Monday, April 30, 2018

Sintra with Kids- Monserrate and Quinta da Regaleira

Today was our second day visiting the lovely town of Sintra, Portugal (yesterday we explored Pena Palace, see post here!), and let me start by saying that I am SO glad we decided to stay two nights in Sintra, even though we’re only a half hour drive away from our first stop in Lisbon! In my planning research, most itineraries recommended Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon, but we made the call to slow down a bit since we are traveling with little kids.  I'm SO glad we did because there’s so much neat stuff to explore here that there’s no way we could have done it justice in one day, even without kiddos!

This morning we woke to sunshine and beautiful blue skies.  After fueling up in the breakfast room of our adorable B&B, we walked downhill through the town and then hopped on the local bus to Monserrate.  Monserrate is a palatial villa with gardens built as a summer retreat by a succession of wealthy English merchants in the mid-1800s.  It is now owned by the Portuguese state and is being preserved as part of the Sintra Hills UNESCO World Heritage site.  While I admired the wedding-cake-like architectural details, the kids had a blast exploring the gardens: climbing trees, rolling down the sloping lawn, picking wildflowers to make crowns, playing tag, discovering waterfalls and a ruined chapel.

We rode the bus back into town.  Since the roads in Sintra are mostly narrow, winding, and one way only, our ride back to town took a little more than a half hour even though it had been a five-minute trip from town earlier.  This was fine by us as it allowed the kids to doze and refresh a bit.  Back in town we enjoyed an outdoor lunch with a view of street performers and the Sintra Palace.

Refueled for more adventure, our next stop was the Quinta da Regaleira, another 19th century mansion.  We easily walked there on the narrow sidewalk leading out of town.  This villa is unique and well known for its eccentric, almost surreal gardens which have hidden tunnels and secret passages.  The central feature of the gardens is the initiation well, a well that was drained, expanded with a downward spiral staircase into a sort of inverted tower, and is rumored to have been used for cult ceremonies.  I had planned ahead for this stop and had brought mini flashlights for the kids.  They were excited to look for fairies in this "magic garden" and to discover all the hidden surprises.  It was so much cooler than I even expected, with tunnels exiting into a mossy grotto where we escaped across stepping stones. Our six-year-old made us do that whole circuit through a fortress, into the hidden cave entrance, across a bridge, down into the initiation well, and out across the stepping stones twice and was begging for a third!

We wrapped up an awesome day with some late afternoon downtime flying paper airplanes and coloring in activity books in the plaza in town in front of the Sintra Palace (which we never did have a chance to see inside!), and then dinner in town before heading back for a well-earned night of good sleep.  I think we could have easily entertained ourselves for another full day in Sintra with all the things we didn't get a chance to see (besides the National Palace, also the Moorish Castle, Cabo da Roca and the coast, the Capuchos Convent, etc...) but tomorrow we hit to road for a drive to the Algarve (see post here!).  Maybe we'll be back again someday!

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