I was the first to rise in Lama Village, keen to make the most of the day, I’d decided on quite a tight itinerary for the rest of our time in Portugal, with limited planning time and limited research resources it was difficult to try and stay true to our Ecoquest mission statements but we would give it our best shot.
We packed the car, made use of the compost toilet for one last time, then quietly snook away from Lama Village. We left with very mixed feelings about this place, one thing is for sure we had learned a lot and without a shadow of a doubt we had had an experience, but one week here had been enough for us.
Our next port of call would be Sintra, just north of Lisbon. Having visited Lisbon in the past we had no great desire to revisit the capital, however Sintra, perched high on a hill, full of palaces, surrounded by nature parks and on UNESCO’s “list”, sounded like the perfect place to spend one night. The journey was a little under three hours along the toll road which offered limited scenery, thus giving us plenty of time to reflect on the first two weeks of our adventure and speculate over why Olof was starting to get a rather severe tooth ache.
Just as we arrived in Sintra the traffic came to a halt, the streets narrowed and pedestrians appeared everywhere, it was fast approaching midday and with skipping breakfast I was starting to get the shakes a little, which isn’t great when you a stuck in traffic and constantly having to control the clutch of the car. After forty minutes of little movement we found the very narrow, extremely winding, yet mystically beautiful forest road that would lead us up to our guest house, Chalet Relagio. I was aware that the B&B was a good fifteen minute walk out of the town so it wasn’t long before I clicked that the Sat Nav had got it wrong (again). With a very scary turn in the road we made it back down the hill and spotted the guesthouse on a “blind bend”. I couldn’t wait to park up the car, I was no longer sure if my shaking leg was due to hunger or the fear of driving on these roads.
Looking at Chalet Relagio it felt like we had been transported to France, we were shown to our room which was up in the attic then walked straight into town with brunch being the primary objective.
It was difficult to avoid the many wine tasting offers and it some became apparent that we would struggle to find a Bio cafe so settled on a little bakery which turned out to be very disappointing, when ordering a Cappuccino one should be warned in advance if the said Cappuccino is going to be from one of those nasty, chemical ladened Nestle packets, yuk. Sintra was definitely a tourist destination and it didn’t take long to understand why. Whenever I go to a new place I can’t help but look in the little touristy shops that display all the local produce and handy craft. Cork Oak, embroidery, pottery, sardines and queijadas de Sintra (Sintra cheese cakes) are some of the local products. It didn’t take long before we had checked out most of the town and gained our bearings, so we made our way back to the more historical part of the town through some lovely gardens where we then planned to make our way to Quinta Da Regaleira one of a few UNESCO heritage sites in the town.
I’d read about the Quinta before arriving in Sintra and was instantly attracted, not by the Palace, but by the grounds in which the Palace sits, a mystical somewhat fairytale like dreamland and I wanted to feel like I was 10 again. On our way back up the hill on the way to the Quinta we were side tracked by an exposition called Sintra Magic, where a large collection of the most amazing photographs of Sintra had been put on display, we were enticed to stay for a drink in the gardens by a Swedish man, we simply couldn’t refuse. Finally we arrived at the Quinta Da Regaleira and made our way around the magical landscape where paths soon lead to lakes where underground cave systems bring you up stairs to a far away tower, leading onto waterfalls and hidden doors in the rocks, it was like a scene from a fantasy fairytale movie and it took us quite some time before we managed to find the famous landmark of the gardens, the initiation pit. It is said that whoever crosses it and manages to exit it will be renewed, so that is exactly what we did. Through a hidden, tilting door in the rock wall, we entered the pit from above, made our way down the spiral stairs and then walked through the hidden underground grotto until we found ourselves at the other end of the gardens, conveniently next to the cafe where we relaxed in order to feel renewed with a good old glass of red and a savoury pancake.
We had also hoped that we would have time to visit the Convent of the Capuchos, a minimalist convent that was built into the rocks with very old vegetable gardens that we were interested to learn about, but it simply wouldn’t happen today. Olof’s tooth ache was starting to rear it’s ugly head so we went to get some medication before heading out for our evening meal. We settled on a local Portugese restaurant; Restaurant Regional de Sintra, arriving at approx 9:30pm it would seem we were late. (we had got rather lost on the way and decided for some reason to go a totally different way from what we had learnt on our orienteering this morning) I’ve never fully got my head around what time you are supposed to eat in Portugal, in Lisbon I remember going to a restaurant near midnight and this been perfectly acceptable also on the Algarve 9pm seemed fine, so not sure what was going on in Sintra but it seemed our meal was rushed from the start, which lead to rushed decisions. i.e. aged goat casserole was not a good idea, but the little complementary cheese that we got with our bread was delicious. I was annoyed that we had made the wrong choice of restaurant, it had come by recommendation and with the amount of locals in the place I can see why, but we were now out of the historic part of town and I was eating old dry Goat, staring at lots of photographs of the chef, who had become rather large over the course of his career. Given we only had one night in Sintra I had wanted it to be the best and was regretting not staying in the pretty part of town, even if it was full of tourists, whom we passed with some resentment on the way back to our B&B where Olof was desperately in need of some more meds.