It’s pretty hard to visit Lisbon and not take a day trip out to Sintra. When chatting around the hostel it was not a matter of “if” but “when.” I went on the day where four other dorm-mates agreed to my ambitious plan of buying the day pass to tackle Sintra, Cabo da Roca, and Cascais all in the same day. We made a wake-up pact to ensure our early departure and dismiss any guilt around making a bunch of noise early in the morning.
Catching a train was easy (they leave every 20 minutes) and the day passes even gave us free use of the bus which was much more enjoyable than climbing the steep hills up to our first destination, the Palácio da Pena.
Sintra was a traditional summer getaway for Portuguese nobles. Nestled high in the mountains, the cool breezes were a welcome relief from the stifling heat of the city. I, however, was not there in the summer and didn’t appreciate the wailing gales coming off the Atlantic, especially considering that I had yet to acclimatize to the European chill after months in the sweltering tropics.
We found refuge in the castle’s stunning interiors where elaborate furniture and ornaments were on display. Sometimes I’d pop out for shots of the castle exterior or its panoramic views, but mainly I was happy staring at old chandeliers and ornamental furnishings.
We briefly strolled through the castle gardens but our hearts (or rather stomachs) were set on warm pastries. Sintra is the birthplace of its own little gems. Our first stop was Sapa, the bakery where queijadas originated before moving on to Piriquita for its travesseiros. Both were decent, but nowhere close to the pastel de nata.
Rejuvenated by the pastries and caffeine, we visited the the Quinta da Regaleira and sought-out its famous underground passages and mystical well whose stairs lead up from the proverbial pits of hell into the light of heaven.
Alas, the heaven we climbed up to was cold and rainy so we set our sights on Cabo da Roca and hopped on a bus which was then driven at breakneck speeds on windy mountain roads by a maniacal driver who seemed oblivious to the fact that half of us were standing up and holding on for dear lives. (Maybe we never climbed out of the well?)
The journey paid off with the stunning sunset light illuminating the western-most point of continental Europe and its barren landscape sculpted by the fury of the Atlantic winds. We all had some fun being pummelled by its force and were lucky enough to catch the last bus to Cascais.
But by the time we got to Cascais the sun had set and all we cared about was finding real food in a warm restaurant before getting on a train back to our warm showers and suddenly luxurious dorm bunks.