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Exploring Portugal

Flying for seven hours from Dubai was no joke. But the long flight was well compensated when we arrived at the Aeroporto de Lisboa (Lisbon’s International Airport). Our pick-up came on time, and in brief

Flying for seven hours from Dubai was no joke. But the long flight was well compensated when we arrived at the Aeroporto de Lisboa (Lisbon’s International Airport). Our pick-up came on time, and in brief exchange on the way to the hotel we’ve made our initial impression of the Portuguese: they are welcoming, friendly and warm.

About Portugese

Everyone speaks English to make it easy for the tourists to converse. They engage in long discussions with every tourist, every nationality, making no discrimination at all. They tell tales about their country, but never fail to listen to their guests’ own stories. They are very thoughtful hosts, ensuring that their guests enjoy each moment of their stay – mindful of what their guests need even if that entails leaving them alone for some leisure time on their own. They are ready to lend hands and extend their service, yet most of all they are always ready to share a big smile, giving a sense of relief to tourists.

But the beauty of Portugal does extend beyond the warmth of its people. The country, however small it appears on the map, is a breathtaking land that is filled with palaces, castles, mystery, history and fashion. Its capital, Lisboa (Lisbon), is a magnificent city that is clean, safe and vibrant. Buzzing with tourists, the capital offers a sense of security among travelers since it’s safe to walk around even in the middle of the night. The museums, the streets, the malls and markets are not only great sightseeing spots – they are also perfect locations to bag great finds.

“ The two-day stay at hilly Sintra was a breeze, but the memories of the breathtaking landscapes, rich history, amazing food and friendliest people will stay forever in our hearts”

When in Portugal, it would be a pity to simply marvel at country’s capital. Travelers are advised to pursue their journey to other cities. For some religious devotees, Fatima is a must. For beach fanatics, the Azores, Guincho and Madeira would be heaven. But for us, who were looking for some luxurious time (meaning serenity mixed with excitement and history), Sintra, a town classified as world heritage by UNESCO, was the place to be.

On our road trip to Sintra from Lisboa, we made stops in neighbouring spots such as Estoril, Cascais and Guincho. The laidback vibe of Estoril and the picturesque view of Cascais kept us awake during our ride.

The two-day stay at hilly Sintra was a breeze, but the memories of the breathtaking landscapes, rich history, amazing food, great weather, and friendliest people would stay forever in our minds and hearts.

Things to do in Sintra

In a quiet city like Sintra, you may opt to explore the historical side of Portugal, stroll around its quaint market places or simply stay at its post-palace luxury hotels. In our case, we went to do all.

There were a number of beautiful palaces, castles and museums but we were guided to visit first the Convento dos Capuchos. Tucked away up of Sintra, the “Capuchos Convent” or “Cork Convent” was established in 1560 by Dom Álvaro de Castro, Counsellor of State to King Sebastião, with the name Convento de Santa Cruz da Serra de Sintra. It is noteworthy for the extreme poverty of its construction, which represents the ideal of the Order of St. Francis of Assisi, and for the extensive use of cork in the protection and decoration of its small spaces.

Another notable place to be is the Parque e Palacio de Monserrate. A stunning piece of nature located 4km away from the historic centre of Sintra, the park houses thousands of botanical species and a grand Palace that is under rehabilitation after years of being abandoned. While here, take time to feel the rich history of the palace, marvel at its beauty and enjoy the opportunity to have had the chance to step into it.

Palácio da Pena

Palace of Pena

The National Palace of Sintra, located in the historic town centre, should also be in the must-visit list. It was inhabited for nearly eight centuries by the Portuguese monarchy and its court. It was much used, particularly during the Middle Ages, as a hunting retreat and as a refuge from outbreaks of disease in the capital, or as a summer resort, thanks to the town’s more agreeable and pleasant climate.

The building combines various architectural styles. Gothic and Manueline elements are particularly visible, as is the Mudéjar style– a harmonious combination of Muslim and Christian artistic influences – immediately apparent in the exuberant Hispano-Moresque tiling. The collections displayed within the Palace also bear artistic witness to the multicultural nature of Portuguese decorative art between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.

When it comes to palaces, Sintra boasts having the Park and Palace of Pena that are Portugal’s greatest example of nineteenth-century Romanticism and the most important element in the cultural landscape of Sintra – World Heritage Site.

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Moorish Castle

Established on top of the hill as a result of the creative genius of Ferdinand II of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, king consort and husband of Queen Maria II, it incorporates architectural references of Manueline and Moorish influence which give rise to a surprising “One Thousand and One Nights” effect.

Meanwhile, not to miss when in Sintra is the Moorish Castle, a military fortification that bears witness to the Islamic presence in the region, and was probably constructed between the eighth and ninth centuries and later expanded after the Reconquista. Overlooking the town of Sintra, it served as a watchtower, guaranteeing the protection of Lisbon and its surroundings. It was acquired and restored as a medieval ruin, also in keeping with the romantic taste of the period, by Ferdinand II.

Luxurious stay in Sintra

From boutique hotels to luxury hotels, Sintra is filled with best places to stay. With stroke of good luck, we were hosted at the best of the bests: the Hotel Tivoli Palacio de Seteais. More than just a five-star accommodation, this hotel offers the elegance and architecture of the XVIII century.

Aside from the spectacular views of Moorish Castle and Pena Palace, the Hotel Tivoli Palacio de Seteais also offers the magnificent surroundings of lush gardens and remarkable scenery. Its beautifully decorated rooms furnished with luxurious interior, its ballrooms, lobby and aisle are draped with rich tapestries and incredible chandeliers.

Spending time in this hotel is magical – it transported us to the time when ball gowns were casual fashion, and carriages were means of royal transportation. Sleeping and waking up in this lavish environment was a dream come true, allowing us to live like royals even if it’s only for two nights.

Where to dine in Sintra

Eating in Portugal is easy but eating great food is what we wanted. The choices given to us were great starting with the amazing restaurant at the Fortaleza do Guincho, a five-star hotel overlooking the famous shoreline of Guincho (featured in James Bond film) for lunch was the best idea ever. The view was fantastic, the service was efficient, and the food was scrumptious. It was then after that meal that we headed to our first destination in Sintra.

Our next journey to culinary wonders was in The Mix Restaurant at the remarkable boutique hotel, Farol Design Hotel, located between the powdered sands of Guincho Beach and the picturesque fishing village of Cascais. The interior was patterned in contemporary glamour, emphasising the chic fashion the hotel is known for. It offers flavours of Mediterranean fusion, all fresh and mouthwatering.

Last but not least, on our last night at Sintra, we traveled to the neighbouring Cascais to taste some traditional food. The quaint restaurant at Vila Bicuda, a luxurious resort, filled us with gastronomical wonders. It was indeed a fitting cap to our stay: great food and great companions.

by Sherry Tenorio

Review overview
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