A trip to Lisbon may conjure up images of wandering through the narrow streets of the Bairro Alto or discovering the ancient delights of the Alfama. But there is also a surprising amount to discover if you head away from the centre of Portugal’s bustling capital city.
Portugal is of course well known for its plethora of protected parks and natural areas. The country counts a total of 13 natural parks, one major national park, a number of natural reserves and monuments and several protected landscapes.
One such area, the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, is located right on Lisbon’s doorstep and makes the perfect destination for a day of exploration away from the bustling capital.
The Sintra-Cascais Natural Park situated to the west of Lisbon. The park spans a swathe of land that runs from Cascais up the coast to Cabo da Roca, Europe’s westernmost point.
It also includes the flat plane that sits behind the coast and the majestic Sintra Mountains that rise beyond it.
The Sintra-Cascais Natural Park has been a protected area since 1981 and was officially designated a Natural Park in 1994. Its 145km2 of land are now fully protected, enabling it to be enjoyed by the thousands of tourists who come here every year, safe in the knowledge that it will suffer no damage.
The Sintra-Cascais Natural Park is particularly important for its attractive and varied landscapes, leading it to be classified in part by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The natural beauty of the area is set off to perfection by the gleaming pastel-hued spires and rooftops of the magical hilltop city of Sintra.
Beyond, the architecture gives way to rugged natural beauty that is just begging to be explored by the intrepid traveller.
The park is roughly divided into two distinct halves. One half is dedicated to the coastal scenery, dominated by sandy beaches, rolling dunes, towering cliffs and fragrant pine woods. The other half is given over to agriculture and is a major fruit and wine producing area as well as a horticultural centre.
Our nature tour weaves its way northwest along the coast from Lisbon, through the sophisticated beach resort of Cascais and past a series of memorable natural landmarks. It then dives inland away from the coast, cutting through the flat plain before rising to the World Heritage city of Sintra.
Passing through Cascais, the first stop is right on the coast at the Boca do Inferno. Translated as the “Devil’s Mouth”, the Boca do Inferno is a naturally occurring phenomenon caused by the Atlantic waters meeting the huge cliff-side rock formation.
Here the water literally erupts through a small hole and bursts out of the other side. For best effect try to visit when the waters are at mid tide when the pressure is sufficient to produce a dramatic effect but it is still possible to observe from close by.
Our next stop is the lighthouse of Cabo Raso and the Forte de Sao Bras de Sanxete, which stand towering above the rocky coastline, before heading on to Guincho, the wide, relaxed beach which is popular with water sports enthusiasts and which makes the perfect spot to enjoy a relaxing lunch at the water’s edge.
Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in Portugal and on the European mainland, is our last beachfront stop before we head inland across the plain to admire a very different panorama.
The lush green landscape forms a popular backdrop for a number of championship golf courses and is also popular with riders, climbers and other outdoor adventurers.
This is the perfect place to indulge in some outdoor pursuits. As the plain gives way to the foothills of the Sintra mountain range, mountain biking, climbing, abseiling, trekking, walking and other activities are offered in abundance. To make the most of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, why not stay overnight to give yourself time to get the most from beach, adventure and Sintra city exploration?
There are many hotels in both Sintra and Cascais to choose from, catering for all tastes and budgets. Or for something a little more ‘natural’ yet with all the trappings of a quality hotel, why not opt for a country house hotel?
Situated right in the heart of the lush green plain, a country house hotel makes the perfect base from which to enjoy everything this unique area has to offer.