Footloose in Lisbon : walking and climbing in the city

The ATG holiday finished after breakfast on Saturday morning. We’d eaten early and walked down to Sintra Station for the 40 minute train journey to Lisbon Rossio Station. We passed the National Palace on our way. It’s on my list for my next visit!

National Palace Sintra

The National Palace, Sintra

We’d added an extra night to the trip so that we might gain a flavour of Portugal’s capital city. From Rossio Square it was a 20 minute walk to our B&B in the shadow of the Sé Cathedral in the medieval Alfama district. Our hostess Teresa met us and let us leave our bags giving us a local map and a few suggestions for a day’s walking in Lisbon.

The hill and step climbing didn’t stop at the end of the walking holiday. Lisbon is a hilly city. First off we walked along the route of the famous old 28 tram up to the viewpoints at Santa Luzia and Portas do Sol Squares. Fantastic views over Lisbon and its port, Alfama and the River Tagus.

Alfama from Sta Luzia Square

Alfama District from Santa Luzia Square

Tiled wall at Santa Luzia Square

Tiled wall at Santa Luzia Square

Tram 28 at the busy Portas do Sol

Tram 28 at the busy Portas do Sol

Portas do Sol Square

Portas do Sol Square

Further climbing brought us to the end of the queue for the ticket office for the Castelo Sao Jorge. Once inside the Castle grounds you can take in fantastic city views from the busy esplanade, visit the archaeological museum, walk the battlements and see the ongoing Moorish excavations and shady gardens. Considered to be the site of the founding settlement of Lisbon recent archaeological finds date back to the late 6th C BC. The castle remains themselves are from the Moorish era (11th and 12th C). St George’s Castle was a royal residence until 1511. For centuries then it was neglected but today it’s an attractive place to visit and we spent the best part of the morning until the early afternoon exploring and admiring the views at every turn.

Lisbon, River Tagus and  25 April Bridge from the Castle Esplanade

Lisbon, River Tagus and  25 April Bridge from the Castle Esplanade

Shady Esplanade at S Jorge Castle

Shady Esplanade at S Jorge Castle

Tile Frame Border in the Archeaological Museum

Tile Frame Border in the Archeaological Museum

This is a representation of angels. Blue and white tiles with manganese. Produced domestically. Late 17th C. [Exhibit notes]

Moorish Excavations

Moorish Excavations

Next up was a wander around Alfama – taking note of possible evening meal locations – and ending up at the popular, Bohemian-style Pois Cafe very near Sé Cathedral the next place on our itinerary.

Street in Alfama 1

Street in Alfama

Street in Alfama 2

Quiet Square in Alfama

Lisbon’s Cathedral, built not long after Dom Afonso Henriques took Lisbon from the Moors in 1147, stands on the site of city’s main mosque. The crenellated Romanesque building is a reconstruction and restoration since most of Lisbon was destroyed by earthquake in 1755.

Se Cathedral near our B&B

Sé Cathedral near our B&B

It is also an important archaeological site and new finds are constantly being added to the inventory from the cloister excavations originally started to reinforce the building’s foundations. We explored the Cloister and the Treasury at extra charge. The highlight of the church is the Rose Window.

Excavations in Se Cathedral Cloister

Excavations in Sé Cathedral Cloister

The Rose Window

The Rose Window

The cathedral is very dark inside and so we blinked when eventually we emerged into the sunny Lisbon afternoon. We then walked across the main shopping streets, the pedestrianised rua Augusta is the main shopping drag, to the famous Elevador da Santa Justa. This lift, designed by the Portuguese pupil of Gustave  Eiffel (and you can see the connection!) Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, takes you up in its neo-Gothic lift to the ruin of Carmo and its busy square. When you come out of the lift there’s a tight little iron spiral staircase that takes you up to yet another amazing viewpoint.

Elevador de Santa Justa

Elevador de Santa Justa

Castle from the viewing platform

Castle from the viewing platform of the Elevador

The Cathedral and Tagus from the Viewing Platform

The Cathedral and Tagus from the Viewing Platform

Rossio Square from the Viewing Platform

Rossio Square from the Viewing Platform (note the wavy pavements which seem to reflect the watery nature of the city)

As time was tight we decided that we would have to forego a visit to Belem – highly recommended by both Teresa and Ana. As I always say – “One must leave something for one’s next visit”.


“Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden” – A Day in Sintra

Here you will see that Lord Byron’s declamation still holds true today!

Our walk continued from Praia Grande for a further two days. We continued up the coast as far north as Praia de Magoito where the Sintra natural park ends and then turned inland away from the ocean views to the wine growing area of Colares. The town of Colares was  where we spent the next night and our journey on foot continued the next day to Sintra itself via a long stop at the wonderful Palace and Gardens of Monserrate.

Monserrate Gardens

In the Gardens at Monserrate

Entrance Gate to Sintra

Former Entrance to Sintra

So, on the afternoon of the fifth day of walking we arrived at one of the former town gates and soon reached the famous Lawrence’s Hotel right in the old town of Sintra.


This hotel is the oldest in Spain and Portugal and (I believe) the second oldest in Europe. It has connections with Lord Byron who stayed here and whose portraits appear on many of the hotel and restaurant walls.

We stayed two nights at Lawrences which gave us a whole day to explore Sintra and its palaces.

Pena Palace

Most of our time was spent at the Park and Palace of Pena. It’s very popular; even on this Friday in April. There is lots to see in the Palace alone. Ongoing restoration could also be observed here as at Monserrate.

Open for Works at Pena

Tiled courtyard

An Inner Courtyard

The Park and Palace of Pena are the finest examples of nineteenth century Portuguese Romanticism and the integration of natural and built heritage. They constitute the most important part of the Cultural Landscape of  Sintra’s World Heritage site.” [From publicity leaflet]

Originally a chapel and later a monastery  in 1842 work began on a “New Palace” by the King Don Fernando II who left all the property on his death to his second wife the Countess Edla. The Palace and Park were acquired by the state in 1889 and converted to a museum in 1910-12.

A natural environment of rare beauty and scientific importance, the Park is remarkable as a project of landscape transformation of a hill, barren at the time, into an arboretum integrating several historic gardens. It occupies almost eighty-five hectares of exceptional geological and climatic conditions.” [From publicity leaflet]

The Chalet Edla

The Chalet Edla

We could have spent hours in the grounds alone. Leaving the Palace you are soon away from the crowds and we decided on a route that would take in the Chalet Edla.

Pena Park

Lush Greenery of the Pena Park

We had understood that due to damage following the storms in January the Chalet would not be open to the public. So we were surprised and happy to find that on that very day it was reopened  to the public! We bought our tickets and took a look round this unusual summer house built by Don Ferdinand for the Countess between 1864 and 1869. The Chalet also deteriorated badly over many years and in 1999 was damaged by fire. Here, again, renovation work is still ongoing. I’m not sure to what extent the recent storms damaged the house but there’s been a magnificent effort to restore this building to its former glory.

Before renovation

Photographs show the extent of the damage

Inside Edla 1

Interior Chalet Edla

Inside Edla 2

Renovations at The Chalet Edla

Inside Edla 3

Upstairs at The Chalet Edla

From the Pena gardens we stepped across the road to the Moorish Castle which is really just ramparts. But they are impressive  ramparts.Moorish Ramparts

The Moorish Castle Ramparts

Sintra from Moorish

Sintra from the Moorish Castle Ramparts

They tower over the town and we could see them from our terrace at Lawrences.

From our terrace

The Palace of Monserrate Restoration Project

Palace of Monserrate

In 1995 the whole of the Sintra Region was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status and restoration of the various properties and conservation of the forests and parks continues to this day.

Hall at Monserrate

The Beautifully Restored Hall

Since 1949 Monserrate has been owned by the Portuguese state. Over the decades that followed the palace deteriorated but in 2001 restoration work began on the roof and facades.  After interruptions this work was finally completed in 2004 when work on the interior could begin. A successful bid for funds from EEA-Grants in 2007 enabled work to resume at a faster pace. At Monserrate this the project is called “open for works” and it allows for the Palace to be open to the public so that all may watch the ongoing ‘interventions’.

Exquisite renovation work

Fantastic renovation work

Exquisite Plasterwork

Restoration work carried out room by room allowed for the re-opening of the building to visitors. So far interventions in the Library, Chapel, Kitchen, Pantry, Wine Cellar, Larders, decorative plasterwork, cleaning of stonework, kitchen range have all been carried out in sight of the visitors. It is wonderful to see the artists and craftspeople at work and many of the rooms being brought back into use, like The Music Room for concerts.

Restoration work in the music room

Music Room Plasterwork

The music room at Monserrate

The Music Room Today

Restored Music Room ceiling

The Restored Music Room Ceiling

Photographs on display in the Library show just how bad the condition of this fine room became during the latter half of the 20th century. Once the roof and walls were repaired work began on the individual rooms. Paying careful attention to detail the Library has now been recreated in its former glory.

The library before renovation

The library pre-renovation

The above two photos show the extent of the damage

The library now

The Library as it looks today

Example of library wallpaper

The Handmade Library Wallpaper

The library door

The Library Door

Library door (detail)

Detail of Library Door

The whole project makes me surprised that The Landmark Trust do not have an interest here as it definitely has the obligatory British connections that Landmark require of their overseas holdings. There are many follies and outbuildings ripe for occupation by we ‘Landmarkers’.

Childe Harold, Vathek and other literary inspirations of Monserrate

First glimpse of Monserrate Palace

On sloping mounds, or in the vale beneath,
Are domes where whilom kings did make repair;
But now the wild flowers round them only breathe:
Yet ruined splendour still is lingering there.
And yonder towers the prince’s palace fair:
There thou, too, Vathek! England’s wealthiest son,
Once formed thy Paradise, as not aware
When wanton Wealth her mightiest deeds hath done,
Meek Peace voluptuous lures was ever wont to shun.”

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, by Lord Byron [Canto the First XXII]

think the above verse applies to the beautiful palace and gardens of Monserrate. At least we were told in numerous books and leaflets that Lord Byron was smitten by Monserrate on his visit here in 1810 and reminisced about it in his poem ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’.

Monserrate Palace

Monserrate was probably my favourite place of the whole trip. It had everything: a palace with a library, exotic gardens(but with an English Rose Garden), a tea house, British connections, literary connections and to top it all we visited in beautiful weather!

The library today

The Library as it is today

In the gardens

In the exotic gardens

The Tea House

The Tea House

Beckford's Falls

Beckford’s Falls

William Beckford ordered this waterfall to be constructed between 1794 and 1799. Beckford, a writer who enjoyed great fame at the end of the 18th C, visited Portugal and fell in love with Sintra, where he rented this property from Gerard de Visme.” [On a nearby information board]

Vathek's Arch

Vathek’s Arch

This arch was built by William Beckford … We think that it could represent the entrance of the property which, at the time, was not enclosed. Beckford wrote his most famous book, Vathek, an oriental tale, in 1786 before his first visit to Portugal. Vathek was the hero of the book which is considered by many to be somehow autobiographic” [From nearby Information Board]

Gerard de Visme an English merchant holding the concession to import Brazilian teak was responsible for the construction of the first palace. Later, William Beckford, writer, novelist, art critic and eccentric lived here. There’s a waterfall named for him and an arch for his most famous character; Vathek.

Sir Francis Cooke bought the property in 1856 and had it restored by the English architect James Knowles, who employed a thousand workmen. In the 1850s the artist William Stockdale created a botanic garden there with plants including rhododendrons  from all over the world – Mexico, Australasia, Japan and the Himalayas.

Brass jugs in kitchen

Brass jugs in the kitchen – could be Below Stairs at any National Trust property!

Cabo da Roca or Promontorium Magnum : The Edge of the World

The highlight of the next day’s walking was to visit the Cabo Do Roca – the westernmost point of the European mainland. Called Promontorium Magnum by the Romans and before the Age of the Explorers was thought to be the Edge of the World.

Cabo da Roca sign

But before heading off on the next sector of our walk we spent a relaxing morning at The Sao Saturnino. Breakfast isn’t served until after 9am and we also wanted to wander around the maze of buildings and the gardens. Here are some pictures of this beautiful location.

Entrance Saturnino

Sao Saturnino Entrance

Saturnino library

Sao Saturnino Library

Convento sea views

Sea Views from The Sao Saturnino

Leaving the C da SS

Leaving The Convento da Sao Saturnino

So, late morning we headed off from the Convento, through the village of Azoia, to the Cabo da Roca. “The phrase that is most attached to this outcrop is ‘where the land ends and the sea begins’ which was coined by Luis de Camoes, the 16th century Portuguese poet.” [Route Brochure].

Approaching Cabo da Roca

Approaching the Cabo da Roca

Cabo da Roca

Cabo da Roca

Cabo de Roca Monument

The Monument at Cabo da Roca

Cabo da Roca sign

What it says on the Monument

The Atlantic Ocean at Cabo da Roca

The Atlantic Ocean at Cabo da Roca

The Lighthouse at Cabo da Roca

The Lighthouse at Cabo da Roca

The lighthouse was built in 1772 and stands 144 metres above the cape which itself stands 140 metres above sea level.

Our paths continued, with some diversions due to the January storms, mostly along the coastline to the famous Praia Grande. PG is one of the largest stretches of sandy beach on the Portuguese coast. The name means Big Beach and is extremely popular  with surfers all year round. Our hotel was perfectly situated right on the beach and our room overlooked the pounding waves and the hotel’s huge 100 metre swimming pool.

Arribas Hotel

Along the Way – Convents

If our first day’s walking, now that I look back, was on a theme of Forts then the next day was on a theme of Convents. This was our longest day walking: over 12 miles. We left the Fortaleza after breakfast (and a personal farewell from the manager) at 9.30am and only arrived at our destination that evening at 6.30pm. Of course, we didn’t spend the whole day walking, there were several places to visit along the way, not least The Convento dos Capuchos, where we spent well over the ‘designated’ one hour suggested in our Route Booklet. The Convento (read more about it here) was the first location within the Cultural Landscape of Sintra – a UNESCO World Heritage site first designated in 1995 – on our itinerary.

Our coastal path

Clearly marked coastal path

At first our route, on clearly marked paths, followed the coast northwards before turning inland and into the area known as The Serra de Sintra. There were some tough climbs but also some great views.


After the first tough climb we could see the River Tagus and 25 Abril Bridge

Still see Fortaleza

In another direction we could still see the coast and the Fortaleza

This area was the worst affected by the storms in January this year and consequently our path was disrupted at one point. This took some time to negotiate and calls/texts to Ana but eventually we got back on track. We’d hoped to reach The Convento at lunchtime but in fact we ate our picnic lunch a few miles before.

5 star picnic

Our Five Star Picnic lasted us Three Days!!

The Convento dos Capuchos dates back to 1560. It was built by Don Alvaro de Castro as a Franciscan monastery. The Capuchins were a minor ‘hooded’ order. It was built in accordance with the Franciscan (fulfilling the teachings of St Francis of Assissi) principles of living in harmony with nature. Mostly carved from the rock face, granite boulders are incorporated and cork was used as insulation, thus giving an alternative name ‘The Cork Monastery’. Here the monks lived a simple and holy life until the site was abandoned by them in 1834. The Portuguese state took responsibility for the site in 1949. Why it is called a Convento and not a Mosteiro (monastery) I have no idea!

Views of the Convento Dos Capuchos

Capuchos sign

At the Entrance – there’s also a Nature Trail, but we didn’t have time to complete it.

St Francis

Wall Painting of St Francis

Tiny doorways to cells

The very low doorways (indicating humility) into the tiny cells (the floor lighting guides our way)

Small windows

Small Cell Windows and Cork-Insulated Walls


The Cloister

Cork oak

A Cork Oak still grows in the Cloister

Leaving the Convento around 4pm we still had a lengthy walk ahead of us, plus two further climbs. The first was to a memorial to 23 soldiers who were killed putting out forest fires in 1966. From the cross there are more stunning views – the Pena Palace magnificent in the distance.


Forest Fires Memorial to Servicemen

Pena Palace in the distance

Pena Palace across the Serra

“Continue ahead uphill”. We got kind of used to reading this instruction!

Yet more climbing to do!

Onward and upward we continued until we reached the Peninha Chapel.


Unfortunately the chapel wasn’t open to the public but we read that the first building on the site was a chapel to Sao Saturnino in the 12th century and that the ‘new’ chapel was built in the 17th century and apparently contains beautiful blue and white azulejos (tiles) depicting the life of Mary.

View from Peninha

Tagus view from Peninha

Again, we had magnificent views of the coast and towards the River Tagus and Lisbon. From the Peninha it was practically downhill all the way and finally, we caught a first glimpse of our destination – The Convento Sao Saturnino nestling a valley with views of the sea.

Convento da Saturnino

We arrived just in time for dinner – there’s a welcoming tray in the bedroom for revival of the spirits!

Nice feature in the room

Along the Way – Forts

As you will have seen our first day’s walk was not too long and followed the Portuguese coastline from Cascais to Guincho. On the first day the walking distance is always a bit shorter than most others because it is your opportunity to meet with the Route Manager and discuss the route, any last minute changes and exchange mobile ‘phone numbers.

Santa Marta Lighthouse, Cascais

The Santa Marta Lighthouse near Cascais

We spent a sunny Sunday morning in a park with Ana, our manager, as there was a big 10k race going on right outside our hotel meaning that access was made rather difficult. Ana had to explain to us that very severe storms last January had caused much damage along the route and some of the paths were now impassable. She had done her homework though, and walked the whole length trying to re-jig the route in just a couple of places. Luckily she was also  on the end of the ‘phone when we needed a bit of clarification on a couple of days.

Boca do Inferno 1

Boca do Inferno

Boca do Inferno 2

Boca do Inferno

Boca do Inferno 3

Boca do Inferno and Guia Lighthouse

Our route that morning was busy and ran parallel with the coast road. Lots of walkers, families, joggers and cyclists shared the route with us. We passed lighthouses and dramatic coastal features and were able to take a brief break at The Forte de Sao Jorge de Oitavos. Not far from Cascais is the Boca do Inferno or Hell’s Mouth. “This is a natural chasm and the sea water has access to the very bottom of the chasm so when the sea is unsettled the effect is quite impressive!” [From our Route Booklet] Even when the sea is pretty calm the effect is still pretty impressive! There is a  viewing area just down from the path.

Forte St Jorge

Cabo Roso Lighthouse

The Cabo Roso Lighthouse

Probably about midway between Cascais and Guincho is the The Forte de Sao Jorge de Oitavos. It’s a handy visitor’s centre along the coast and has exhibitions and displays as well as a sheltered courtyard out of the wind. It was built as a defensive fortification against possible landings by pirates or invaders between 1642 and 1648.

Approaching the Fortaleza

Approaching the Fortaleza [yellow building]

The shortish walk meant that we arrived at our most luxurious hotel The Fortaleza do Guincho in the early afternoon giving us plenty of time to relax and read enjoy a late lunch and later an afternoon tea on the sunny terrace overlooking the dramatic waves and nearby beaches followed by a bar meal dinner in the sumptuous lounge area. We needed this rest and recuperation after the long day of travelling the day before and the next day’s walk – the longest of the trip.

Afternoon Tea at the Fortaleza

The much-appreciated Afternoon Tea at The Fortaleza

Paula Rego – coincidence

If you watched all of the video recording of The Brilliant Brontes in the last but one post you will have seen Sheila Hancock inspecting and discussing the drawings of Jane Eyre with the artist Dame Paula Rego. By coincidence a week later one of the most prominent museums (yes, there are several!) in Cascais turns out to be devoted to the work of Paula Rego (and it has a nice cafe too). Shortly after our arrival we decided to take a walk and investigate.

Casa das historias

The Casa das Historias opened in Cascais in 2009

Rego was born in Lisbon in 1935 to keen Anglophile parents who sent their daughter to an Anglican English language school in Lisbon and later to school near Sevenoaks and art school (The Slade) where she met her future husband Victor Willing. She became a naturalised British subject and was created a Dame of the British Empire in 2010. She divides her time between Britain and Portugal.

Here are some of her Jane Eyre works  currently on display at the gallery Casa Das Historias in Cascais.

Paula Rego Jane Eyre

Paula Rego’s Jane Eyre

Paula Rego Jane Eyre 2

Paula Rego’s Lithograph Jane Eyre

Paula Rego Jane Eyre book

The Book of the Exhibition

Didn't have room for the PR soap

I had no room for the Paula Rego soaps in my luggage!

The Best Way to See the World is on Foot! Sintra and The Portuguese Coast Footloose Holiday

ATG bus

In June last year my sister and I took our first ATG Footloose Holiday in Alsace. We were so impressed with the organisation and our own walking ability that we decided to book an even longer trip this year. We spent last week in Portugal doing the Sintra and Portuguese Footloose Walk.

Here is the text of the itinerary!

Cascais sea front

Cascais Beach and Sea Front

“Day 1 • Arrive in Cascais. A fashionable resort with a marina, smart shops, elegant restaurants and one of the best (and cleanest!) surfing beaches in Europe.”

Boca do Inferno

Boca do Inferno [Mouth of Hell] (between Cascais and Guincho)

Day 2 • Cascais to Guincho. An outstanding walk along the coast, passing lighthouses and fascinating cliff formations with dramatic coastal views, to Guincho Beach, one of Portugal’s best windsurfing locations (6.5 miles, 3.5 hrs).”

View from Peninha

View from Peninha

Day 3 • Guincho to Azoia. Follow coastal paths before heading inland into the Serra de Sintra. Opportunity to visit the interesting Convento dos Capuchos (Capuchin monastery) (+2 hrs), before returning through the Serra up to the spectacularly situated 14th century Peninha Chapel. Paths then lead down to your hotel near the coast (4.9 or 11.7 miles, 3 or 6 hrs).”

Cabo da Roca

Day 4 • Azoia to Praia Grande. A cliff-top walk with spectacular views leads to Cabo (Cape) da Roca, the most westerly point of Portugal – and mainland Europe. Continue inland through the vineyards of the famous ‘Colares’ wine before returning to the coast and past dramatic cliff formations to the beach of Praia Grande, with its world- famous swirling waves (7.2 miles, 4 hrs).”

Azenhas do Mar

Azenhas do Mar


The Church of Sao Mamede

Day 5 • Praia Grande to Colares. Continue along the coast to the small seaside resort of Azenhas do Mar, with its pretty whitewashed houses perched on a cliff. From here the coastal path continues, past more fine beaches, then heads inland to the curious church of São Mamede, ‘protector of the animals,’ which were freely allowed to enter the chapel until recent times. Minor roads then lead to Colares, famous for its wine (6.9 or 9.9 miles, 3 or 4.5 hrs).”


Monserrate Palace and Gardens

Day 6 • Colares to Sintra. Walk through small hamlets and vineyards before joining wide forest paths passing through the Serra to the ‘Romantic’ Palace of Monserrate, with exotic gardens and follies. Continue through the Serra and a short section of road brings you to the arch of the old west entrance to Sintra (6.9 miles, 3.5 hrs).”

Sintra from the Moorish Castle

Sintra from the Moorish Castle

Day 7 • Free day in Sintra. Described by Byron as a ‘glorious Eden’, and boasting UNESCO World Heritage status, Sintra is a visitor’s paradise, with magnificent palaces, gardens, galleries, churches, museums, and cobbled, medieval streets lined with boutique shops and cafés.”

Ana at Lawrence's Hotel, Sintra

Ana Our Lovely Five Star Tour Manager at Lawrence’s Hotel, Sintra