (after which a demarcated wine-growing region is named), and the picturesque village of Azenhas do Mar, inset in a cliff.
Cascais and Estoril
Cascais and Estoril, or the coast north of Lisbon, became one of the most cosmopolitan and touristic places in Portugal ever since King Luís I chose the bay for his summer residence in the late 19th century.
The mild climate and an annual average of 260 rainless days were surely strong reasons for his choice and for the most affluent families of the time to follow the royal family and set up their villas and mansions there. It’s worth going on a stroll around town to get a feel for the atmosphere of that period.
To get there, follow the waterfront road from Lisbon to Cascais or take the train. It’s a very scenic route, always hugging the River Tagus and the busy beaches of the Estoril coast. En route, you will pass various forts erected to defend the capital, providing crossfire with the Bugio Fort, right in the middle of the river mouth, between Santo Amaro, on one side, and Trafaria, on the opposite bank.
Palácio Nacional de Queluz
The Palace of Queluz and its gardens, represents one of the finest examples of late 18th-century Portuguese architecture.
Built at the orders of Pedro III, the husband of D. Maria I (1734-1816), and used as a royal residence, this palace is one of the finest examples of Portuguese architecture in the late 18C.
It has been further enriched by an important museum of decorative art, whose collections mostly belonged to the royal family and are exhibited in an appropriate setting. Many of the rooms are decorated in the rocaille style, such as the superb Throne Room, its walls lined with mirrors and magnificent carved gilded woodwork.
The surrounding gardens are embellished with fountains and ornamental ponds, where sparkling water spouts forth from mythological figures. Particularly impressive is the group of sculptures around the Neptune Basin.