To top off an already lovely experience in the city, we joined Lisbon Riders for a day trip to nearby towns of Sintra and Cascais. Yes, not just one, but two interesting settlements neighboring Lisbon. It’s one of the highlights of our whole European adventure, and it’s for a good reason.
Our day starts with Nuno meeting us and the rest of the group at Praça da Figueira. With winter coming, the overcast skies are making us a bit worried about the rain. Thankfully, Nuno’s bubbly personality brightened the day. Starting off with a backstory of everything fascinating we pass by, the 30 to 45-minute drive to Sintra was a breeze.
Sintra, or also known as Serra de Sintra in Portuguese, is a pine-covered hill chock-full of beautiful palaces, elaborate parks, and decorated residences. Its cooler climate than Lisbon makes it the perfect summer getaway of royalties in the past. Now, it’s a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site shared to the world so locals and travelers like us can enjoy its fairytale landscape.
I’m sure you’ve already seen the iconic palace pop out of your Pinterest feed, its bright red, purple and yellow colors are too hard to miss!
Pena Palace is once a crumbling monastery that King Ferdinand II transformed into a holiday place for the royal family. Inspired by the castles of Bavaria, he commissioned a German Architect to build and design the palace as a gift to his wife. The King also suggested integrating Medieval and Islamic elements in the design resulting in a really unique expression of the King’s artistic finesse.
We were just in Morocco a few days before and the arches in the façade and patterned tiles definitely reminded me of a Moorish handiwork.
In his relax and funny demeanor, Nuno enlightened us with historic details about the dominant designs of the palace. Then, he gave us time to explore on our own.
The complex architecture, elaborate details, and romantic design are expressed in every chamber of the palace including the interior, giving the visitors a picture of how the monarchs used to live. Too grand to be true!
After endless photo ops, we met Nuno again and he drove us downtown to Piriquita Café to taste the famous “pillows”. Uhm before you get cozy (and sleepy), “Travesseiros de Sintra” or Pillows of Sintra is a traditional puff pie with a filling of almond and egg cream. People travel the distance just to have this delicious pastry because they never taste quite the same outside of Sintra. The secret recipe is well guarded that only the immediate family has access to it.
Next to a hearty meal, we continued our drive around the village as Nuno introduced us to more castles: Quinta da Regaleira Palace, Seteais Palace, and Monserrate Palace. Unfortunately, a day is not enough to leisurely explore all of these so we just admired them from afar as Nuno filled us in with more stories. That’s alright, though, because this day trip is far from over.
Still within the Sintra Municipality, we left for a small town called Azenhas do Mar. It’s ideally nestled between the ocean and the mountains offering spectacular views of the Atlantic. With picturesque white houses and swimming pools dug into the cliffs, it’s one of the most valued beaches in Europe.
Note that the historic monuments are spread all over the hilly town of Sintra. Public transport can get crowded and while walking is doable, hiking steep hills isn’t for everyone. Sintra is perhaps best explored by car and Lisbon Riders’ a perfect company for that.
As we drove to Cascais, we stopped by Cabo da Roca, the westernmost part of the European mainland. You can actually get a certificate that states so! But we settled with taking photographs of the breathtaking cliffs and enjoying the fresh, strong winds that shaped the land.
Continuing further down the coast, we headed to Cascais (pronounced as “kash-kaish”), a seaside town known for its beaches, chic shops, and homey restaurants. In the past, it also was a famed resort for the country’s royal family. Now, both locals and foreigners enjoy this little village with all its cute, colorful streets and serene, sandy beach. The best part is Santini’s Gelati which is considered as the best ice cream in the world! I was too convinced, I even ordered twice!
Along the way, we also dropped by Boca Inferno or Hell’s Mouth, an interesting cliff formation established by incessant pounding of the Atlantic waves onto the rocks. Soon enough, the earth collapsed forming a cave-like shape and natural arch.
Think about mystical castles, enchanting gardens, seaside cliffs, charming villages, beautiful beaches, historical landmarks and delicious food – that pretty much sums up our day with Lisbon Riders. It’s a lovely mix of everything! We got to experience so many interesting places in a day and it didn’t feel like it’s rushed. Nuno is fun and relaxed to be with like we’re touring with a friend, not just a guide.
At the end of it all, we are leaving Lisbon completely satisfied, knowing that we got to experienced much more than a city. We are so gratified that we knew from the start that this won’t be the last. :)