Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Cabo da Roca

The Cabo da Roca or Cape Roca is one of the famous stops for the road trippers along the coast of Portugal. It is an important point as this is the most Western point of mainland Portugal, therefore the most Western point of continental Europe. 

Due to its special location it offers great views over the coast to the North, to the South and to the inland, too.

The famous Portuguese poet Luís de Camões, whose tomb can be visited in the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, wrote this about the Cabo da Roca: ‘Aqui, onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa…’ (Here, where the land ends and the sea begins…).

The Cape is in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park and easily accessible from Sintra and Cascais via public transport thanks to the bus nr. 403 which runs between the two. It runs all year around and stops at Cabo da Roca. Check the Tourist Office at either towns before you set out to get the correct timetable.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Sintra – Palácio Nacional da Pena

If you see a photo of a monument in Portugal there’s a high chance that it will be of the National Palace of Pena. This incredible royal palace sits on a top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains and with its colourful walls and eclectic decoration it looks like a huge fairy castle. I remember looking at it the first time and asking ‘who could possibly dream up something so crazy as this?!’.  And I hadn’t even seen it then from the inside!

Originally a tiny little chapel for Our Lady of Pena it was a pilgrimage site, even for many royal members. King Manuel I. had liked the place so much that he ordered a monastery to be built there – which was later completely destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. It took almost a century for somebody to take notice of the place but when they did, they didn’t skimp. King Ferdinand bought the ruins of the monastery, the nearby Moorish Castle and a few more estates around, just to make sure, then ordered a palace to be built and turned it into a royal summer getaway for the Portuguese royal family. A kind of Portuguese Windsor, if you like.

I was right when I thought that the architectural style must be eclectic, it was built in Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance with a lot of symbolism thrown in. Have a look at some of the details of the palace walls.

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the best and there was a low cloud hanging around the palace. Due to this we couldn’t appreciate the views as much however it also added to the place’s mystery.

The view of the Moorish Castle from the Palace.

As the palace was used by the royal family, its last queen, Queen Amélia lived here until her last day before her exile. The Portuguese State bought the building and thankfully left everything as it was in the time of the royals. Almost every room here is arranged so that it’s easy to imagine that the residents just popped out for something and will be back at any time.

 The decoration inside seems as eclectic as outside, every room has a different style.

Not to mention all the random objects that have been accumulated there!

My personal favourite is the sun cannon on the Queen’s Terrace. Every day the sun would ignite the gunpowder through the magnifying glass which would fire the cannon exactly at noon. How cute!

After spending hours wandering around the palace and marvelling at its beauty, you still have the Park to explore. Together with your ticket you get a map as well, so you can pick and choose the places you’d like to see. Here are some of the details.

This was our favourite, a surprised little castle on the water.

The Palace is a national monument and a UNESCO Word Heritage Site, also one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It is still used on occasion by the President of the country. I strongly suggest visiting it if you have time, however there are a few things to consider before you set out.
It is possible to drive up to the entrance. There are many parking places on the side of the road and there are even frequently updated signs to tell you the amount of parking spaces further ahead which is quite helpful but we hadn’t known about at the time. If you don’t want to drive you can take the bus 454 which starts at the train station in Sintra and stops in front of all the monuments.

The entry fee is quite pricey, 14 euros (full price) and it gives you an entrance to the Palace and the Park. You can buy combined tickets as well with other monuments to save some money. From the ticket office the Palace itself is quite a way away and there’s an option to take a shuttle bus for an extra 3 euros. We didn’t pay for it and I personally think that it’s not that much of an effort. They claim that it’s a 15 min steep climb but unless you have kids or of age you should save that 3 euros for a coffee on the terrace of the palace.

If you need more information check out the official website here.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Sintra – Quinta da Regaleira

The Quinta da Regaleira is one of the most popular tourist choices in Sintra and my personal favourite tourist attraction in the whole country. Considering that we still have a whole month in Portugal this is saying a LOT! If you have time to visit only one thing in Sintra, make sure that you make it this amazing place. Beware of the photo overload!

The four-hectar-land changed hands many times over the years and they all added something to it. It finally ended up with Carvalho Monteiro who took it up on him to shape it to his imagination. He asked the help of an Italian architect, Luigi Manini, who dedicated fourteen years of its life to turn the whole area a magical fairy tale full of Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and (my personal favourite) Manueline styles and symbols connected to Masonry, alchemy and the Knights Templar. I know it sounds pretty eclectic but he knew what he was doing.

Together with your ticket you get a very useful map of the Palace and the Garden. Guard it with your life, it's extremely useful if you don't want to miss out on any of the hidden magic!

The Palace
I have never seen anything quite this impressive in such a small place. On every square meter of its five levels there is something to marvel on. The Palace from the outside.

Every room holds something special. There are so much work involved in every little detail that one would think it must have taken years to build one room.

One of my favourite rooms, the Hunting room which is dominated by a lavishly decorated fireplace and a gorgeous mosaic floor.

On top of the palace’s octagonal tower.

After the Palace head over to explore the Park. It feels like a playground for adults, there are so many things to discover here. Luckily together with the tickets you get a map of the area as well so you can make sure that you don’t miss out on anything. It is full of towers, underground tunnels, lakes and statues, it’s hard to decide where to start!

The Initiation Well
I think his is the single coolest and most awesome architectural piece in the whole country. It’s a subterranean inverted tower. Is it hard to get your head around this? Have a look at the photos. You can reach it through the connecting underground tunnels on bottom and on mid-level and walk around the spiral staircase to get to the top.

The Regaleira Tower

The Waterfall Lake with the the stepping stones.

The underground tunnels that are lined with fairy lights.

The small but beautiful chapel.

Some other details of the garden.

If you get tired from all the walking, there's a cafe with a lovely view to rest your feet and feast your eyes on the Palace.

The Quinta da Regaleira is open from 10am till 6pm. If I remember well the entry fee was 8 euros however in my opinion it's worth paying a bit more and go on a guided tour. For more information check out the official website