Sintra: a stunning and serene town just 40 minutes north of Lisbon by train (which leave every 30 minutes on Sundays from various stations of the capital); located in the Serra de Sintra. Within moments of stepping foot here, I was launched right out of my writer's block, and I really hope my future address will be on Calçada Pena! And after the most wonderful day trip (which doesn't feel like nearly it's enough!), I am now a firm believer that everybody needs a little spoonful of Sintra in their Shine A Lives.
PALÁCIO NACIONAL DA PENA
The Pálacio Nacional Da Pena is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been one of Portugal's National Monuments since 1910 (it is also one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal). Exploring castles and palaces for princesses is one of our favourite past-times (somehow Sienna just won't accept that she's the princess!), and is hopefully setting her up for a lifetime of enjoying local and national culture, history and heritage. We had an unforgettable time, and hearing Sienna "wow" and "oooh" at Palácio Nacional Da Pena's intricate details was simply priceless!
We arrived soon after 10a.m. (the palace is open to visitors from 9:45-19:00) having taken an Über up to the palace from the train station (you can also take the number 434 bus). I am glad we decided not to walk up as the ascent is seriously steep, and that way we reserved our energy for exploring the gorgeous palace and grounds before they got busy.
Parque Da Pena
Having spent the past 10 weeks almost solely in the city of Lisbon since we relocated there, I was in much need of some time in the nature. Parque Da Pena lures you into its forested grounds with its warm, pine-scented air (home to over 500 species of trees!) and shaded walkways. It is less than one kilometre up to Cruz Alta (Sienna walked it by herself) - one of the many view points - where you can look across at the palace's vibrant colours and extravagant towers, which peer, in all of their magnificence, over the luscious green treetops. The perfect place for a picnic as there are benches along the cobbled paths (although there is a café and a restaurant in the palace itself): it was so lovely to watch my daughter connect with nature, climb on rocks, and to escape from our city life for a while. Don't miss our vlog about our experiences here.
CASTELO DOS MOUROS
The magic does not end at Palácio Nacional Da Pena - far from it. In fact, I think that, sitting on a peak in the Serra de Sintra in all of its glory, the palace's beauty actually unfolds over the hills beneath it.
It took us at least half an hour to go from Cruz Alta to Castelo Dos Mouros, with a napping 15kg threenager on my front in an Ergo carrier (although she later informed me that she did not sleep and was in fact "peeping out through a hole so I could look at all of the plants").
The Castelo Dos Mouros is striking in a completely different way. It is perched on the steep edge of the Sintra Mountains, with narrow stairways and cold stone ledges (ideal for sitting and taking in the view over Lisbon and River Tagus in the distance). The castle dates back to the 8th century and its grounds were in fact designed for contemplation and relaxation. As you leave the strong winds of the ruins (take a jacket even in summer), you arrive once again at the forest (follow the signs for Sintra's historic centre). Sienna made it to the top with just the aid of my hand (and I always made sure that I was on the side of the sheer drop, not her!).
FEIRA DE SÃO PEDRO
On the way back down at Sienna's pace of walking, as she played with leaves and pieces of bark, we arrived by serendipitous chance at the lovely São Pedro market which runs on the second and fourth Sunday of every month.
I was instantly overwhelmed with nostalgia of Chile when I saw the clay piggy banks which, are as I know them, Chilean of origin. There are stands of fresh Portuguese produce, clothes, artisanal goods and more. We bought one of those squeaky dog toys for Sienna that I remember loving so much when I was a little girl. It was 5 Euros from the Peruvian stall, as opposed to the 20 USD that we'd seen them for in Miami earlier this year. We called her Chloe and Sienna chatted away to her all the way back to the train station in the town centre.
If you've got the time then be sure to make a final pitstop at Fortuna Café: a vegan café just across the square from the market. There is a varied vegan menu and a cosy, holistic interior.
The raspberry and mango tart with cashew nut base was delicious and I hope we'll be back to try more of their menu!
Take your time to stroll back to the station (with trains leaving every half an hour until late back to Lisbon there's no need to rush), absorbing each magical detail of Sintra. You almost feel quite sorry for the occasional yellow Beetle of tourists whizzing down the empty streets with "The Best Way To Sightseeing" on the windscreen. They won't have even gotten a glimpse of the beautiful ceramic Saints tiled above the front doors of houses, the tropicalesque gardens, nor felt the energy of the setting sun and enchanting air.