Bicycle touring central Portugal: Alcobaça to Sintra

From Batalha it wasn’t far to Alcobaça, yet another monastery, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  After so many monasteries, churches, cathedrals, cloisters, one might begin to wonder if it was really possible to see something new in Alcobaça, another building started hundreds of years ago and continued for hundreds of years with a mix of architectural styles that we’re getting used to seeing in Portugal — Gothic, Manueline, Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque.

IMG_20190427_131120 by bryandkeith on flickr

Certainly from the outside Alcobaça isn’t as jaw-dropping as Batalha, and when you enter, well, it’s another high, narrow Gothic-arched nave — an amazing sense of space that’s becoming normal for us.

IMG_20190427_121537 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190427_115417 by bryandkeith on flickr

With a ticket you can get in to see the cloisters.  Sure, it’s nice, but if you just want cloisters, well, the Convent of Christ in Tomar and Batalha are kind of hard to beat.

IMG_20190427_124913 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190427_125420 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190427_125833 by bryandkeith on flickr

A visit to Alcobaça is absolutely worth it just to see the tombs of King Pedro and his lover, Ines.  Before he was king and going against his father’s wishes, Pedro fell in love with Ines.  His father had Ines killed, but when Pedro became king, he had (dead) Ines crowned Queen of Portugal and ordered the construction of these incredible tombs for Ines and himself — quite the love story!

Pedro's tomb by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190427_120257 by bryandkeith on flickr

Ines' tomb by bryandkeith on flickr

The internet convinced me that on the way south we shouldn’t miss the hilltop village of Óbidos.  Along the way we stopped at Caldas da Rainha (the Queen’s baths), famous for its curative mineral water.  We enjoyed the Sunday morning fruit and vegetable market at one of the plazas.

IMG_20190427_155357 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190428_101741 by bryandkeith on flickr

After so many beautiful villages in Alentejo and Beira, Óbidos felt a little too much like Disneyland with its picturesque cobblestone streets so crowded with tourists.  We managed a couple tourist-free photographs but didn’t stay long in the village.

IMG_20190428_120122 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190428_120143 by bryandkeith on flickr

We pushed on that day with our tailwind and made it to the Atlantic Ocean for the first time since leaving Faro six weeks earlier.  I must say overall we had a fair bit of wind during our riding in Portugal.  From Coimbra to Lisbon it was almost always a tailwind, often very strong.

IMG_20190428_171138 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190428_170213 by bryandkeith on flickr

Our next destination was Mafra National Palace.  Since we missed the day to see the inside of the Ducal Palace in Vila Viçosa, I was excited to visit the palace in Mafra.  I knew the palace was closed on Tuesdays so we dilly-dallied a little and spent a casual day visiting the surfing beaches of Santa Cruz, São Lourenço, Ribeira d’Ilhas, and Ericeira.  Locals brag about this area being designated a “World Surfing Reserve”, a designation I had never heard of before.

Santa Cruz:

IMG_20190429_101317 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190429_115215 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190429_133717 by bryandkeith on flickr

São Lourenço:

IMG_20190430_101651 by bryandkeith on flickr

Ribeira d’Ilhas:

Watching the surfers.  I think this (Ribeira d'Ilhas) is the most beginner area at Ericeira. by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190430_125309_15_fused by bryandkeith on flickr


IMG_20190430_144946 by bryandkeith on flickr

We found a comfortable campsite just 4km from the Mafra National Palace, excited to visit it the following morning, Wednesday, when we knew they’d be open — unless of course it happens to be one of the five annual holidays like New Year, Easter, Christmas, May 1.  Hahaha, it was Wednesday, May 1!  Here’s what Mafra National Palace looks like from the outside:

IMG_20190501_110607 by bryandkeith on flickr

After six weeks on the road with lots of climbing and especially hard climbing the final two weeks, Ferda in particular was getting pretty tired.  Our last UNESCO World Heritage Site before Lisbon was the Cultural Landscape of Sintra, but Ferda was ready to throw the towel in and head straight to Lisbon.  After walking the bikes down the steep rocky path into Carvalhal, Ferda said enough is enough.  However, at that point skipping Sintra only saved us a couple kms so we pushed on.  The thing that really saved Ferda was coming upon the Kadampa Buddhist Temple in the small village of Varzea de Sintra, a bit north of Sintra itself.  The calming effect of the temple complex rejuvenated Ferda.  We also really enjoyed chatting about Buddhist philosophy with Meski, an Eritrean volunteer at the temple.

Kadampa Meditation Center (a Buddhist temple) by bryandkeith on flickr

Sintra is full of palaces, gardens, fountains, castles.  We had a view of the Sintra National Palace (with two conical white towers) on the way into town,

IMG_20190502_101614 by bryandkeith on flickr

and I liked this fountain as well:

IMG_20190502_151035 by bryandkeith on flickr

There’s a ton to see in Sintra, and we only had one morning.  Having struck out on palaces before, I considered visiting perhaps the Sintra National Palace or Sintra’s most iconic landmark, Pena Palace.  In the end, however, we were thrilled with our choice to spend a few hours at Quinta da Regadeira.  The estate was purchased at an auction in 1893 by a rich Brazilian.  He spent 14 years working closely with Luigi Manini, an architect already famous in Portugal at the time, to finish the garden and palace.

It’s difficult to describe what they created at Quinta da Regaleira.  Does magical realism only exist in Colombia?  I told Ferda it was a cross between Olite Castle and a Japanese garden, but who besides me (and Kurt) has any idea what that means?  There were fountains, caves, towers, a small palace, a waterfall, a couple impressive wells, including the most popular attraction (judging by the number of photos on social media), the Poço Iniciático.  Quinta da Regadeira was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

I’ll start with the palace:

IMG_20190502_130912 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190502_125419 by bryandkeith on flickr

A wild boar and macaw mosaic by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190502_124905 by bryandkeith on flickr

and continue with some garden photos:

IMG_20190502_111420 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190502_110434 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190502_111706 by bryandkeith on flickr

Here’s the Poço Imperfeito (the Imperfect Well):

IMG_20190502_111920 by bryandkeith on flickr

and finally the Poço Iniciático:

IMG_20190502_113453 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20190502_113627 by bryandkeith on flickr

You exit the Poço Iniciático via a long cave-like tunnel to end up behind a waterfall and then carefully continue along previously submerged stepping stones to cross a pond (so it used to look like you were walking on water).  A fun and crazy place.

Between Sintra and Lisbon we found a great campsite, our last of the trip, and finished the bicycle touring portion of our Portugal tour the following day in Lisbon.

IMG_20190502_171129 by bryandkeith on flickr

Our last campsite of the trip was a pretty one. by bryandkeith on flickr

Stayed turned, however, ’cause there’s still much more to visit in Portugal — what about Lisbon and the entire north of the country??!!

At one point I think I said one couldn’t have a post about Portugal without an azulejo photo.

IMG_20190428_163829 by bryandkeith on flickr

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3 Responses to Bicycle touring central Portugal: Alcobaça to Sintra

  1. Mike Painter says:

    Quite the wonderful tour and with great photos (as always)! I’ll need to put Portugal on my list now, I think.

    • Bryan Keith says:

      Thanks Mike. Portugal’s a small country with a huge history. We spent two months, and I think that’s the longest I’ve spent in any country in Europe on one trip. Portugal receives a huge number of tourists, but the only places that felt overcrowded with tourists were Porto and Lisbon. With their world trade and a global empire, Portugal essentially started the world we’re living in today.

  2. Curt Bradner says:

    Just getting re-caught up on this trip – I remember reading it as Topher and I were getting his E-Bike ready to take to France.
    All is still looking positive for us getting our residency visas for Portugal – we have a house rented 2.5 kilometers out of Alcobaca – the woman who owns it is a friend of a friend in Salida, Colorado. Small world!
    Anyway, I doubt you’ll be looking at another tour of Portugal anytime in the near future – but look us up if you get over that way.
    Morroco is definitely on our radar for next year – perhaps things won’t be quite so crazy with Covid by then!

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