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Exploring Sintra: A Hiking Adventure Near Lisbon, Portugal

21 March 2024

Sintra, Sintra, Sintra-a place we like to return to. A dream place for hiking and cycling. The colourful Portuguese town is nestled among hills and winding, almost overgrown roads.

Sintra is a small town outside Portugal's capital, Lisbon. However, Sintra is also a large national park with castles and palaces of all sizes and colors. The vegetation varies with almost every step, and the viewpoints are like something out of a dream. We see Mount Sintra as a great enchanted place to discover on foot or by bike. Welcome to join us on a hike in one of our favorite places in the country that feels like our second home.

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Hike up Mount Sintra

Our plan for the day was to start our walk near Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of mainland Europe. Just driving along Portugal's dramatic coastline is an experience in itself, but we can tell you more about that another time.

We have planned the "sea to summit" approach, meaning we would have hiked from theAtlantic Ocean up to one of the highest points-Capela de Nossa Senhora da Peninha. However, we realised our limitations for the day in terms of time as we started after lunch.Therefore, we opted for a shorter version of the hike, but one that was just as impressive and lovely.

We park the hire car in a small layby on the side of the road and lace up our shoes. We quickly find ourselves in the shade, with the eucalyptus trees swaying along our path. As keen mountain bikers, we have previously explored the trails of the Sintra mountain, so we are now on the lookout for different singletracks, berms, and drops. We cheer happily when we catch a whiff of potential adventures for future visits. How can we already be longing to experience a place again while we're still there? Maybe we should consider moving here?

Discover the diverse nature of Sintra

The vegetation is incredibly diverse, almost like a rainforest, with huge deciduous trees being replaced by smaller trees and sparse coniferous forest just a few steps away. Ivy and its various species are everywhere, creating a soft green carpet in some places. There is no lack of chlorophyll, providing a lovely contrast to the long beaches and cliffs we just left.

We have deliberately chosen a part of Sintra that is almost on the opposite side to the town of Sintra to have the trails more to ourselves. But we are not completely alone. For parts of the tour we put on our guide hats and help two confused but happy American ladies who have set out with their walking sticks. We look at maps and point out directions and part ways as we continue in opposite directions.

After hopefully pointing the American ladies in the right direction, we pick up the pace toreach Capela de Nossa Senhora da Peninha as soon as possible. We realise that if we want to get there and back down to our rental car before dusk, we have to move faster. We choose slightly different paths than we first thought and end up on some steep MTB trails.This is what we like-challenges!

Almost a spiritual feeling

In some parts of the forest in Sintra, spiritual séances and events are held. When the fog from the Atlantic Ocean sweeps into the forest during the cooler months of the year, it feels very mystical and you can almost see the spirits dancing. We get a glimpse of this during our hike as small fog banks pass by. A powerful experience!

We arrive at a car park just below the summit we are aiming for, and it becomes noticeable that we are approaching the summit as the vegetation decreases and the light becomes more intense. In the car park, a large group of MTB enthusiasts have gathered for a "summit to sea tour", where they will cycle from the top all the way down to the sea. We have done it before and can feel the tingle of excitement in our stomachs. Wow, what fun they will have.

Miles of views from the top of the mountain

Onwards to the summit, not many steps left now.Soon the winds of the Atlantic Ocean will blow through our clothes and sweaty foreheads. At the top, there's an 18th century chapel and lots of round-topped rocks-perfect for climbing and performing all sorts of acrobatic tricks.

The views are vast, looking down to the dunes of Praia do Guincho, the luxurious holiday resort of Cascais and Estoril, famous for its casino. The story goes that it was this casino that inspired Ian Fleming to write Casino Royale.

After pausing, taking off our shoes, and wiggling our toes in the Atlantic winds, we take a cattle trail down behind Capela de Nossa Senhora da Peninha. Here, the forest is at its most magnificent, with steep slopes, numerous path choices, and tree markings that not only show the way down but also hold some spiritual significance. It almost feels like we're rolling downhill, and the sensation of being in a movie is palpable.

After a short while, we find ourselves back on one of the wider paths we followed on the ascent, almost completing a circle. Now, the return to our rental car isn't far. With mostly downhill terrain ahead, we're making good time.

In one of the bends, we encounter the American ladies again, needing guidance as they're heading the wrong way. We assist once more, interpreting the map and pointing them in the right direction. Eventually, our paths diverge, hoping they find their way down safely.

Back at the car, we throw in our rucksacks, turn on the AC and exclaim in unison-LET’SSWIM! It's a winding drive down to Praia do Guincho-a surfing mecca to explore next time we're here. The waves are as high as houses in some places and the wind has increasedsignificantly. Red flags whip in the wind so we settle for knee-deep dipping and wave play, aclassic game probably played by all children, it's simple-run away from the waves. Neverstop exploring and playing!

Small Portuguese phrasebook:

Bom dia: Good morning
Boa tarde: Good afternoon
Boa noite: Good evening
De nada:Here you go
Sim/Não: Sim means yes in Portuguese and Não means no. You pronounce the words as they are written. If you want to say no thanks or yes thanks, just add obrigado or obrigada afterwards.
Obrigado/Obrigada: Both obrigado and obrigada mean thank you in Portuguese. The difference is the gender of the person. If you are a man you say obrigado and if you are awoman you say obrigada.
Pasteis de nata: The 200% magic pastry that Sebastian eats every day!

Food and drink tips

Núcleo de Interpretação da Duna da Cresmina - Café
Larmanjat - Bom Apetite!
Roulote da Gigi-So good gluten-free pizza! But pre-order or it will take extra time

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