Word of Mouth: Sintra, Portugal
Word of Mouth: Sintra, Portugal
Laid-back but luxurious, this seaside town offers some of the best views, food and pampering in the country
by Ross Belfer
Staring out across the Atlantic from the westernmost point of Europe is a surreal experience only situationists can appreciate. Inspired by philosopher Guy Debord's 1950s artistic movement dérive, we set off for a three-day escape in Portugal’s verdant, moody and culinarily phenomenal Sintra region. Removed from city life, Sintra-Cascais national park is a granite massif of enchanted forests dotted with castles, palaces and country estates in the Romantic architectural-style. The region was a holiday pad for Lisbon's aristocratic elite in the early 1900s—and careening along the winding roads cutting through the valleys and mountaintops is an experience that's surely timeless. Today, Sintra (20 minutes from Lisbon) is a rejuvenating wonderland full of Michelin-starred restaurants, palatial hotels and actual palaces. Sintra's world-class culinary tradition, plush spas and natural landscapes are best experienced off-season, when the crowds are smaller and those moments of solitude take precedent.
Quinta da Regaleira
One of the most enchanting of all the estates in Sintra, is Quinta da Regaleira, a fairytale of forests, grottos, churches, ponds, and pathways that lead to otherworldly views. We suggest wandering through one of the abandoned structures used during initiations by the Freemasons. Quinta de Regelaira’s sprawling park draws visitors to its Initiation Well (Poço Iniciáticoin to locals) which can't be missed.
Penha Longa Resort
A sprawling resort with plush guest rooms, Penha Longa is ideal for travelers with an enthusiasm for architecture and food. The property’s perfectly restored 16th-century monastery is itself a destination and a contrast to the glamorous indoor and outdoor pools, world-class spa (complete with a three-meter waterfall and Portugal’s only Meditation Labyrinth) and seven restaurants—including the Michelin-starred LAB. Whether making use of the 18-hole golf course or not, gazing out on its verdant landscape each morning with an espresso is an enticing start to the day. The atmosphere is—at the same time—old-world and contemporary, luxurious and laid-back.
Chef Sergi Arola's LAB is truly a work of art. The Michelin-starred restaurant (which seats 22) offers up a degustation menu including suckling pig, croquettes and more; while the wine menu of 550+ labels is diverse and sophisticated. With tapas-style dishes of roasted vermouth, seaweed gnocchi and caviar and veal sweetbread roasted in spices, each dish focuses on fresh ingredients. Strikingly, the restaurant is decorated with two paintings by the famous Spanish artist Juan Cardosa, celebrating three of Arola's greatest passions: art, music and, of course, food.
Tivoli Palácio de Seteais / Anantara Spa
One of Sintra's gems is also one of the finest properties in the country. Tivoli Palácio de Seteais is a 30-room property restored to its original 18th-century splendor as envisioned by the former Dutch Consul of Portugal when it was built. With its Moorish Castle and Pena Palace just a short walk up the road, the UNESCO-appointed Tivoli Palácio de Seteais has more than its share of amenities. Rich tapestries and frescos by French painter Jean Baptiste Pillemen decorate ballrooms and public spaces while the property’s all-new Anantara spa is located in an epic former dovecote tower. From enjoying an Organic Hydrating Wine Body Scrub to wandering through the hotel's dreamy green labyrinth, guests will feel entirely spoiled here.
Restaurant Piscina Azenhas do Mar
The westernmost point in all of Europe, Cabo da Roca can be accessed via a pathway through jagged cliffs. If you want more than a stunning view, Restaurant Piscina Azenhas do Mar is set atop a cliff where visitors can literally feel the waves of the Atlantic. With plenty of local favorites from lobster and shellfish risotto to cod fish "à Lagareiro," Portuguese wines and a view to behold, it's well worth visiting.
Nestled in a nondescript street in Sintra, this cozy 30-seat wine bar and taberna, delivers a taste of top-tier Portuguese gastronomy. A coveted local favorite, Taberna Criativa is helmed by chef Victor Rocha who creates dishes that will impress the even the most discerning diners. Trust the wait staff to select a wine pairing for any dish, and be sure to taste the simple but perfect garlic and pepper steak, carpaccio de bacalao and chef Rocha’s tribute to the local favorite pastry pastel de nata.
Taberna Criativa and Restaurant Piscina Azenhas do Mar images courtesy of respective venues, hero image by Daria Geller, all others by Ross Belfer