After exploring the historic Belem, we planned our day trip to Sintra and Cabo da Roca, which turned out to be one of the most emotional sunsets that I have experienced. Check out my sunset trilogy in Key West, Uluwatu, and Sintra.
But before that, let’s dive into some of the backgrounds. Portugal has a strong background in maritime history and rich culture and character. I was so impressed with the Portuguese pavement – the colorful, artistic cobbled roads that could be found anywhere in the streets and alleys of the country (or its former colonies, Brazil, and Macau); and the Azulejos – painted tin-glazed ceramic tiles that were artistic and unique. I explained about the impressive art and culture of Azulejos when I was in Porto.
It was the morning we prepared for a little excursion (and later it also became a little workout), in the outskirt of the capital. Sintra is a small town to the west of Lisbon full of gardens, green space and palaces, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although it was raining heavily in the morning, we waited it out, and luckily the weather was fabulous for the rest of the day. After a short train ride, we arrived at the city of Sintra and wasted no time getting in line for the shuttle bus to the Pena National Palace!
Pena National Palace
Pena National Palace is a place that tourists would remember. As a Romanticist palace, the palace is definitely a fantasy – the exterior is painted with vibrant colors, the towers are decorated with whimsical sculpture, and the Palace stands on top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains, which could be seen all the way from Lisbon on a clear day. It is also an excellent viewpoint of Sintra. 🙂
I found the Palace special because of its look! It is one of those palaces in Europe that had a rather colorful and dreamy exterior compared to those ‘typical’ single-colored and symmetrical-constructed ones. The Park and the Palace of Pena are the finest examples of 19th century Portuguese Romanticism and the integration of natural and built heritage. They constitute the most important part of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra’s World Heritage Site. The palace was built by Dona Maria II, the Queen of Portugal, and Don Fernando II in the 19th century.
Dona Maria II and Don Fernando II are the builders of Pena. Today the Palace is well preserved and I had a glimpse of the royal life, while Don Pedro V, Don Luis I, Don Carlos I, and Don Manuel II lived in this palace in the late 19th century. Don Fernando II was the creator of the Park and the Palace of Pena Son of Ferdinand, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and Maria Antonia, Princess of Kohary known as the Artist-King. I like the kitchen, the chapel, the Manueline Cloisters, and the Triton allegorical gateway.
It all began during Medieval times. when the 12th-century chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pen was built. in 1503, the Convent of Our Lady of Pena was donated to the Order of the Hieronymites by King Don Manuel I. In 1755, the Monastery suffers serious damage in the great earthquake and falls into decline. In 1838, the purchase of the Monastery by Don Frednando II. In 1842-54, Recuperation of the Monastery and construction of the “New Palace” was conducted by the King, Dona Maria II, and the Baron Von Eschwege. In 1885, Death of Don Frenando II passed on the palace and park to Countess of Edla. The palace is converted into a museum, following the implantation of the Republic in 1910-1912.
Castle of the Moors
Park of Pena is a natural environment of rare beauty and scientific importance. the Park is remarkable as a project of landscape transformation of a Hill, barren at the time, into an arboretum integrating several historic gardens. It occupies almost eighty-five hectares of exceptional geological and climatic conditions. (It is huge) There are numerous places and points of attractions to explore in the park.
Speaking of viewpoints, we took a short walk after seeing the Pena Palace, and through the giant trees, we reached the Moorish Castle, a Portuguese medieval castle on another hilltop in the Sintra Mountains. We climbed up the stairs to the top and we had a great panoramic view of the vast open area below us. Thank you for the nice weather after the morning rain and as we turned around the Pena National Palace was right in front of us on another peak!
Walking back down to the town there are a lot of tourist spots for us to see and do. We went to the Town Palace which was built in the 16th century and declared a National Monument. The structure could be easily recognized from afar with its two giant corn-shaped chimneys! More, we tried Queijadas, a small novelty sweet cake in Sintra made with cheese~
Capo de Roca
If you look at the map, the Iberia peninsula is shaped like a man’s head glazing toward the Atlantic Ocean. I heard someone told me that if Portugal is a man’s handsome face, then Spain is the voluminous hair whipping backward by the Atlantic wind. Capo de Roca, on the other hand, would be the tip of the man’s nose and the westernmost point of the European continent.
After the afternoon in Sintra, we were exhausted and I wondered if we should take the bus to the middle of nowhere and see a cliff; My friend said, ‘we are here anyway’ and so we waited for the 5 pm bus and headed to the west.
As the bus was squeezing its way through the narrow village passages my friends were snoring on the bus; I saw the sun began to go down and I got anxious. I wonder if we could make it there before it got dark. Well, a beautiful sunset was already in view through the bus window. When the bus arrived at the tip of the Iberia peninsula – we made it, the sun was settling down to the west on the horizon and we were officially standing at the westernmost point of the entire continent.
The bus journey between Sintra and Cabo da Roca takes around 42 min and covers a distance of around 19 km. The bus line 403 is operated by Scott URB, the bus departs from Avenida DeSao Cambournac N1 and arrives in Cabo da Roca. The schedules vary throughout the week and there are about 126 buses per week. To be on the safe side, check the chedule beforehand.
I think, besides the emotional sunset it was also the inscriptions on the monument that made it even more romantic for me:
“Aqui, onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa…”
It means “Where the land ends and the sea begins”… Sometimes an ending of a wonderful thing could be heart-wrenching, but at the same time, it could be a new beginning of something wonderful. I was so overwhelmed by the view and emotions we were almost left behind in the wild!
Well, I swore I saw a big group waiting at the bus stop for the 6 pm bus back to Sintra and our group was simply taking pictures nearby – some of the people at the bus stop was even looking at us. Strangely, within 1 second the entire group vanished (yeah, I swore again, I didn’t hear a sound at all). So we went from joy to complete panic. It was getting cold (luckily it wasn’t raining), we were exhausted, starved and in the middle of nowhere (not in the middle – the westernmost point of nowhere), and the next (and last) bus was coming in 3 hours at 9 pm. We weren’t even sure if the bus would come! We might die sleeping in the wild with our flimsy outfits…
So we wandered around and finally found a nice couple who hadn’t left yet. Although they could speak very limited English, I put on my sad face and asked if they could give us a ride anywhere that I could get a taxi or bus, back to Sintra. I didn’t know where we would go, and we finally got in their car. In fact, we didn’t know where they would take us, it was dark outside. We just asked them to drop us off anywhere on the main road and we would find our way back to town… In the end, they were very nice and until I saw some big lights outside the car window we found ourselves stopped right at the entrance of the Sintra train station! We arrived even just in time to board the train going back to Lisbon, seeing some familiar faces on the train, who was also at the Cabo de Roca bus stop an hour ago.
Definitely, an experience to remember… until the next unforgettable one!