I love taking road trips. Ever since my trip around Isle of Skye in the winter of 2014, that is all I ever want to do - get into a car and just drive. I have driven around Cornwall, dodging bad weather during a very hopeful hot summer. The ability to avoid the rain in various parts of Devon and Cornwall excited me. This trip is of course also where I found out that I was pregnant with my first child - best memories ever! The next road trip was Morocco in 2016 but it is such a big country that we were not able to cover the whole lot. Iceland in 2016 was also a road trip and much smaller. We covered a lot of ground and toured the entire country so after looking at the EU map, Portugal seemed ideal for a family holiday and road trip. Portugal is small. You can drive down the coast and enjoy the beaches within 3 weeks, and that is exactly what we did.
We arrived at Lisbon’s international airport during the night and hired a car from the airport. This was my first time in Portugal and airports usually tell me a lot about a country so I was not expecting much from Portugal... and how wrong I was! We drove 30 minutes away to stay in our flat in Sintra. It was late and we were all tired and went straight to bed so imagine our faces on the following morning when I opened the curtains to a view of “jungle” covered old stone houses and meandering roads with a lot of bright colours.
We had 3 days around the National Park and palaces of Pena and Sintra. You could easily spend a week and a half around this area. In fact I would recommend it as there are so many historical locations in the area worth visiting. The palaces, wells and castles also need a lot of hiking and if you have a buggy or pushchair, it is twice as hard and twice the time required. There is a bus that goes around the different locations around the park but there is a lot of traffic too. It is better to walk. The kids loved it because there is always something hidden, whether a cave, a well or step stones. It really is a little adventure for them.
Once you have discovered the Initiation Well, the paths, grottos and waterways will lead you to Quinta da Regaleira. This is a World Heritage Site which has had several private owners including a Japanese corporation. It was opened to the public only two decades ago.
The highlight of the trip and our main reason for visiting Sintra was to discover the magical Palacio da Pena, which is painted in a variety of colours - pink, blue, yellow. It looks like something out of a fairytale. Even the canals within the palace grounds have shelters for animals that look like little castle towers built on water. The palace is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in the area - a must-see!!!
Once we got to the top of the hill, we realised that, for a small fee, we could have caught a bus service that runs every 10 minutes, which takes people from the bottom at the parking lot to the top of the hill, but, of course, we would have missed out on the little grottos and caves within the palace park. Also there was such a wow factor once we saw the Palace of Pena after hiking for an hour so I am glad that we walked instead of catching the bus.
The other historical location worth seeing is the Castelos dos Mouros which is located right at the top of the Sintra Mountains and built in the 8th century. I would advise not bringing a buggy, or better still leaving the kids because this hike has a lot of steps and very very long. You can drive to the top but you would miss out on the stone walls that are reminiscent of The Great Wall of China. The views are incredible and I imagine the sunsets must be amazing too. I look back and wish I had visited much later in the day to see the sunset.
There are a lot more places to see but we only had three days and on the third day, we wanted to travel to the beach area and visited Azenhos do Mas. The town sits on a cliff and has a public swimming pool on the beach.