Sintra and Cascais are two places close by Lisbon that everyone visiting Portugal should see! We were enchanted by the beauty of the castles we visited and refreshed by the crisp air in Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, perched high above the Atlantic Ocean.
Only a short drive away from Lisbon, Sintra greeted us with a quiet and cool forest overlooking the sea below. We worked our way up a windy road to a parking lot and took a short walk past an old church to a cross monument, getting a first glimpse of the colorful Pena Castle. Even the flowers around seem to mirror the red and yellow colors of the castle.
We got lucky to find the last open parking spot in an area near the castle and proceeded to the ticket line. There were several automatic ticket kiosks so the wait wasn’t bad. Once inside, however, the line to get into the castle stretched forever. We decided to just walk around the exterior walkway. We dodged streams of tourists and fought the sometimes gusty wind, all the while admiring the beautiful panoramas of the city below, and the architectural details of the castle.
The garden grounds were lush with a wide variety of flowering bushes and we walked in the shade of hundreds of trees, surprised to recognize some redwood trees, which I had only seen in California before. The waterways were home to lively schools of fish and a bevy of swans gently floating in the spotlight of rays filtering through branches.
The 8th century Castle of the Moors provided an austere and battle-ready contrast to the peaceful romance of the colorful Pena. We climbed up and down steep rock steps barely sheltered by the defense wall, and once again admired the beautiful panorama of the hills of the Serra De Sintra and the plains stretching all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
Refreshed by the cool mountain air but tired after climbing fortress walls, we drove off towards the sea, in search of nourishment. The quaint town of Cascais welcomed us with a peaceful demeanor that reminded me of Charleston, South Carolina. We easily found street parking and strolled towards the marina. We crossed an area featuring impressive works of art, then took in the harbor view from the walkways circling the old fortress.
But we were ready to get down to business: find food. We walked to a string of local shops facing the marina and asked the shop keeper about a good seafood place. Since my Portuguese and her English were not really doing the job, the nice lady took made us follow her next door where a local travel guide pointed to a restaurant right across the street, overlooking the water. We thanked them both and proceeded to climb the stairs and crossed the bridge leading to Marisco na Praça.
As we entered the restaurant, we were immediately impressed by the display of fresh seafood waiting to be transformed into delicious meals. The staff was happily singing and dancing, teasing each other. I figured that if the staff was happy and the ingredients were fresh, we were off to a great start!
It was still early for dinner, so we took full advantage of the terrace seating with a spectacular view of the water and the light house. Sipping on a delightfully refreshing Casal Mendez Vinho Verde, we ordered the grilled octopus and bacalhau with potatoes. These turned out to be absolutely delicious, melting in our mouths. I had had grilled octopus before in Greece but this version definitely took the prize! It was tender, with a slight smokey and caramelized flavor. The bacalhau was delicate and buttery, unlike the salty and dry version we had tasted before in Lisbon.
This perfect day of exploring, ended with a magnificent sunset in shades of purple, pink, and blue.