sintra’s castelo dos mouros

Friday, July 19:  This morning I must fortify myself for a big day of castle-hopping through Sintra with a coffee and the decadent Portuguese egg tart pastry, pastel de nata, downstairs at Café Piela’s.  Today’s weather is superb, cool and crisp with cornflower blue skies overhead.  The owner of the café, Manuel, whose English is excellent, is chipper and welcoming and makes me feel like I’m eating breakfast at home.  It’s so lovely when traveling alone to have someone who makes you feel like you’re a part of the family, and not some pariah. 🙂

pastel de nata at Café Piela's
pastel de nata at Café Piela’s

I walk straightaway to the bus station where I catch the Scotturb Pena Sightseeing circular route bus (#434) to Castelo dos Mouros.

It’s quite a long walk through a fern and moss-filled forest up to the Castelo dos Mouros, or the Moorish Castle.

on the path to Castelo dos Mouros
on the path to Castelo dos Mouros
on the path to Castelo dos Mouros
on the path to Castelo dos Mouros

When I reach the castle, and climb up on the ramparts, I am stunned by the view.  This is the second heart-stopping experience I have on my journey, the first being my initial encounter with the Mezquita in Cordoba (andalucía: córdoba’s stunning mezquita).  I know it sounds corny, but I feel a lump in my throat and actually feel like I’m going to cry!  It is so majestic and such a gorgeous panorama that it’s unbelievable that a place such as this actually exists.  There’s a wonderful breeze and the air is crisp and I can just imagine the Moors enjoying their mountaintop view over their kingdom all those centuries ago.

Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros

The castle is an irregularly planned military outpost that follows a 450-meter perimeter on top of a mountainous cliff. It consists of a double line of military walls that meanders over the granite terrain of the promontory. Its place on the hilltop, surrounded by and including the natural and exotic vegetation, accentuates the romantic character of the place (Wikipedia: Castle of the Moors (Sintra)).

From the castle walls, I can see Sintra-Vila below with the chimneys of the Palácio Nacional da Pena.

View of Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros

According to Sintra-Portugal.com: Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra, the origins of the castle date back to the 8th century with the Muslim invasion from the north of Africa.  The site of the castle provided a suitable vantage point with views over the estuary of the river Tejo and the plains to the north of Lisbon, with the aim of controlling the strategic land routes linking the Mafra, Sintra, Cascais and Lisbon.  Arab chronicles depict the Sintra region as being very rich in cultivated fields and the Castelo dos Mouros was one of the most important castles in the region, more important than the castle of central Lisbon.

The initial crusade led by King Alfonso VI of Castile captured the Castelo dos Mouros in 1093 but with limited forces was driven out the following year. The castle flourished with the return of the Moors and defensive fortifications were improved.

Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros

The increase in fortifications was not enough to repel the second much larger crusade which freed Lisbon (and then Sintra) from Moorish rule in 1147. The crusader army led by Afonso Henrique’s army was comprised of drunks and thieves, who upon liberating Lisbon promptly sacked the capital.  Sintra and the Castelo dos Mouros withstood longer than Lisbon but succumbed to the siege and sheer numbers of the crusaders’ army. Afonso Henriques and his son D. Sancho both strengthened the castle’s defenses but the royal court favored Lisbon. The castle remained in the background, with its prestige steadily declining.  By the early 15th century, the only inhabitants were Jewish settlers. With the Jews’ expulsion from Portugal in the mid-15th century, the castle was abandoned (Sintra-Portugal.com: Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra).

View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros

Much of the Castelo dos Mouros was reconstructed during the 19th century as part of King Ferdinand II’s transformation of the Pena Palace and surrounding area.

Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
me at Castelo dos Mouros
me at Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila & the Royal Palace of Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros

I can also see the fairy tale-like Quinta de Regaleira and its grounds.

View of Quinta da Regaleira from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Quinta da Regaleira from Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros with Sintra below
Castelo dos Mouros with Sintra below
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros

On an adjacent mountain, I can see the Palácio Nacional da Pena, which I will visit after leaving here.

view of Palace of Pena from Castelo dos Mouros
view of Palace of Pena from Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
me at Castelo dos Mouros
me at Castelo dos Mouros
hydrangeas abound on the grounds of Castelo dos Mouros
hydrangeas abound on the grounds of Castelo dos Mouros
leaving the castle through the forest
leaving the castle through the forest
the forest at Castelo dos Mouros
the forest at Castelo dos Mouros

After leaving here, I catch the Scotturb bus on its circular route to the Palácio Nacional da Pena.

arrival in charming sintra

Thursday, July 18: I leave Evora this morning on the 9:45 Rede expressos bus to Lisbon, which takes less than 2 hours.  From the Lisbon bus station, I walk a short distance to the train station, hop on a train and arrive in lovely Sintra a half hour later.  It’s an easier trip than I expected, and when I get out at Sintra’s adorable train station, I opt to take a taxi since I have no idea where Piela’s Hospedaria is located.  It turns out it’s not that far, but it’s easier by taxi and I’m happy to spend the 5 euros.

The train station in Sintra
The train station in Sintra

My guest house is Piela’s Hospedaria and it’s run by husband and wife, Manuel and Leonor, and housekeeper Anna Maria.  Manuel’s English is superb and he’s the friendliest man imaginable, making me feel welcome right away.  He actually makes me feel like Piela’s is a home away from home.  The guest rooms are on the second floor above the cafe.  Both the Café Piela’s guest house and the cafe are run my Manuel and Leonor.  (Café Piela’s)

Piela's Hospedaria
Piela’s Hospedaria
Piela's Hospederia
Piela’s Hospederia

After settling into the hotel and having some light lunch in the cafe, I venture out to explore Sintra.  I head down into the modern town, following the signs for Sintra-Vila, the historical center of Sintra.

I walk through the part of town near the train station, where I see beautiful old manor houses painted in pastel colors.

Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa

As I pass out of this part of town, there’s a long stretch to walk down Alameda Volte do Duche, passing interesting sculptures along the way.

Sculpture along Volta do Duche on the way to Centro Historico
Sculpture along Alameda Volte do Duche on the way to Sintra-Vila

Once I get to Sintra-Vila, I can see that this is the place to be.  The town is buzzing with tourists, shops, restaurants and street performers.  In the center of this historic part of town sits the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, but I don’t know what’s what at this point.  I couldn’t possibly think that the building with two huge ugly chimneys could be a palace.  One of the funnel-shaped chimneys has been stripped of paint; it sits in its gray concrete nakedness beside another white-painted chimney.  The two chimneys look as if they’re part of an ugly factory in the midst of the adorable little town.

Centro Historico ~ Sintra
Sintra-Vila

As I walk through the streets, I pass some boys playing a lovely mesmerizing song.  An open guitar case sits on the stone courtyard in front of them, waiting for donations.  I walk past them at first, but their song is so lovely that when I walk past again, I stop and sit on a bench to listen, dropping some money in their guitar case.  I ask them, “Are you trying to collect enough money to travel through Portugal?”  They ask me how did I know?  I say, because it seems like something my own sons would do.  They say, yes, they’re Spanish and they are traveling and supporting themselves with their music.  They’re super friendly and they tell me they’re on Facebook: (Sutil).  I tell them, “I think you’re going to be famous one day.”  They’re flattered, but I really mean it.  Their song is that good.

a group of Spanish boys playing some fabulous music (Sutil)
a group of Spanish boys playing some fabulous music (Sutil)

After leaving the boys, I continue to meander through the town, soaking up the atmosphere.  I love it here!

Centro Historico
Sintra-Vila
Centro Historico
Sintra-Vila

At one point I stop for a Sagres and study the Lisbon Guide that Jo lent me in Tavira, reading up on all the things to do and see in Sintra.  It’s funny, many people take just a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra, but I’m staying here for 3 nights.  I honestly think it would be short-changing yourself to come only for a day trip.

relaxing with a beer and the Lisbon guidebook
relaxing with a beer and the Lisbon guidebook

After I finish my beer, I wander around some more, admiring the doors, the pastel colored houses, the red rooftops, the windows and balconies, the laundry hung out to dry, the flowering bushes and the crazy street performers.  I listen to the music of Portugal, Fado, wafting out of the shops, sounding like a lament on a breeze.  It makes me pensive.  I stop into a shop and buy a CD of some of the music that’s playing: Ana Moura “Des Fado.”  Lovely.

Centro Historico Sintra
Sintra-Vila
Centro Historico Sintra
Sintra-Vila
Centro Historico Sintra
Sintra-Vila
Centro Historico Sintra
Sintra-Vila
Centro Historico Sintra
Sintra-Vila

Sitting on a hilltop above the town, I can see the Castelo Mouros, or the Moorish Castle. With its undulating mountains, forests thick with ferns and moss, exotic gardens and hilltop palaces, Sintra seems a land right out of a fairy tale.

View of the Moorish Castle from Centro Historico Sintra
View of the Moorish Castle from Sintra-Vila

At Restaurante Taverna, I stop for a glass of wine and some sausages.  This is way too much food for me, and quite heavy, and I end up leaving most of it behind.

Sausages at Restaurante Taverna in Centro Historico Sintra
Sausages at Restaurante Taverna in Sintra-Vila
Restaurante Taverna in Centro Historico Sintra
Restaurante Taverna in Sintra-Vila

I go up to the restaurant’s shop for a taste of Port; here I buy a can of sardines as a gift for Mike.

For sale
For sale

Then I make my way back through the town toward my hotel.

Centro Historico Sintra
leaving Sintra-Vila

Back along the road from Sintra-Vila to the train station, I pass by the Moorish Fountain, which belongs to the romantic-revivalist period and was built around 1922 by the master sculptor of Sintra, José da Fonseca. Its decoration is Arab in inspiration, with neo mudejar azulejos, painted plasterwork and sculptured decoration (Virtual Tourist: Moorish Fountain, Sintra).

Fountain
Moorish Fountain

There are more sculptures along this road.

Statues along the walk
Statues along the walk

In the town near the train station, I pass by the elaborate Town Hall.

Town Hall Sintra
Town Hall Sintra

And more pastel colored houses…

Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa

Along my walk back, I can see some of the green forests for which Sintra is known.

View along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
View along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa

I head back to Cafe Piela’s, where I have a beer and use my computer.  Cafe Piela’s is mostly a bakery, although it also serves sandwiches and soups, so it has a glass case where the baked goods are displayed.  The glass case serves as the counter.  I’m amused that the Portuguese patrons drop into the cafe, order a beer, and stand at the glass case to drink their beer.  I wonder why they don’t have a seat at one of the tables.  They just stop, drink the beer, pay their bill and leave.  Not like the bars I’m used to in America, where people have a seat at the bar, have a couple of drinks, socialize, and linger.  I see this numerous times while I’m in Portugal and I always find it funny, and charming, when I see it. 🙂