I’ve dreamed of visiting Portugal, in particular Sintra, for a few years so I made sure to include this country in my travels. October was a wonderful time of year; the sun was still warm enough for summer clothes, the leaves were starting to fall and the towns I visited were beginning to enter their sleepy winter phase.
A town of perfect palaces and fairytale castles, Sintra combines all my favourite aspects of Portugal: pastel handpainted tiles covering the whole facade of homes and shops, bright colours, beautiful views, stunning hidden gardens, picturesque scenery, narrow stone streets, friendly locals, perfect architecture and a pleasant climate. I was lucky to visit the stunning Pena Palace and spent over there hours exploring the castle, both inside and out, as well as the elaborate maze of gardens. Closer to the village is another beautiful palace called Quinta da Regaleira which has the most beautiful landscaping of anywhere I’ve ever seen; it’s gardens a perfect fairytale combination only ever seen in the likes of The Secret Garden or Alice in Wonderland. Waterfalls concealing hidden tunnels, river stepping stones and castle turrets looking out to neighbouring palaces are the gardens of every Disney girl’s dream.
Sintra is easily my top runner for destinatios in Protugal, followed closely by Obidos. A small medieval village surrounded by high stone walls, Obidos is about an hour north of Lisbon, reachable on a day trip, but ideally it’s best to stay there, which I was lucky enough to do. I stayed in shared accomodation, but there was no one else there besides the lovely Spanish host, who made me feel like a friend staying in her cosy cottage right on the edge of town. Each morning she would serve me a baked egg topped with parmesan and oregano of which I would eat with warm bread in her small living room by the window overlooking the narrow street and castle walls.
In Obidos all the houses are white and are trimmed with either yellow or blue paint, and almost all overgrown with ivy, vines or pretty flowers. This of course meant that I stopped at every doorway or window for a photo, and walked all the of streets within the small town at least a dozen times. The main road of shops and rsestaurents is very quaint; narrow and bustling with tourists arriving hourly on the visitors bus. Shops extend back into three or four rooms, winding either underground or far above the streets, filled with local crafts, second hand books, mosiac plates and spice mixes. Through windows I spotted bakers preparing fresh bread, kneldng it by hand and rolling it up with slices of salami. Atop counters are freshly baked orange cakes, still hot and soaked in syrup, a perfect match for freshly squeezed orange juice. Restaurants have temporary wooden bars out front, abundant with bottles of cherry liquor which is served in mini chocolate shell cups. I took the chance to walk the city walls in between patches of rain, of which actually added to the charm of the town and emphasised the peacefulness of the village. I often found myself laughing, dancing and twirling my umbrella in the rain in this small Portuguese town which stole my heart.
My days in Porto were filled with relaxing tourist activities including riverside cycling around the coast to beautiful wind swept surfing beaches, the coast with it’s seafood, seagulls and fishing boats reminding me a lot of home. Additionally Porto offered Port tasting and cellar tours through cool, dim barrel rooms followed by wandering through local craft markets which comprise mostly of strange rooster souvenirs.
Anyone who knows me knows about my cat obsession, and Porto was the best place for a crazy cat lady. The town had the most stray cats and kittens I’ve ever found in one place, all friendly and happy for me to sit and chat with them for crazy amounts of time.
I found out that J.K Rolling lived in Porto for a while, and it is very obvious that she got a lot of inspiration for many Harry Potter elements from the town. University students walk around town (often spotted late at night!) wearing long, black robes, almost identical to those seen in the HP films. I was also lucky enough to visit Livaria Lello which is an old bookstore where she would spend hours in the cafe on the second floor. The bookstore looks a lot like the HP library, complete with a huge central staircase which winds and splits into two, and when viewed at certain angels through a concave glass windows, seem to be moving.
Coimbra is a small university town midway between Porto and Lisbon where I spent a night in a gorgeous old Victorian villa, after arriving on a long, slow train through the Portugese countryside train running on Portuguese time (ie it’ll leave when they decide, not when the website says). The town is dominated by the university, which also has a very Harry Potter feel to it. I wandered the campus, visited the huge library, explored the botanic gardens, found hidden restaurants and longed to be a student again with opportunity to study in such a fantastic location.
Lisbon is a stunner. She’s a pretty city with steep streets climbing each side of the central promenades. A beautiful coastline, quaint high street, pretty side roads combined with castles, fortresses, churches and monuments which dot the hills and offer spectacular views of the town below.
This part of my trip to Portugal was a highlight mainly due to the amazing place that I stayed. Hostels have been my go-to accomodation for this entire adventure, but this hostel was above and beyond. Waffles for breakfast daily, tapas evening twice a week (OMG flaming chorizo!), amazing staff, karaoke nights and a super cozy movie room where I spent probably too much time, but travelling can wear you down after 4 weeks on the go and it was good to have a relax. I took a ride on trams out to Belem to try their famous pastries (pastel de nata) which are easily the best sweet treat I’ve ever eaten- think warm custard in a crispy pastry shell topped with cinnamon and icing sugar.
Overall Portugal was everything I’d hoped, if not more. There’s still a lot of the country to see but I can absolutely say that it’s one of my favourite destinations so far.