On our recent trip to Lisbon we booked a private day tour with Selection Tours to Sintra, Cascais and Estoril. Selection Tours offer a wide range of private and semi-private luxury tours of Lisbon and of surrounding places of interest such as Sintra. We had a fantastic day exploring Sintra, the former summer residence of the Portuguese kings which was classified as UNESCO World Heritage in 1995 and the beautiful Pena Palace along with the beautiful coastal towns of Cascais and Estoril.
* We’re sorry the quality of photos aren’t up to our usual standard, there was almost non-stop torrential rain all day long which hampered our photography but it didn’t stop us having a fantastic day! *
We were picked up at our hotel, Brown’s Central Hotel in Lisbon at 9am on the dot! We met our guides, John and Anna who were both extremely friendly, knowledgeable and spoke perfect English which was fantastic as our Portuguese leaves a lot to be desired! One of the highlights of our day trip was just how much we learnt from John and Anna who taught us all about Portugal and Portuguese history in the most interesting way! We both finished the day feeling like experts in Portuguese history!
When John and Anna found out that we hadn’t been to Belem yet them re-routed our journey to Sintra so we could drive through the neighbourhood and they could point out a lot of places of interest for us! The day before we’d spotted the bridge that looked a great deal like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge which I cycled across a few years ago! John told us that it was in fact the same architect that built both bridges and that Portugal had researched bridges all over the world to find a bridge that could withstand seismic activity and earthquakes and settled on the Golden Gate Bridge model!
We drove past the Christ statue which was built following World War 2 as a “thanksgiving” for Portugal and Spain not getting involved in the war. As we continued along the river and through Belem where we saw the pink house where the president lives, the monastery where Vasco da Gama was buried, the cultural museum, maritime statue and Belem Tower which are considered to be icons of Lisbon. We drove past the Monsanto National Park, the biggest park in Lisbon and the Queluz National Palace where we began to learn about the Portuguese Royal Family.
Sintra is located less than an hour from Lisbon and was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. In the 19th Century the Royal Family built Pena Palace as a summer residence and other aristocratic families quickly followed suit building summer houses in Sintra. Sintra was the perfect place to escape the heat in the summer as it is located in the mountains and has its own unique micro-climate. John and Anna stopped at a viewpoint to allow us to take a few photos of beautiful Sintra which was shrouded in a mystical fog.
We then had a short stopover at Fabrica das Verdadeiras, a cafe that has been owned and run by the same family since the 1700s! Apparently you cannot come to Sintra without having a Queijadas which is a Portuguese Cheese Tart with Cinnamon and they tasted amazing, so much that we bought a pack of 6 tarts which didn’t last long at all!
We then drove up to the Pena National Palace which is built on top of the highest mountain in Sintra. Pena Palace is a beautiful, Romanticist palace that is now a national monument and is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. Pena Palace has an incredible history dating all the way back to the Middle Ages when a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena was built upon the hill above Sintra. In the late 1400s a monastery was constructed on the site and for centuries Pena was a small, quiet place for meditation and housed a maximum of 18 monks. The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 reduced the monastery to ruins with the exception of the chapel which escaped without significant damage. For decades the ruins remained untouched and in 1838 Ferdinand II acquired the old monastery and all the surrounding lands.
King Ferdinand then set out to transform the remains of the monastery into a palace which would serve as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. Pena Palace was completed in 1847 and has a combination of styles in accordance with the exotic, unique taste of Romanticism including Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance. Pena Palace is truly remarkable and I can see why people describe it as the most romantic castle in Europe. It was very windy, foggy and rainy but we still got a good feel of the exterior before John and Anna took us on a tour of the interior of the castle. Pena Palace is incredible and we’d highly recommend anyone visiting Lisbon to take the trip out to Sintra and Pena Palace! I’d love to return one day on a nice, sunny, bright day to properly enjoy the grounds and exterior of the palace.
After our tour of Pena Palace we headed back down the mountain into Sintra where we had an hour and half of free time in order to explore Sintra and have some lunch. John gave us some great recommendations of restaurants and we both had a lovely seafood lunch. We also had enough time to explore the charming historical old town of Sintra and its windy, steep cobblestoned streets with gorgeous boutique shops! We also peek inside a cork shop as we’d learnt that Portugal’s number 1 export is cork which is pretty amazing! John told us about how the cork trees are grown and the cork is stripped off the trees in order to create wine corks, clothing, shoes, handbags and countless other products which was incredibly interesting!
After lunch we continued through Sintra towards the coast through beautiful countryside and past a lot of vineyards! John told us about the wine produced in the region which is called Colares. He gave us the option to stop at the Colares shop where they have a beautiful showroom that has enormous wine barrels lining the walls which together hold more than 1 million litres of wine!! Colares is the oldest winery in Portugal and was the first wine in Portugal to be labelled and traded by explorers! We opted to take part in a little wine tasting and tried two of their red wines which were quite nice and whilst they were not our favourite wine they were still enjoyable.
After we’d finishing sampling our wine we got back in the car and drove through the Sintra and Cascais National Park which is a beautiful national park with waterfalls and a microclimate which means it is lovely, lush and green all year around! We then drove along the beautiful West Coast to Cascais and Estoril. Cascais and Estoril are beautiful beach towns located on the western edge of the Lisbon coastline. We also learnt that during WW2 when Germany invaded a number of European countries including Italy and Austria, the royal families all had the leave their homes and many moved to Cascais and built beautiful houses, hotels and even a casino in the town! Unfortunately the weather wasn’t nice enough to stop for longer than a few minutes to take a few photos but we still got to see it from the warmth of the car as the road hugs the coastline for miles! The coastline and beaches look beautiful and we’d love to come back one day and spend a day or two in Cascais and Estoril!
Despite the weather we still had an amazing day on our tour. Our guides were so friendly and knowledgeable and really went above and beyond to make our day fantastic! If you’re planning a trip to Portugal any time soon we highly recommend Selection Tours for luxury private or small group tours around the city and for day trips out of the city.
The Aussie Flashpacker experienced our Sintra day tour as a guest of Selection Tours.
Our opinions are as always, our own.