Sintra and Cascais are two highly recommended tourists towns less than half an hour from Lisbon. We spent the day seeing them with a guide and two other couples. It would seem like only six people would be easy to guide, but one couple brought their very small baby and all the accoutrements that a very small baby needs. They and we spoke English, but the third couple spoke only French and the guide toggled back and forth between our two languages with breath taking speed and agility. We have encountered this before: guides who come from small countries whose language are not spoken world-wide have to be prepared to take on all comers and she did.
We think we have been to these towns before and almost did not go again, but we hardly remembered a thing that we did and saw (shame on us) and the refresher was very worthwhile on a spectacular blue sky day. We spent most of our time at Pena Palace, which has existed in some form or another since 1493 when it was first built on top of a very high hill as a monastery. It was pretty much destroyed in 1455 when an earthquake destroyed it and nearly every building that was in Lisbon at the time. In 1893 King Ferdinand who was hard at work separating church from state, seized the land and turned the monastery remains into a summer palace. Although it has been extensively rebuilt and remodeled, we could still tell when we were in the small rooms that served as the monks' cells. Today this fairy tale palace is a mash up of the contribution of the heritages of the various European royal families who intermingled with the Portuguese as well as the strong Moorish (Arab) influence from the hundreds of years when they also lived in Portugal. It was surprising to see an awesome collection of German beer steins in a cabinet, for example. Many of the ornately decorated rooms were trompe l'oeil, which means "fools the eye." Walls looked like marble or opulent wood paneling, but this was all painted on plaster. Some rooms mixed real 3-D protrusions with some painted on. The skill of the artisans who made this place was amazing. Of course, the colored tiles that are typical of all fine Portuguese buildings were everywhere. Pena is also unique looking, because many of its exterior walls are bright red or yellow. The red parts are were where the monastery first was and the yellow parts were added by the king(s) in later times. This might seem garish, but surrounded by bright green vegetation and set against bright blue skies, the effect was charming. An amazing amount of the original contents of the castle are still housed there. The dining room table covered with multiple courses of glassware and the bedrooms were impressive. The castle is surrounded by vast forests and gardens worth another visit on another day.
Half way down the hill from Pena was the Castle of the Moors, a castle that looked more like a defensive fortification. We heard it's also worth a visit, but it was time to head all the way down the hill to Sintra for lunch. The town has very narrow stone streets that climb back up the hills and wander and wind past buildings that appear to have been there forever. So many tourists come to Sintra that the stones are highly polished from their feet and it could be treacherous on a rainy day. Amidst all the tourist tumult, someone was trying to shoot a professional video. The shops sold many enticing items made out of something that looked like cork, but probably wasn't. I added a cork-looking hat to my collection.
Cascais was a tiny fishing village until World War II. Because Portugal was a neutral county during the war, many members of European families fled there to wait out the conflict. There weren't enough opulent places for them to live in Lisbon, so they moved to the sea shore and lived the life they thought they deserved. Today Cascais is a prosperous beach town and many day trippers come out from Lisbon on the train for the day.
Many lighthouses line the coast and we stopped at the one located on the western most point of continental Europe. The coastline changes its look frequently. In this area there were huge rock formations off shore that reminded us of the Oregon coast. Flat sandy beaches alternated with rocky headlines that looked dangerous to hike along. A huge rift zone has been created as tectonic plates move around. Waves that hit the deep hole created here rise up to ninety foot heights. A woman's surfing record was established here last week as she rode a 65 foot tall wave.