Sintra, Portugal

Before reviewing our time in Sintra, a few thoughts about Portugal. First, the people, and the country, seem happy and relatively isolated from international politics. Portugal and Spain do not receive natural gas from the Russian pipeline and are thus more independent in terms of their energy consumptions. It also seems to me that Portugal doesn’t worry as much about terrorism or aggressions in general. I noticed that the flight attendants on Portugals National Airline, TAP, opened the door to the cockpit without putting the usual barricade of beverage carts in the way. There has not been a reported terrorist attack here since 2011. In 2021, Portugal had a 0.91 crime rate, per 100, 000 citizens. There are less guns in their homes now compared to the numbers at the beginning of the pandemic. Needless to say, my home country of America has more gun violence deaths in One Day than Portugal experiences in a year. I believe these happy and safety trends carry over in other ways. For example, while playing golf in Sintra, the course was lined for a few holes by very upscale townhouses. Most of these properties had pools in their back yards, but were lacking in fencing, both to separate themselves from the golf course and to add a child safety barrier around the pools. The food and wines are great … The language is romantic … The people are courteous and helpful. No one I know who has been here ever has anything negative to say about Portugal … Which probably contributes to this country being one of the more popular destinations for Americans who retire abroad.

SINTRA When putting this little stopover together, we decided to stay in a very nice resort in the countryside rather than a Lisbon hotel. We could take the train into Lisbon, and enjoy the golf course and 15th century monastery on the grounds. All this worked out well, and little did we know that our country hotel was on the outskirts of Lisbon’s favorite day trip, Sintra.

The two pics above were taken from the local golf course. The first shows the ruins of a 15th century aqueduct behind the fifth green. The second pic is from the back nine as I made the turn back toward the clubhouse and hotel … The peak in the distance anchors a cross at its summit and is on the vast acreage that surrounds the resort. Mrs Bear sampled the hiking trails while I challenged this excellent golf layout.

Sintra is kind of like a rich suburb of Lisbon. It is about 14 miles away and sits in the foothills of a mountain range that makes the summer temperatures a bit more comfortable. It is a lovely town with museums, churches, and numerous cobblestone streets with outdoor cafes, bars, and shops. While the residences we saw from the train on the way into Lisbon were exclusively high rise buildings, Sintra has as many single family residences as villas. Sintra is where the money is … And Sintra also has large ex pat communities which contribute to its upscale atmosphere.

Mrs Bear and I did not spend much time in Sintra’s tourist area during our visit. We walked the streets and had a late lunch, but missed the town attractions … because we spent our day in the mountains above the town.

We took an Uber to the entrance of the Peña Palace, which sits near the top of a mountain that overshadows the town. On a clear day, the Palace can be seen from Lisbon. The site was always a favorite of Portugal’s royal family, who replaced the church initially erected there with the construction of a monastery in the early 1500s. Severe damage in the 18th century by lightning and the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 leveled everything but the chapel. The monastery remained in ruins until King Ferdinand ordered the construction of a palace that would serve as the summer residence of the royal family. Construction occurred between 1842 and 1854. It was occupied by the ruling families until 1910 when the Republic of Portugal was established and the monarchs went into exile. Portugal’s last Queen, Amelia, spent her last night in the country before heading into exile. Since then, the Palace has become a cultural monument to be visited by the Portuguese citizens.

From the entrance, the healthy visitor walks a 15 minute strenuously uphill path to the Palace. Some choose to hike up from town, which probably adds an additional couple hours to their challenge. I’m sure this Palace was a challenge to build. The limestone and granite came from the Sintra Mountains, but the steep approaches made any building or renovation into a significant accomplishment.

While looking out at the surrounding countryside from the Palace, we noticed the ruins of another Moorish citadel.

So Mrs Bear and I descended from the Palace and hoofed to the fort. This structure was constructed around 1000. It was built by the Moors to protect the surrounding mountains and the ocean navigation routes into Lisbon. The Moors stayed until 1147 when Sintra was handed over to the first King of Portugal. The citadel began an archeological renovation in the 1970s.

The Moorish Citadel is above Mrs Bear on the mountaintop. This vantage is from Peña Palace

Thank you, Mrs Bear, for being such a lovely model.

After a drink and a rest, we hiked downhill into Sintra and took the pics at the top of this post. We decided to leave the rest of Sintra for a future visit. There are still lots of other palaces, mansions, and cafes to visit.

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