Let’s Go Exploring! Sintra: Fairy Tales and Farts

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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is a world-travelling early retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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This might come as a surprise to some of you, but I wasn’t always a firecracker. In fact, there was a brief period in childhood (which I’m embarrassed now to admit) that I wanted to be a princess.

And no, not a fearsome warrior princess who throws fireballs. A Disney princess who sings. I wanted to be the Little Mermaid, dress up in pink frilly dresses, and twirl around the room singing “Part of Your World.”

These days, you’re more likely to find me hiking a mountain in cargo pants than twirling in ballgowns. But from time to time, those princess tendencies sneak back in, sometimes when I least expect it.

This is exactly what happened when we went to Sintra, Portugal. For the first time in decades, I was transported back to my childhood, and surrounded by romantic, gothic castles, I swooned.

It is said that Hans Christian Andersson, who lived here at one point, was inspired to write many of his timeless fairy tales.

Having been to places like London, Edinburgh, and Neuschwanstein in Germany, I thought I was a now a seasoned castle-connoisseur.

Sintra proved me wrong.

If you want to get your breath taken away by a legit castle, go to:

Quinta da Regaleira

Kent Wang @ Flickr

The castle itself is just a backdrop to the surrounding grounds, which had treasures hidden in every corner.

The first surprise came in the form of grottos:

As we explored the winding secret pathways, our eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness, I couldn’t help but imagine the lair to an entire family of gnomes wearing pointy hats, their tiny black boots scampering around in their cave home.

After we came out of the grottos, our eyes straining against the bright sun, we came across a peaceful lake, surrounding a tower in the middle.

I was tempted to yell “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” but that would’ve made me look crazy, so I instead, I just sat around, talking to the pigeons and asking if they’d seen Rapunzel.

From the lake, we headed for the most intriguing treasure of all, “The Initiation Well”. At first glance, it doesn’t look like much, but when you get closer and peer down into it, you’ll notice that it’s not filled with water.

Maria Eklind @ Flickr

Instead, a swirling staircase leads you deep underground. As you walk down the winding stairs, you’ll notice that there are 9 spirals—which we were told symbolizes the 9 circles of Hell. So, as you leave the earth and enter Hell at the bottom, you’ll enter a labyrinth of caves.

I half expected to see a fire breathing dragon or a 3-headed dog at the bottom, but all I found were hordes of tourists, snapping their cameras.

Which, I guess, is some people’s personal version of Hell.

Walking around the grounds, exploring hidden caves, miniature lakes, and gothic fountains, I felt like I’d wandered into a fairy tale the whole time. Too bad I couldn’t find a puffy sleeved coat and a shirt with frilly collar to get Wanderer to play the part of the prince.

 

Palace de Pena (aka “The Queen’s Fart”)

How did this flamboyant disney-eque castle get such a classy nickname? Explanations vary amongst the locals, but the version we heard is because of the impenetrable cloud that hangs over it—apparently the castle represents the queen and the cloud her fart?

Maybe their queens don’t eat enough fiber? Or too much fiber? (I forget how it works)

Anyhoo, this weird castle is the jewel in Sintra’s fairy tale crown and can be seen from miles away because it sits atop a hill:

You can also get a great view from the courtyard:

After exploring the fart castle, make your way to:

Montserrat

If you enjoy Moorish architecture, this place reminds me of the Alcázar in Seville. Lots of intricate details, romantic archways, makes you want to re-enact the scene where “Prince Ali” meets Princess Jasmine in her Sultan’s palace in Aladdin.

kkmarais @ Flickr

Moorish Castle

If you still haven’t gotten enough of Moorish architecture yet, head for the Moorish Castle. With lots of stairs leading to breath-taking views, if like me, you over indulged in one too many francesinhas, this is the perfect Stair master to work it off.

Eric Pesik @ Flickr

Queluz National Palace and Gardens

It’s easy to imagine Belle with her nose in a book, traipsing around this opulent masterpiece and the best thing about this palace was how deserted it was. With perfectly manicured gardens and stately rooms, I was reminded of a mini Versailles, but while I was here, we only came across a handful of other travellers.

My favourite part of this palace is the garden, where you could wander around for hours singing Disney songs to your heart’s content.

Palacio Nacional de Sintra

We ran out of time and didn’t get to see this attraction, but if you get the chance, go check out this sprawling museum.

Gabriel de Andrade Fernandes from São Paulo, Brasil [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Food

It was in Sintra that we had one of our favourite meals in Portugal. For a measly 11 Euros, the lunch special (executive menu served from 12-3pm) at Incomum by Luis Santos gives you an appetizer, main, dessert, and red wine!

Seafood penne

 

roast pork with pepper corns and mashed potatoes
Apple pie and vanilla ice cream dessert
strawberry and peace crumble with raspberry whipped cream
Glass of merlot

Do you see now why I love Portugal? Great prices, great weather, and a landscape that’s diverse enough to include wine valleys, sandstone beaches, fairy tale castles, and metropolitan cities. What more could you want?

If you do go visit Portugal, instead of crowding overrated Lisbon like all the other tourists and cruise goers, take a train and head 30mins outside the city to Sintra. You’ll be glad you went.

Here’s how much we spent in Sintra:

CategoryCost in USD/coupleCost in CAD/coupleNotes
Accommodations:$53 USD$69 CADThis 3 bedroom Airbnb with balcony had a ton of space and was smack dab in the middle of downtown. We could get to pretty much all attractions (except for Queluz National Palace) by walking. I suspect this would've been a better place for an entire family since we didn't even use 2 of the rooms. The reason why it was such a good deal was because the decorations and furniture were outdated–as in you feel like you're in grandma's house. Never the less, it was very comfortable and sparkling clean.
Food:$18 USD$24 CAD ($5 for eating out, $19 for groceries)We only spent 4 days here and ended up cooking most of the time since we were saving our pigging out for Lisbon. The only time we ate out was with a German reporter who flew here to write up our story. He was kind enough to take us out to lunch–which is why I deliberately found the Incomum executive lunch special.
Transportation:$18.5 USD/day$22 CAD/day Transportation is surprisingly high even though we were walking distance or a short bus/train ride to everything because we decided to go back and forth to Lisbon to pick up hot pot ingredients. You'll likely spend less.
Entertainment:$13 USD/day$17 CAD/dayOver 4 days we spent around 50 Euros for all attractions because we bought it ahead of time online and got a discount. Expect to spend around 10-13 Euros per person per entry.
Misc/data/toiletries:$1.5 USD/day$2 CAD/dayWe bought some shampoo and that was about it.
Total:$104 USD/couple/day$134 CAD/couple/dayWe loved Sintra and can't wait to go back. If you want to live inside a fairy tale, this is the place to be!

Would you go to Sintra? Did you have a favourite Disney character growing up? 


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28 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Sintra: Fairy Tales and Farts”

  1. I went there four years ago and loved it. That’s why I’m heading back to Portugal again in a few days — I might visit Sintra again. It really is lovely. The sad thing is that Portugal is now one of the “hot spots”… I was hoping to keep it to myself. 🙂

    1. Yeah, I hear you. Hopefully, it’s mostly Lisbon that’s considered the “hot spot”. I don’t think the hordes of tourists of invaded Sintra or Porto yet. There’s still Coimbra, Aveiro, and Braga–crap, I’ve said too much!

      1. You must be joking, right? Sintra is super crowded all the time, I repeat, all the time.
        I went to the Pena Palace (by the way, no one call it queen’s fart) and I had to queue for the ticket and then inside I was in a giant queue the entire time. At one point I gave up on seeing one of the rooms because the queue was stuck there.

        Also, Porto is super crowded nowadays.

  2. Oh man, that’s absolutely striking. Quelez reminds me of Potsdam outside Berlin; the grounds look lovely!

    It was fun to see a random Kent Wang photo credit — back when I was spendier I picked up my favorite cuff links and pocket square from his store. Now I wear suits like three times a year. Oops. Maybe a bad investment, but nice to have for weddings and whatnot… and it’s not like they wear out.

    Thanks for including a spending breakdown for each location you visit! J$ over at Budgets Are Sexy posted today about a daily spending number and it’s inspiring to see how favorably your eternal vacation matches up with us working stiffs.

    1. I’d never heard of Kent Wang before…just did a google photo search. Very cool that he owns a store.

      Glad the spending breakdown is helpful! Wanderer doesn’t understand why I’m still tracking everything to this detail after 4 years of travel, but my brain won’t let me stop. It’s too much fun!

  3. WHAT DID THE PIGEON SAY?!? You’re absolutely hilarious. Glad you got to explore your princess tendencies. I wanted to be Pocahontas when I was younger because she looked the (most) like me – hello melanin, was self sufficient and liked to jump off cliffs because it looked like fun. Sintra seems lovely (despite the fart). Adding it to my list! Thank you for continually expanding my mind to the places I need to visit.. and making me laugh while you do so 😉

    1. He told me to buzz off after realizing I had no seeds for him. Pigeons are jerks.

      Very cool that you wanted to be Pocahontas! That was my doppelgänger as well, according to my school friends. I don’t think I could’ve been her though, her hair is way nicer and she has better cheekbones. I’m also way too chicken shit to jump off a cliff.

      Hope you get to check out Sintra! It’s magical!

  4. Wow first Spain and now Portugal, love it. I also love castles and its on my list to stay overnight in one. I never wanted to be a princess but maybe more like the court jester. If GOT taught me anything it is that sitting on thrones is not safe

    1. You’re mart. It’s way more fun to be the court jester than the princess. Watching Game of Thrones makes me never want to be a princess.

  5. Great pictures. I’ll put Sintra on my list. It seems a bit more expensive than the other locations you highlighted. The location looks really neat so it’s worth it.
    We wantedto visit Portugal when we went backpacking in 2003. Mrs. RB40 got sick so we never made it that far. We simplified the trip.

    1. It’s definitely more pricey (for Portugal anyway), but so worth it. Sucked that Mrs. RB40 got sick on your previous visit. Hope you get to go back and visit! I suspect, RB40 Jr would love exploring the grottos and underground tunnels.

  6. The more I see of Portugal the better it looks! Castles, nature and tasty food? That’s one on our list for sure. That’s a crazy good price on the room too. We tend to look for the prettiest place, but that’s a huge saving for a little change in decor.

    1. Yeah, I tend not to care about the decor if I’m only staying there for a few days. For a monthly rental, I’ll be pickier. I’ve realized that I don’t really notice the room that much since I’m out and about, exploring the attractions anyway. Better to spend money on food and attractions.

    1. I learned to count and keep confusing the words with Spanish. Definitely need to improve. My favourite Portuguese words so far is “sobremesa” 🙂

      1. You need to use more the word “picha”… when you want a coffee you just order a picha and they know what you want right away.

  7. Are you guys following us? We were also in Sintra a few weeks ago. Unfortunately our visit was not as great. We went to Pena Palace with a guide. He dropped us off just below the castle, and agreed to meet at the grotto for the return trip. Just after he went down to town, a tree fell on a car and blocked the road. So, our guide walked back up and escorted us over 3 miles climbing downhill. My knees and hips were screaming and I’m just now able to walk comfortably again. We didn’t get to see more of Sintra, but like you, Lisbon wasn’t as exciting as we’d hoped. We liked Porto best and extended our stay there a few days.

    1. You got me. I’m a total stalker 🙂

      Sorry to hear about the blocked road. Yeah, that area is a bit rough on the knees. Glad you are back to normal now.

      Porto is definitely one of our favourites. I’m probably not going back to Lisbon (except as a stopover for flights), but I can’t stop going back to Porto. Did you check out Coimbra? It’s like a mini Porto.

  8. Well, I’ve definitely never wanted to be a Disney princess. That’s a fact, but I *can* understand the enjoying old architecture!

    Looks like a cool location, and pretty affordable too! Spain and Portugal always look great in your posts. It’s got me wanting to go! 🙂

    1. I’m torn between wanting to shout about it from the roof tops and keeping it as a hidden gem to myself. Hopefully the tourists will continue flooding Lisbon and leave Porto and Sintra to the rest of us 😉

  9. Hi Firecracker & Wanderer!
    I love the Let’s Go Exploring series so much. Thank you for providing your breakdowns and detailed reviews of all the places you’ve lived in. My husband and I are ~5-7 yrs away from paying off debts and becoming FI, something that I didn’t even know was possible until I came across your FI story! What are your thoughts on your current independent style of FI travel/living abroad and programs such as Remote Year (where you pay an “all inclusive” price for travel, accomodations, etc)? Would love to hear your opinions on this!

  10. We just got back from Portugal, loved it. The big surprise was the food and the wines. Sintra? I don’t recommend it, way too crowded for what there is to see. Plenty of other sites in Lisbon and Porto. I agree with another post, it is now the hot spot, go before it gets more crazy.

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