Today I had planned a total surprise for Olof, so whilst I didn’t want to make the day feel rushed we did need to have a pretty early breakfast. Enjoying the freshly baked croissants and bread it seemed a shame to be leaving Sintra, one night wasn’t really enough here. It was a beautiful town and unlike anywhere else I have ever visited in Portugal, it didn’t seem to suffer the impact of the recession like many other places I’d visited in the south nor were beautiful buildings left to go to ruin, most places here were overly maintained and the wealth of the past still resonates. The rain outside reflected somewhat on the mood, Olof could no longer bare the pain in his tooth and we needed to find a dentist asap. We had an idea of what the problem was, Olof’s wisdom teeth did not grow upwards, but sideways and deep down we knew it would only be a matter of time before they would need to be removed. We homed in on a dentist on the outskirts of town, which annoyingly put us back on the toll road for less then two minutes but we still had to pay the fee. Down some oneway residential streets we finally found the dentist and it didn’t take long to conclude that the tooth needed pulling out, but would need surgery and the surgeon wouldn’t be available until Wednesday. Our next due destination was over two hours away, so once we left Sintra it really was not ideal to have to come back, the surprise (which was all paid for) was a very nice surprise and I really didn’t want to have to cancel, but with Olof been in so much pain the tooth situation had to come first. We soon concluded that if the Surgery couldn’t be conducted until Wednesday anyway then we should go on our merry way, with lots of pain killers and locate a dental surgeon in Coimbra. Not the best way to start what was supposed to be a romantic day but with a bag of drugs, including one labelled only use in SOS, and a Queijadas de Sintra we got back onto the toll road towards our next destination.
It took a while but eventually the pain killers kicked in just as we turned off the motorway onto the country lanes at which point I started to find it difficult to hide my own excitement, passing a couple of small towns the road started to climb and bend towards a large forested area and with a sharp right turn we started along a narrow cobbled track. Olof also started to look excited and a little confused. Before long we reach a manned gate, after giving my credentials we are granted access inside the large walls where we now climb the cobbled road surrounded by mature forests on both sides, it takes a further several minutes before the wonder of Bussaco Palace reveals itself in front of us.
“Eh, are we staying here?” smirked Olof.
Commissioned by King Charles I of Portugal as a royal retreat in the late 1800’s the Palace now serves as a hotel, so similar to the fairytale like architecture we had seen in Sintra (probably because it was architectured by the same Italian who designed Quinta Da Regaleira). Staying in the Palace would be our treat, but one of the main reasons for the visit was to explore the sacred 6th Century forest which the benedictine monks built a wall around to protect themselves from the outside world in 1600’s. The forest contained many different species of trees which due to their age and protection now stood very tall. In my mind I was imagining scenes from the 2004 movie the Village. There were several walking routes around the forest and I couldn’t wait to go out and explore. As we neared the reception a coach carrying American pensioners were starting to disembark, we picked up our pace in an attempt to get to the check in desk before them and so we did, but to no avail, the man on reception was already laying out their room keys, carefully handing them over to the group leader and then he disappeared as apparently he needed to show them all to their rooms, and so there we stood having to painfully witness sheep like behaviour, cringing at comments like. “Where do we need to go”, “Who’s gonna take care of our luggage”, “Will we be in a room near you”, “What time is dinner”, (I heard the question and answer at least 10 times) “Which way to the rooms” – follow the crowd?, “whats happening now?” – Checking in? Who would have thought going to a room could cause so much of a caffufle. Yet there we still stand, in a five star hotel with no one else covering reception, whilst the light of day is quickly escaping us and we have walks to do, ARGHHHHH.
So the Palace hotel, where to start, grand, yes very grand, but age was taking it’s toll not only on the building structure but the furnishings too. The reception area boasted many large paintings of other grand hotels from the 60’s and was cramped with large, mainly empty, glass display cabinets. Perhaps in their heyday they glistened with Jewels and porcelain, today it was postcards and honey. It was time to go to our room where we took a lift which was more like a dumbwaiter, our room was rather grand, perhaps last refurbished in the late 70’s, with what had to be one of the largest balconies I have ever seen. We could have spent hours marvelling over the Palace but there were only a few day light hours remaining and we were itching to go outside and explore.
Skipping down the grand staircase we quickly made our way to the info shop to collect a walking map and decided we would combine two routes making up a two hour walk. It wasn’t long before we were off the cobbled road and deep into the thick forest, where tree’s towered high and moss ran wild. The forest was silent, the air fresh and it was easy to imagine how the monks must have roamed through these grounds. We discovered lakes, ancient stairways, old chapels and eventually the monk beehives perched at the top of the hill overlooking the entire forest and as the sun started to set we quickly hurried back to the Palace for our diner reservation.
Seated in the grand hall, thankfully in a separate room from the coach load of American pensioners, the five star service started to kick in, the waiter managed to convince us to take the appetiser which came with a glass of champagne (that meant two for me as Olof was on Antibiotic’s), he poured perhaps one of the most delicious glasses of red wine I have ever tasted, Bussaco Tinto Reservado and then served a pie, stuffed with suckling pig “King Carlos Style!” cumberland sauce and pineapple chutney, it was hard not to devour it in an instant, but in such an establishment we were conscious of our table manners and we wanted to enjoy the atmosphere in this beautiful room for as long as possible.
It felt like the day had passed by so quickly but there was one last surprise in store for Olof, as we returned to our room a chocolate fondue and bowl of fruit was waiting on the bed and I think I can probably leave the rest to your imagination!