One of the greatest parts of our traveling has been the chance to take day trips to these seemingly off the grid towns. Our visits to Segovia and Toledo in Spain prepared me for an excursion to Sintra, Portugal.
Sintra sits on the Western coast of Portugal. We drove from Lisbon to the winding back roads that lead to it in about 45 minutes. The town itself is nestled into the hillside of a forest. With trees and flowers that line the streets and brick walls where vendors set up their jewelry and art, Sintra welcomes visitors to a town with history and charm.
Sintra is a location where many different cultures have merged over the centuries. Moorish, Roman, Egyptian and Gothic elements can be seen in architecture and the layout of the town itself. It experienced the rule of Ferdinand II who is responsible for renovating the beautiful castle that overlooks the hillside. This is a main attraction to the area because even though the town seems remote it still holds value because of the castle. Our tour guide, Odete Oliveira, explained that some of the buildings in Sintra date back to the 14th century but faced damage during the same earthquake and tsunami that damaged the better part of Lisbon in 1755. With two hours to spend, our class hopped off the bus in the center of town. We explored shops and boutiques and walked up and down every back street we could find. It seemed like everywhere we turned we had a great view for pictures.
The town expands beyond what we were able to see during our visit, and it is home to several palaces that were each constructed from different cultures. There are also many mansions in the area that are owned by estates of stature in Portugal. The population is near 400,000 people, according Odete.
Shops here are full of older women who hand embroider their wares and just about anything you can make from cork. The Portuguese are proud of their cork, and you would certainly know it after going into the shops of Sintra. There are plenty of them as well as cafes, hotels and other small establishments.
Due to the economic decline of Portugal, people depend on one thing that never fails: tourism. Sintra will always attract people because it is located in a picturesque landscape, and people search for this exact atmosphere when they come to Europe.
Sintra is meant to be a cultural melting pot and because of its history the United Nations has declared it a historical and educational center with the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site. This would be comparable to the American National Parks Association. Portugal is doing its part to make sure people can always visit Sintra and learn about the culture that has flowed through it.