Getting to know Portugal, Part I

Since Portugal is going to be our place of residency for the next few years, we returned there this fall to travel the country and get to know it a little better. Portugal is not a big country, just 1% the size of the country I grew up in – Canada. So getting to know it shouldn’t take a lot of time. Our first journey out took us west and north, to Cascais, Sintra and Ericeira.


Cascais is a beachfront town not far from Lisbon (30 minutes by car or train) situated where the Tigus meets the Atlantic Ocean. It is popular with tourists and is probably the most popular place for the rich and famous in the country to choose to live. Good for SUP and surf is very close by, as well as golf. Wonderful town to walk and a fun place to return to enjoy the many beaches in front and nearby. Plenty of shopping and a great selection of restaurants.

We stayed at the Casa da Pergola House, which was just delightful. It’s situated right in the middle of town and just steps away from the train station. It is a guest house that, as their website says, “offers a journey through time and enchants guests with the scent and colour of the garden.” And that is surely does.

Casa de Pergola
Casa de Pergola

They continue, “Fully embedded in the architecture of Cascais, Casa da Pergola construction is a master of the late nineteenth century, architectural style with Mediterranean characteristics, with a ground terrace – a pergola – to provide a restful shade. Its beautiful facade in style “Raul Lino” with hand painted antique tiles, and its garden of boxwoods and colorful flowerbeds have pleased amateur and professional photographers. The interior of this house is equally stylish and is welcoming guests for twenty-five years. A white marble staircase leads to ten comfortable rooms furnished with different styles. On the second floor is the lounge with wooden floor and wooden ceiling, divided into various environments, chaired by the fireplace. A collection of paintings of the owners of the house and the old family photos make up the atmosphere of this house with a history.”

We loved it and plan to return soon, next time by train.

We drove up the western coast of Portugal and the wind was really blowing. What a dramatic coastline. Not very much out here as the seas are rough and the weather can also be tough. Great for surf though.


We cut inland and went up to Sintra to take in the Pena Palace. Not only is the palace colorful, so is it’s history. The palace’s history started in the Middle Ages when a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena was built on the top of the hill above Sintra. For centuries Pena was a small, quiet place for meditation, housing a maximum of eighteen monks. In 1838, as King Ferdinand II decided to acquire the old monastery, all of the surrounding lands, the nearby Castle of the Moors and a few other estates in the area. He then set out to transform the remains of the monastery into a palace that would serve as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. The last queen of Portugal, Queen Amélia, spent her last night at the palace before leaving the country in exile for France.

Pena Palace
Pena Palace

This was another amazing tour and we highly recommend it. But the crowds can be very large, so get there early or later in the day. The tour buses arrive from the cruise ships and many arrive by train, so Sintra really gets packed. Sitting high on a mountain top, higher than anywhere else around, we could look back to north to Ericeira and to the south, take in all of Lisbon, the river and ocean. It was a beautiful, clear day. Castle isn’t big, but it is furnished and doesn’t look that different from when the royal family inhabited it at the beginning of the 20th century. There are a number of mansions in Sintra as well that are quite something, and we plan to return soon to take them in.


We also made a trip out to visit the surf town of Ericeira, which is only about 40 minutes away by car. It reminded us of the Mexican surf town Sayulita in character and characters, except it’s in much better shape. Many of the homes have been fixed up nice, in white with blue trimmings, similar to Noirmoutier. And as we’d soon fine out, many coastal towns in Portugal are painted in a similar fashion. We walked most of it, then drove over to Mafra to take in the basilica and national palace (simply amazing) and up the coast to check out surf spots, of which there are many. We were there in October, but I get the feeling that during the summer months this whole coastline is packed.

Part Two continues here.

Streets of Ericeira
Streets of Ericeira

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