We eat breakfast at an outdoor café – it’s the first normal breakfast I’ve had since we arrived. Ham and egg on a baguette for me, and Randi orders bacon and eggs with a “double coffee,” which means there are probably about eight shots of espresso in it. We board a train to Sintra from Rossio Station, a beautiful old train station in the middle of Rossio Square.
Sintra is even more magical than we imagined. A quaint little town built on a hill; we spend our morning exploring the grounds of the Quinta de Regaleira, a large garden that once belonged to a wealthy family. Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site, wandering around this garden is basically a game of “what beautiful amazing hidden thing will you find next?” From a seemingly secret lily pond with a stone bridge hanging above it, to a multitude of stone castle-like towers and dark, inviting caves, Randi and I once again find ourselves in a real life fairy tale, running around and exploring the grounds to see what we’ll discover next. We come across a secret door made of stone – it looked just like another rock structure in the garden – but when pushed open, reveals a steep, old well.
The initiation well is a masonry well supposedly inspired by the Knights of Templar. I heard something about being reborn when you climb all the way down the well and then back up, but I can’t seem to find anything about that here on the internet, so I’m not sure how accurate that is. But I like to think we went through some kind of symbolic rejuvenation while climbing down the steep, dark steps with water dripping on us. It was completely surreal. I don’t know if we were reborn, but reaching the bottom of this structure and looking up at the circular opening so high above us that allowed just a bit of sunlight to creep down and illuminate the small space we were in felt like some kind of spiritual experience.
We continued exploring this place, climbing up magical castles and looking out at the lush gardens around us. We even retraced our steps on the way back so we could experience every part of it one more time. We ended up spending about three hours at the Quinta de Regaleira, which is pretty ridiculous when on vacation and trying to cram lots of sightseeing into a short amount of time. But it was well worth it – this place will be etched in our memories forever, and will be my absolute must see recommendation for anyone planning a trip to Portugal.
Eventually, we’re able to part with our new favorite place in the world, so we head back to town to get some lunch. Randi read about a Portugese/French restaurant in a guidebook, so we make our way around the narrow cobblestone pathways until we find it. This restaurant, Tacho Real, had the best salmon I’ve ever eaten – melty, super fresh and delicious. Randi’s stuffed crab was pretty good, too – I now understand why guidebooks exist and why people buy them.
After lunch, we did a bit of shopping, and then made our way up to the Pena Palace, which sits atop the hill overlooking the entire village of Sintra. Yet another gorgeous place for us to explore while feeling like we’ve entered a magnificent fairy tale, the royal family once lived here. I particularly admired Portugal’s queen Amelia, whose glorious bedroom opened up to the “Queen’s Balcony,” which overlooks not just the entire castle, but all of Sintra and beyond.
Sintra was like a five-star, fifteen course decadent meal for the eyes.