Just 30 kms from Lisbon is the picturesque, but very touristy town of Sintra. It was here that we visited the castle of the last kings of Portugal. The castle is on a rugged mountain top behind the town and was a converted monastery. The rooms are not palatial as in other great palaces of Europe; they are the converted cells in which the monks lived. – around the same size as the rooms in average Australian house. They still contain original furniture, paintings and equipment – even the old plug telephone switchboard near the Queen’s desk.
It was raining tis morning, although still warm enough to travel without a jacket. The road to the castle rose in a series of sharp bends as it clung to the side of the hill and through some dense forest. We were delayed at one point because a tree had fallen over the road and because it was so windy and narrow, we couldn’t do anything other than wait for the local fire brigade to arrive with a truck and a chain saw. When we reached the caste, it was covered in mist. This certainly added a feeling of mystique, but it also served to hide some of the scaffolding used in renovating parts of the structure. I don’t think that we here ever been anywhere we have ever been anywhere in the world where the main site is not undergoing some from of renovation).
We needed to understand a little of recent Portuguese history to comprehend something of what occurred here at the palace. It seems that the Portuguese Royal Family met the same fate as others in Europe where a revolution replaced monarchical rule with a republic. The second last monarch, King Fernando II (1816 – 1885) was an Austrian lord who married into the Portuguese nobility and ruled Portugal with his wife, Queen Maria II, between 1837 and 1853. You couldn’t carry the title of ‘King’, under Portuguese law, until you had fathered a son. Maria seems to have lived up to that reputation of being the power behind the throne! Fernando was a champion of the arts and shunned politics leaving his ministers to deal with the daily running of the country This is why he is commonly referred to as the Artist King. He modified this castle with his own funds. Queen Maria II died in 1853 during the birth of her eleventh child. You would probably have to have a royal income to be able to afford a family of that size! Ferdinand’s successor, Emanuel, was killed during the revolution of 1910 in which the monarchy was replaced by a republic. He certainly did not have a happy ending! His son reigned for just two years and was then exiled to England. All that now remains of the Royal family now are a distant group of noble families with dubious claims to the crown.
After our visit to the castle,we had a little time to eat and wander around the town at the bottom of the mountain. It was full of the usual tourist shops, although some of the views across the valley were very scenic. and interesting.
Our tour then proceeded to a memorable place – Cabo de Roca, the most westerly point of mainland Europe. In the medieval days when people thought that world was flat, this would have been seen as the end of the earth. Here, spectacular cliffs drop steeply to the pounding sea below. To the west there is nothing but ocean. We didn’t quite have enough elevation to be able to see the Statue of Liberty on the other side! The lighthouse on the cliff top was built in 1772 and is still active; The light is 180 metres above se level and shows four white flashes every 18 seconds.
We returned to Lisbon along the coast and through the town of Cascais. Most of the Atlantic coastline in this area is rugged and rocky but we did pass one very nice surf beach at Praia do Guincho, just 9km northwest of Cascais. It had a long stretch of golden sand and enormous swells that were excellent for surfing. Apart from the freezing water temperature it looked good enough to be any Australian beach!
Cascais is a former fishing village that has been tuned in to tourism since 1870, when the royal court first came there for the summer, bringing a train of nobility in its wake. It’s now the liveliest beach resort on the Estoril Coast, attracting a young and international crowd. A train runs along the very scenic coast from Lisbon making this town easy to reach for a day outing. Some old forts nearby protected the entrance to Lisbon harbour from pirates and these have now been turned into five star hotels.This local area houses a couple of huge Casinos and old hotels that were hot beds of spy activity during WW1 because of Portugal’s status as being a neutral country.