We must admit, we are amazed how great Portugal is. We’ve also got to admit, we were very under-informed and ignorant about most of Portugal’s colorful past, it’s Monasteries, Basilicas, walled towns, Culture, forests and Palace’s. Most of what we thought we knew is about the Algarve area, but all ‘the good stuff’ is up here in the north. It reminds us of England 🙂
Fish is understandably massively important, that can’t be understated, other meats, chicken and beef etc, not so much, but even inland, the fish stalls outnumber the meat 10 to 1. Every town we’ve been to there’s a regular local market, that’s local folk selling what’s been grown in their allotment (confirmed by what we see out of the window), not van-loads of produce trucked over from Spain, or elsewhere. Get out of the large towns and you’ll find folk have veggies not only in the back garden, but in their front garden too, perhaps even the odd goat, not in-edible flowers to impress the neighbors, it’s all so ‘The Good life. Most folks have heaps of outdoor furniture too and a (pizza type) oven, part of the back yard is turned over into another outdoor room, I guess most warm or hot countries have a similar set-up. What better feeling than sitting in your own back yard, watching your own produce grow, then cooking food you grew on your outdoor wood oven, priceless!
With all the Basilicas and palaces we’ve seen recently, we never thought we could be ‘top it’ before we left Portugal. Alcabaca was pretty lavish, Batalha very ‘showy’, Christo at Tomar is almost incomparable, but all are about to be blown out of the water with the next building.The Monastery Palace of Mafra, at its heart, The Basilica do Convent of Mafra (I promise not to go on too much, I can sense you’re starting to glaze-over now).
More History: At a relentless pace, it took just 13 years to complete, by the labor of thousands, of whom hundreds died.
Statistics: 200m facade (that’s the whole width of the front), 1,200 rooms, more than 500 doorways and windows, (plus doors to the 1,200 rooms), 156 staircases, two huge bell towers over the Basilica containing 98 bells, the largest carillons in the world. The impressive stats match the grand Baroque style, it’s chest-beating on an international scale, if they could have parked a pair of solid gold stegosaurus out front…they would have. Today there’s a sad-looking nativity scene in fiber-glass!
What started as a modest build escalated into a monster, tons of gold and diamonds were flooding in from Brazil funding it all, so it turned into the grandest, most lavish building in Portugal. Row upon endless row of royal chambers and cavernous apartments which would have been elaborately decorated back in 1730. Some of the rooms were lavishly shocking, like the trophy room, where all the furniture, including the chandeliers were made from antler and upholstered in deerskin. But the piece de resistance must be the library, with its 40,000 books (and not one novel!) and a 90m tiled floor. The least, but somehow best fact, is that a small family of bats live in the eves of the library, perfectly placed for keeping the moths and small insects in the library at bay. Of course, all this power must come to an abrupt end (don’t everything). In 1808 when the French decided to have a go at lower Portugal. King Joao and crew fled to Brazil grabbing as much stuff as he could on the way out., the palace was almost emptied. As before, the building remains, but little else. It’s had many other uses over the years, but nothing could ever replace the riches of a 1730 Portugal palace, good days never to be repeated. The word ‘Mafra’ is now a Portuguese slang-word for opulence and exuberance, not a word we use often.
Mafra council must still ‘av a few bob from the good ‘ol days because they even lay on a free Aire slap-bang next to the Palace, it’s even got free electric hook up! After 3 hours touring the Palace,we couldn’t find too much to keep our attention in the town, there’s a Lidl & Aldi close by, the usual sorts of shops, but the Palace is reason enough for a visit. The next morning, the rain’s pounding down but forecast to clear, so we scoot 25km down the road to Sintra.
Unesco listed Sintra’s description reads: “a cultural landscape …representing a pioneering approach to romantic landscaping”, Mmm? Byron’s been here too (where hasn’t he been) he starts a poem “…in Cintra’s glorious Eden”. Well with all this build-up you’d think it’d be worth a visit. Most of the national park lies between 250-450m above sea level, a cool summer retreat for the new-rich of Lisbon, so we start the climb up to the aire. Road-works made the final approach tricky but we found it in the end. Just a football stadium car park, just 4km from central Sintra. This is seriously hilly country, if the road’s not going 10% downhill, it’s going 12% uphill and we didn’t fancy a thigh-busting 4km slog, so we deploy the secret weapon…Frankie!
We did want to visit the Moorish Castle and Pena National palace, but the palace charges €14 each (+ 3 shuttle return) and Angie had spotted that loads of it had been closed off due to winter maintenance work, so we had to choose between the Moors castle & the National Palace in Sintra. Moors castle €8 (some of it ruins) or a Palace for €9? The palace just ‘read better’ so we opted for that.
Nice enough little palace, apparently the oldest in Portugal, not too busy, birds on the ceiling – a running theme, different tiles in every room. in Sintra-Villa, coach-loads of tourists milling about the place. The fun bit was whizzing around the Sintra area on Frankie, this is a very hilly area, with few roads. Tourists will regularly walk between attractions which could be 5km apart, it doesn’t sound very far, but the terrain will test the strongest legs as the road’s either going up, or going down.
Mafra: n38.93350 w9.32620 seven ‘official’ MoHo spots. Water ¢80 per 100l. Waste free. Perfect sleeping spot for Mafra. FREE
Ericeira: Side of the road next to Intermarche services. FREE
Sintra: n38.78880 w9.37470. Footy car park. All services, no EHU. €7pn.