Our favorite restaurant in the Sintra region is not in Sintra. It is in a nearby beach called Azenhas do Mar. If you’re visiting Sintra it is worth traveling the 12 km to restaurant Adega das Azenhas.
Located in an old wine cellar, Adega serves Portuguese fare without a trace of foreign influence. Everything on the menu is simply great: fried codfish, hake fillets, codfish cakes, black pork chops, fried cuttlefish, grilled fish eggs. Some of the most delicious dishes have untranslatable Portuguese names: pasteis de massa tenra, rissois de leitão, cozido à Portuguesa.
If you go to Azenhas do Mar at night you’ll enjoy a great dinner. If you go during the day, you’ll have the added bonus of seeing the gorgeous landscape of the Colares region.
Colares is the plural of colar, a word that means necklace. It is a fitting word to describe this region that surrounds Sintra with beautiful views and delicious food.
Adega das Azenhas is located on the main road that crosses Azenhas do Mar (Avenida Comissão de Melhoramentos, 5), tel 21-928-1357.
Sintra has many romantic palaces but each has something unique to offer. One of our favorites is Monserrate, a palace surrounded by luscious gardens built in 1856 by Francis Cook, a famous British art collector.
When the Portuguese government bought the estate in 1949, the palace was in disrepair. The costly restoration work started in 1999 and only finished recently. It was worth the wait. We now have the privilege of seeing how the palace looked when the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen visited it in 1866. Here’s what he wrote:
“Large white bell-flowers hang from one tree; pearl-shaped, rose-colored berries from another, juicy fruits and sun-filled colored flowers grew here. Down over the smooth velvet lawn rippled the clear spring water. Above this fresh green, the castle rose in Moorish style, a fit subject for the Arabian Nights or a romantic fairy picture. The sun sank into the sea, which became rose-colored; the brightness of the sea and sky was reflected magically upon the marble white walls and decorations, filling with light the large mirror-clear window panes. The air was so warm, so still, so penetrated with the perfume of flowers, that one felt carried away from reality.”
Seteais means seven sighs, a name inspired, according to legend, by the romance between a Portuguese noble and a Moorish princess.
The Seteais palace was built in Sintra in 1787 by the Dutch consul and later sold to the wealthy Marquis of Marialva.
In 1954, the palace was converted into a luxury hotel. Booking a room at Seteais guarantees you’ll have a memorable experience. If you don’t stay at the hotel, you can still experience its unique atmosphere by visiting the elegant bar for a glass of white port before dinner.
In 1802, the Marquis of Marialva invited the Prince Regent, John IV and his wife for a visit. To celebrate the occasion, the Marquis built an archway decorated with busts of the royals. A Latin inscription praises the prince for his wisdom and prudence. No one could guess that five years later the Portuguese royal family would flee to Brazil to escape Napoleon’s troops.
The echoes of these twists and turns of Portuguese history have long faded. What remains, is one of the most romantic places in the world.
One of the most famous beach houses in Portugal is Casa Branca (white house) in the village of Azenhas do Mar. Architect Raul Lino designed it in 1920 to be his Summer home. Lino had to choose between building within the village perimeter to gain access to electricity and running water, or to forego these modern comforts and place the house on a cliff with an incredible ocean view. For him, the choice was obvious.
Raul Lino is famous for synthesizing the vernacular traditions that go back to Roman times to create the archetypal Portuguese house. The Casa Branca is based on this archetype, but Lino made two surprising choices. Instead of using the traditional green color for the windows, he chose bright orange. Then, he painted the orange roof tiles white, thus accentuating the orange of the windows.
Orange is the complementary of blue and so the windows of Casa Branca became the complement of the sea. It’s as if, to be beautiful, the sea needs someone admiring it from the window.
The French use the expression “village perché” to describe a village on top of a hill, overlooking the surrounding landscape. One of the prettiest village perchés in Portugal is Azenhas do Mar. Built on a cliff in the Colares region near Sintra, it has amazing views of the Atlantic ocean.
If you rent a house in Azenhas do Mar, you can spend the day listening to the waves and watching the sea try different shades of blue and green. It’s a very fine use of time.
The story of the Pena Palace begins in the 16th century. King Dom Manuel was hiking in Sintra when he sighted Vasco da Gama’s sailboats arriving in Cascais from their voyage to India. To celebrate da Gama’s feat, the king built a monastery on the top of the Sintra mountain. But, over time, the building fell into disrepair and was eventually abandoned.
When Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the husband of Queen Dona Maria II, visited Sintra, he saw the derelict monastery surrounded by a barren landscape. Ferdinand imagined a beautiful palace and an enchanted forest. He bought the property in 1838 and restored the old monastery to use as a Summer residence. Later, he built an adjacent palace with larger rooms to accommodate state functions. The monastery is pink and the new palace yellow, so they are easy to tell apart.
Around the palace, Ferdinand created artificial lakes and an irrigation system. He studied the soil and supervised the plantation of trees brought from all over the world.
In 1853, Dona Maria died and Pedro, the couple’s elder son, inherited the Portuguese throne. Ferdinand was offered the throne of Spain, but he loved living in Pena so much that he refused the offer. The Pena Palace is the dream of a German prince who fell in love with Portugal.