It's prounced Seen-tra, but I didn't find that out until I'd idiotically walked into the tourist office and said it wrong. Sintra is a small town in the hills, a forty-minute train ride from Lisbon. We got off the train without a clear plan, but the Moorish castle, which looms on a hilltop far, far above the town was an irresistable draw.
Do you see it there--that rocky pile, high above?
The guidebooks say that Sintra is an absolute madhouse of tourists, but when you visit on the first Monday in January, you pretty much have the place to yourself.
We had been hoping to get a little hiking in, so we opted to hike to the Moorish castle, rather than take the bus. The guidebooks warn that the hike is steep and they weren't kidding. Thank goodness we attempted this in January, because if the weather had been hot, we probably would have died.
We climbed up and up through the streets of Sintra. There weren't many signs, probably because it's assumed that everybody takes the bus, and the adventurous types hike down from the castle. Indeed there was a trickle of people on the way down, but we were the only ones going up.
There were no sidewalks, and the road narrowed, with a tall stone wall on one side and houses on the other. People raced past us in their tiny European cars, which was OK, although a little disconcerting, but when a tour bus drove past, we had to flatten ourselves against the wall. Here is some of what we saw:
The Moorish Fountain.
I liked this house.
We refilled our water bottle here. There was a sign stating that the water quality was controlled. Later, on the way down, we saw another sign stating that it was not controlled. No harm done, we didn't get sick.
The castle was still high above us, but we had reached a road where no cars were allowed. It was a beautiful walk among old houses with stunning views into the lower part of Sintra, above which we had already climbed a long way.
Oy, the post about this hike is getting longer than the hike itself. Finally, finally we got to a quaint revolving door in a stone arch, that served as a sort of pre-entrance to the castle grounds.
There was a map that revealed we still had an appallingly long hike ahead of us. We were now on a trail paved with uneven, ankle-wrenching stone, and stairs--millions of them.
We climbed and we climbed and we climbed and we climbed and we climbed. The trail was exceptionally beautiful--very green with huge moss-covered boulders and lush vegetation, though this was winter.
The Moorish castle is possibly the most incredible thing I have ever seen in my entire life. Built in the 9th century AD, it rings the hilltop. It's like the Castelo de Sao Jorge to the 100th power. You can see all the way to the sea, or on this hazy day, a line of nothingness where the sea begins. The climb was totally worth it and I'm really glad we did it.
More climbing is involved--they don't have elevators to get you up into those towers! By the end I felt like I needed to use my hands to propel my legs up the steps.
Nearby Pena Palace, which we didn't have time to see. (The guidebooks tell you to get there by 09:00 so you have time to see everything. This is not easily accomplished with four sleepyhead teens in the house.)
Did I mention this probably isn't the best choice for people with a heights phobia? Jon took this picture. I couldn't bear to look at my children on these unguarded stairs.
Down in the town.
Would you like to sit outside?
Starving, we ate an overpriced late lunch. If you ever find yourself in Sintra, I recommend packing a picnic lunch, doing the hike, and eating on the trail, where there isn't so much as a molecule of litter, so you have to promise to be respectful.