If you’ve ever wondered if Narnia exists, it does. It’s in a place called Sintra, just a 40 minute train ride from Lisbon. It’s a place of palaces, castles, mystical gardens and forests, and any imaginary place like that of Narnia, Lord of the Rings or Indiana Jones could be birthed from a place such as this.
I stepped of the train and into a picturesque town of multi-colored buildings with red-tiled roofs, passing cheerful faces on the streets. As I continued to walk down the road to the first palace, I felt a bit like I was on the Truman Show, as the scenery and views couldn’t possibly be this perfect — but they were. Sintra has preserved itself and its history that dates back to Medieval Times in the 1400’s. It was hard to believe what I was seeing was actually real.
Thick green forests and flowers wrapped the palaces in wonder while the sun’s warmth poured into my skin and a light breeze tossled my hair. I took a deep breath in, trying to absorb all that I could of each step in this magical place.
Once I got to the town, my first stop was a bakery called Piriquita. I was given the recommendation by a Portuguese local who told me that the Travesseivo, a ‘cake’ he called it, was not to be missed. I would consider it a custard-filled pastry, but once I sunk my teeth into its flaky phyllo layers that reached its creamy center, I didn’t care what it was. I just knew I needed more. I bought three, intending to have one and bring the other two home for the guy who told me about this place, but I couldn’t resist. By the end of the day, all three Travesseivos camped out happily in my stomach.
From there I went to the Centro Historico Palace, built in the 1400’s. This was a different kind of tour- there were no tour guides and no sounds. I was practically the only person inside, which increased the magic of the experience. For the first time, I was able to actually imagine what it would have been like to live during that time and in this palace. Time is really such an interesting thing. I have often thought about the order and purpose of life and how it came to be that I was chosen to be born in this specific period in the Universe’s order of life. I am grateful, as life is much easier now than it would have been back then (unless I was royalty, but highly doubtful). Perhaps one day I’ll know the answer to questions like these.
After leaving the palace, I enjoyed a glass of Joao Pires, a Portuguese white wine, and a lunch in the sunshine overlooking the palace and the town. I breathed in this moment, and it is forever locked in my heart. As I ate, I observed how many older people there were in Sintra, visiting. Most of the tourists were there by bus and were in their 60’s-70’s. It got me thinking about how grateful I am to be traveling now. There were so many things to see that required physical activity: a ton of walking, going up and down stairs of underground wells or to high look-out points that I could do and these people could not. I don’t believe in the traditional concept of retirement, where we’re encouraged to work our entire lives in order to accrue this shorter time at the end where we get to finally do things and go places we’ve always wanted. I would much rather experience travel along the way, while I am young and able to physically explore these places fully.
Finally, I went to another Palace, Quinta de Regaleira, that was set amongst labyrinths of gardens, caves and deep wells, with all sorts of mysteries abounding. This place was other-worldly.
If I go back to Sintra, it will not be a day trip. You need at least 2-3 days here to really soak it all in and experience all of the magic that Sintra has to offer. There are even stories that there are still witches in the forests…. Maybe next time, I’ll get to meet one myself.