Friday, April 19, 2013

Sintra was Magical

I'm a bit behind but what follows is one of my favorite stops during our Portuguese adventure, Sintra!
With only one night and full day dedicated to this magical little town, we woke up well rested and, if you can believe it, hungry!
So we descended the grand staircase to breakfast and let me just say that if you've ever wanted to feel like a queen or...king well, this breakfast was a feast fit for royalty!
Not only was the room adorned with crystal chandeliers, hand painted frescoes and fantastic orchids but the delicious and beautiful selection of food that lay in front of us looked too good to eat...  
Breakfast at the Seteais Palace
Everything from omelettes, prosciutto and croissants to fresh fruit and salad...
Breakfast at the Seteais Palace
and my favorite, yogurt, honey and figs!
Breakfast at the Seteais Palace
Unfortunately it was pouring but when did the rain stop the Shermans?  Never! So, we embarked on exploring Sintra and its mystical hills dotted with fairy tale palaces and extravagant villas.
The Romans made it a place of cult moon worshiping and named it "Cynthia" after the goddess of the moon.  They were followed by the Moors who also fell in love with the lush vegetation and built a hilltop castle, a palace, and several fountains around the town. 
Sintra Portugal
Later it became the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family and attracted a number of wealthy aristocrats who built huge mansions and villas. 
Regal Seteais Palace Sintra
Famous British poet and traveler Lord Byron stopped by in the 18th century, writing that the town is "perhaps in every respect the most delightful in Europe," and calling it a "glorious Eden" in his epic poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.  His fellow countryman Robert Southey followed him and saw it as "the most blessed spot on the whole inhabitable globe." 
Alya arrived in the Spring of 2013 to confirm what they had said and added that it was one of the most magical and mystical places she has ever seen.
Mythical Sintra Portugal
Since we only had one day, we were advised to start with Quinta da Regaleira, one of the most remarkable of all Sintra’s palaces and lucky for us, located right down the road from The Seteais Palace.  
Road to Quinta da Regaleira Sintra Portugal
It holds a fascinating history and one that Jacob was very excited to learn more about which made it that much more fun!  This romantic property formerly belonging to the Viscondessa da Regaleira, was acquired and enlarged by António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro as his favorite country estate.  His vast fortune earned him the nickname of Monteiro dos Milhões, (Moneybags Monteiro) and he commissioned this unique project from the Italian set-designer and architect Luigi Manini whose genius, along with the mastery of sculptors, stonemasons and craftsmen created this magical place.  
Quinta da Regaleira Sintra Portugal
What's cool is that it is said that the palace was created based on the commands of magical and mythological dreams of Monteiro which the Italian architect brought to life in the form of this masterpiece.  
Quinta da Regaleira Sintra Portugal
The place has romantic influences and revival of Gothic, Manueline and Renaissance style to be a glorification of the Portuguese mystical and esoterical history from the Templar Knights, Masonry, Alquimy, Rosicrucians and Christianity...all that and I couldn't stop photographing it!
Quinta da Regaleira Sintra Portugal
Visitors can get a guided tour or, stroll round independently and while we actually wanted the tour, we would have had to wait an hour and with the pouring rain, chose the latter.  My recommendation?  Take the tour to familiarize yourself with the layout and learn about the underlying philosophy of the design and then return to explore alone the areas that appeal to you the most. 
Quinta da Regaleira Sintra Portugal
The "Palace of the Millions" is surrounded by a garden filled with mythological and esoteric symbols -statues of gods, mysterious wells, ponds, and grottoes. 
Statues of Gods at Quinta da Regaleira Sintra Portugal

Quinta da Regaleira Sintra Portugal

Grottoes Quinta da Regaleira Sintra Portugal
The highlight is an almost supernatural tunnel staircase that symbolizes death leading into a "Garden of Eden," symbolizing "rebirth" or the entrance to Heaven. 
Garden of Eden bridge Quinta da Regaleira Sintra Portugal
If you can't tell by now, I completely and utterly fell in love with this place and almost wished we had a bit more time in Sintra but little did I know just how much I would later fall for Porto!
With still so much to see in Sintra, we descended the windy mountainous moss covered road to the center of town...
 moss covered road to center of Sintra
and did a bit of shopping...I bought the most unusual hand knit sweater/shawl at this little boutique whose name escapes me but, I will never forget as they treated me to a free tasting of the chocolate cherry Ginjinha and, carry a nice un-touristy selection of gifts, Port and Wine!
chocolate cherry Ginjinha
and of course Eating!  
Sintra is famous for their pastries and the place to have them is at Piriquita, a famous pastry shop that’s been around for over a hundred years.  
Queijadas and Travesseiros at Piriquita
Queijadas and Travesseiros are available all throughout Portugal but Piriquita is famous for them so naturally, we had to try one or...two.  
The name of these pastries comes from its shape, similar to a travesseiro (pillow in English) and the long, sugar coded 'pillows' are flaky on the outside and creamy on the inside.  Freshly made throughout the day, they are served warm and perfect for a mid-afternoon snack as you regroup and take a break from all the walking and for us, the rain.  The recipe is a secret, patented and probably worth a fortune but I've managed to find it just for you my faithful readers.Queijadas and Travesseiros at Piriquita
The boys thought that they were just OK but for me, they were a tasty companion to a steamy hot cup of café con leche and I really just wanted to sit for a while!
The name Piriquita which means Parakeet comes from the nickname King Carlos gave Constança Gomes due to her small stature...see, I'm a wealth of information!
The main coffee-shop is right in the middle of the Historical Center but if you're there on a Wednesday when it's closed, head over to 'Piriquita 2' a little bit further up the street to make sure that you can get your fill of the baked goodness!
So now we were all dry, full and happy and made our way around town only to come upon Sintra's Toy Museum where Jacob picked up a little 3-headed happy does this kid look!?
Sintra's Toy Museum
Granted that there is never enough time but there was still so much left to explore and the rain had finally subsided to allow us to enjoy the beautiful town with its winding cobblestone alleys where we uncovered little gems along the way...
Sintra historic city center
Unfortunately, time was not on our side as we had things to do and places to see so we slowly started to make our way back...
Sintra historic city center
 to say our goodbyes to the beautiful Seteais Palace vowing to return some day...
beautiful Seteais Palace Sintra

beautiful gardens at Seteais Palace Sintra
Next STOP...Nazaré!
Next STOP...Évora

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