My well-traveled sister Jill also told me to be sure to go to Sintra.
There were quick one-day tours from my Lisbon hostel but something told me I should stay over-night. Castles and palaces galore, but something else beckoned.
I still don’t understand Sintra.
I’ve been given some hushed insights by a waitress, a hostel clerk and a flowery but non-definitive brochure of Quinta da Regaliera. Some energy, some mystery lurked there.
Even the name Moon-Hill Hostel was evocative. The clerk said that when the trees were cut (for ships?) the hills glowed under the moon because of the white boulders. She also gave me the name of the Bar of the Fauno (a mythological sexy man-goat), which I couldn’t find, that specializes in pre-Christian rites associated with Sintra. Moon ceremonies? According to her the name of the area comes from the Goddess Cintia, or Cynthia, a Moon Goddess.
There were also references to the Knights of Templar, the Crusaders who got too powerful and were disbanded by the Pope, only to be welcomed to Portugal as the very mysterious Order Of Christ. Symbolic and secretive. And as gorgeous and even outrageous as the palaces and gardens are, I think back on Sintra now with almost hushed reverence. The energy, the history, the light, . ..? You would have to decide for yourself.
When the young hostel travelers ask me for advice about Sintra, this is what I say:
“If you go, stay for awhile.”
I’ve learned that when a place calls to you, stay. So over-night turned to three nights and I still didn’t see it all.
And then I tell them -- the initial itinerary is simple. Bus 434 by the train station, go early to beat the crowds, and head all the way to the top, to Pena Palace and Gardens. It is complicated, grandiose, almost garish. There’s always another angle to catch for a photo. It’s a romanticist castle and was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO along with the rest of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra. See for yourself. Definitely other worldly.
The inside is furnished from royalty. Unfortunate royalty. King Carlos I and his son were assasinated in 1908. In this bed his widow Queen Amelie mourned and in this vast estate was disconsolate.
How about this duck-house in the immense gardens?
Then while you are at the top you might as well walk part way down to the Moorish Castle with great look-outs that helped keep the Moors in power for centuries.
That’s really enough for one day, but if you want to push it—Quinta da Regaleira is a must see!
You can even ditch the Moorish Castle for it. Because this is where things get weird! And the brochure description is alluring but totally enigmatic.
“A succession of magic and mysterious places. The garden is an image of the cosmos. There are scenes from the initiate’s journey. The harmony of the spheres examines the perspective of the ascetic conscience. The metaphysical quest being found in the great epics. There are references to the world as mythology to Olympus, Virgil, Dante, Milton and Camoes as well as the mission of the Templares continued by the Order of Christ. It is a symphony in stone crafted by builders of temples, steeped in the true spirit of tradition, reveling the poetic and prophetic dimension of a Lusitanian philosophical mansion.”
Confused? Just ditch the description and wander and wonder. My favorite is here—the Initiatic Well. 27 meters down a spiraling staircase.
Notice the view from the bottom. Other-worldy? The inside of a nautilus shell? The sky above representing a moon?
And the way out? Along dimly lit underground paths carved into the lime-stone, emerging into this! A waterfall! (Rather like a birth canal.) And indeed much of the garden is connected by these tunnels.`
One can easily get quite lost and chance on something like this – the Grotto of Lena. Who is Lena? And what is this swan doing to her as she gazes unperturbed into space? Apparently it is Zeus about to rape her. OK…
And the house and chapel in a “semi-Manueline” style.
You can wander to other palaces also but my very best favorite I found quite by a chance because a tourist commented on their excellent garden photography exhibit. Montserrate – visited by Lord Byron in 1808 and the inspiration for “ Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.” It is less-hodge- podge in its construction, more integrated and whole. See the color scheme and halls.
But my favorite delicious experience was the gardens. Plants from all over the world! I was there in the late afternoon of my last day and wish it had been my first! Every moment the light was changing, shadows and forms transforming, the stuff that inspires artists (or Byron.)
And my overall impression was that of a very sensual landscape – folds and crannies, outcroppings, Earth projecting and enfolding… See how it got to me? I’d better stop or I’ll write a really bad brochure!
Jill was right. Go to Sintra. But don’t expect to understand it.