Finding Treasures in Portugal

The portugese towns of Sintra, Cascais and Estoril are striking with their quaint charm and a leisurely pace of life

Published: 02nd October 2015 04:14 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd October 2015 04:14 AM   |  A+A-


HYDERABAD: While in Lisbon, I wanted to go to the nearby places and see if they are as beautiful as the capital city. If Lisbon were a polished diamond, the nearby (within 25-30 kms) towns of Sintra, Cascais and Estoril are uncut gems that radiate with a subdued glow.

Vijaya.jpgAs I entered Sintra on a pleasant morning, my first impression was that it is certainly a place for one who can appreciate natural beauty and the human effort in creating and retaining the same in the surroundings. With its wavy mountains, dewy forests thick with ferns and lichen, exotic gardens and glittering palaces, Sintra is like a page torn from a fairy tale. Its UNESCO World Heritage listed centre, Sintra-Vila, is dotted with pastel-hued manors folded into luxuriant hills that roll down to the blue Atlantic. It is said that Celts worshipped their moon god here, the Moors built a steep castle, and 18th-century Portuguese royals strolled around its dreamy gardens. Today in Sintra, many rich people own huge properties with lovely gardens.

The souvenir shops attracted me with an amazing range of porcelain and ceramic ware. Tiles painted and framed, bags made of cork, embroidered linen and many other beautiful knick-knacks filled the shops in the small, winding lanes.

As I was sauntering, my attention was caught by a board on a plain pink wall.  Poet Byron’s figure clearly etched, framed and embellished with an elegant ornamental grill around, clearly stated Lord Byron-1809. It was the house where he stayed while in Sintra. Now there is a small restaurant in the building, also called “Lord Byron”. My memory went back to his poem, “Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage”, where he speaks of Sintra: as a “Glorious Eden.”

I heard a soulful Punjabi song and turned to spot an Indian, with leaflets in hand. I stopped to talk to him and hear his story. Jessy is still new in Portugal and missing home (obviously, his sad songs speak for that). He has come here to make a living, like many others from Punjab. He was advertising for the restaurant where he was working. On his recommendation, I went to “Bengal Tandoori” (run, again by a Punjabi from Jallandhar) and the chicken tikka masala proved to be a disappointment. I met three bright young men from Tamilnadu: a start up entrepreneur, a student and an engineer. We discussed Indian food abroad and what brought them to Portugal. 

Then I drove down to the resort towns of Estoril and Cascais. Both have long been haunts of Portugal’s wealthy. Of the two, I liked Cascais, a pretty former fishing village and today a popular holiday spot on the Tagus. All the way up the coast I could see the remains of former forts and castles. Through narrow alleyways I saw traditional Portuguese white houses too.

Estoril is said to have attracted Portugal’s rich and famous, earlier with its glamorous atmosphere and later with the first grand casino in Portugal. Estoril shot into fame with the 1970s James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. It is also guessed that the Estoril Casino was the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s first

James Bond book, “Casino Royale”. Today Estoril still retains all of its exclusivity and class but has matured into a family friendly destination that offers value of money.After a day long trip covering these three charming towns, I went back to Lisbon with renewed and fresh energy.


— Vijaya Pratap

(The author is a travel writer and a documentary filmmaker focusing on art, culture and history)

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