In the morning we drove to Peniche, a major fishing port on the west side of Portugal. From there we took a boat ride to Berlenga islands which was about 16 km west of Peniche. We spent the entire morning till early afternoon exploring Berlenga islands. After that was a two hours drive to Sintra.
At Sintra we only had enough time for the day to visit the “Iniciatic Well”. The next morning till mid afternoon we visited the National Park and Palace of Pena which was as lovely as all the pictures we had seen. We did not visit “Castelo dos Mouros” but we did see it from far. In the late afternoon we left for Lisbon.
We drove from our hotel in Obidos to the harbour/dock of Peniche, it took about 24 minutes over a distance of 24 km. The dock was at the start of the island and was not difficult to find. At the dock there was free parking.
We went into the office of “feelingBerlenga”, it was one of the many boat tour operators, to enquiry about a return boat ride to Berlenga Islands. They had a boat that would left Peniche dock at 10 am and return by 2.30 pm. The boat ride between Peniche and Berlenga took about 30 minutes, which meant we would have 3 hour 30 minutes to explore Berlenga Islands. We bought our tickets at €22 per person for a return trip.
We opted for a speed boat with a cabin while others opted for the opentop inflatable speed boat. The sea was pretty rough and instead of a nice pleasant ride it was a bumpy and bum- tossing ride. In the boat cabin was two smooth benches by the sides and it was difficult to keep by bum firmly on the bench! Yat Thong sat near the stern of the boat on individual seat which allowed him to control his “tossing about”.
After half an hour of boat ride we reached a huge rocky island. It was Berlenga Grande (the largest of the Berlenga Islands). Our boat slowed down to enter the dock, on the left side (looking from the sea inward) of the dock was a small beach. Our boat docked and our “boat captain” told us to meet back at the dock at 2 pm.
From the dock we went up some steps and passed a group of low buildings and among them we saw a restaurant. Several steps up later we came to a camping ground. The camping ground were brown step terraces over looking the bay. We several step terrace for camping purposes.
Once we reached the top of the steps the route continued on a cemented path that went gently uphill. We came upon a signboard/ information panel with the map of the island and some general information. Good! we could see the Fort (São João Baptista) on the map. The fort was our final destination on this island. It seemed like we had only trekked one quarter of the way.
Berlenga Grande was the largest island of the group of island called Berlenga Islands. The rest of the islands were very small rock outcrops distributed around the sea surrounding Berlenga Grande. The fort was built on a small island which was connected to the Berlenga Grande by a bridge.
As we walked on we came to a narrow neck of the island, we looked down to right side and saw another beach. This beach looked inacessible from the top.
On Berlenga Grande was a light house. When we were at the “neck” of the island we could only see the top part of the lighthouse. It became our “beacon” to encourage us to go nearer. The light house was a squarish structure tapering to the top. The Farol da Berlenga also known as the “Duke of Braganca Lighthouse” was completed in 1842 after five years of construction. It was automated in 1985. Today the lighthouse and the its surrounding quarters were driven on solar power.
The proper “cemented path” gave way to dirt path after the lighthouse. The path was still pretty obvious and there were many people walking ahead of us. We guessed “everybody” was heading to the “Fort”. After some up and down walking the fort came to view. It was erected on an outcrop in the sea and a narrow bridge connected it to Berlengas Grande.
The Fort of Berlenga was also known as Fort of São João Baptista das as Berlenga. The fort was construcnted from the remains of a pre-existing monastery which was abandoned due to its isolation and frequent attacked by pirates. The fort was constructed in the 17th century to strengthen coastal defense. It was later remodelled to include the reconstruction of the chapel. In 1953 the fort was repaired to adapt the structure into an inn.
Today the fort was a “posada” (inn) with a huge restaurant in the center. Though we were not guests of the posada, we had no problem going into the fort to explore, the reason could be that the restaurant in the fort was opened to all visitors. Surprisingly we also did not encounter and restriction when we ventured into the “guest rooms” sectors, from there we went up a stairs to the roof of the fort.
Apparently “staying-guests” at the “fort” had to bring their own sleeping bags. Yat Thong and I still perferred the comforts of life so we had no plan to stay overnight. We just wanted to enjoy the view, the trekking and the coffee break at the restaurant at the fort.
The restaurant was very basic decorated in retro style. On our table was a old phone with a rotary dial! The restaurant did not offer any cakes so we ordered two cups of latte for €1.40 each.
On the island, our data telco signal was non existence so we requested from the restaurant staff access to the restaurant free wifi. It took some effort to communicate our request as the staff did not seem to understand English. We rested for an hour before leaving fo rthe dock at 1.30 pm. At 2 pm we boarded our boat and another 30 minutes of bumpu ride to Peniche.
From Peniche to Sintra took about 2 hours, once we reached Sintra central the roads got pretty complicated. Though we drove on the route based on the guidance of our car GPS, we kept hitting “no entry – one way” route. We went through a few long detour and huge loops to get to our stay for the night. By the time we arrived we were already an hour off our target.
After we settled our bags it was about 6 pm. We were so unexpectely late and could not decided if we should proceed to visit the “Intiation Well” of Sintra which was just a short walk from our hotel. Since the “Initiation Well” closed at 8 pm we decided to proceed with the visit.
We left our car at the street just outside our stay and walked for 20 minutes for 450 m to the entrance of Quinta da Regaleira where the “Well” was located. There was no parking space at or near the entrance so it was a good thing that we left our car at our “stay”. We bought two entrance tickets for €8 per person. We were told that the “Well” visit closed at 7 pm and the ground of Quinta da Regaleira closed at 8 pm.
Quinta meant “estate”, Quinta da Regaleira was classified as a World Heritage Site. In the estate was a romantic palace, a chapel, huge park with lakes, fountains, wells and grottoes. The garden was lovely and serene and at this time of the day there were just a few visitors walking around. We followed the garden walkway and reached a chapel.
The chapel was a small Roman Catholic Chapel. The interior of the chapel was richly decorated with frescoes, stained grass window and lovely designed stuccoes.
The chapel was sited infront of the Palace of Quinta da Regaleira which had a similar design. We were wondering why was the place called a palace when the people who lived in the palace was not King or Queen. The Palace of Quinta da Regaleira had five levels. We only got to visit the ground level and the basement before we exited from the basement into the garden. The top three levels were closed to visitors.
The ground level consisted of a continuous hallway going round the building. The hallway were divided into sections/rooms, each section/room was created by closing a set of doors in front and a set of doors behind.The rooms on the ground level were living room, dining room, billiards room. There were also balcony and some smaller rooms and several stairways.
After the palace, we went in search of the “Initiation Well”, we tried some shortcuts but ended up on “off limit” ground and were politely advised by staff to follow the “proper” walkway. We reached “Initiation Well” before its closing time. Surprisingly, the entrance was quite insignificant it was just a small doorway among a pile of rocks.
Looking down the “Initiation Well” it reminded us of the double helix “St. Patrick Well” in Orvieto, Italy. But unlike St.Patrick Well, the “Initiation Well” was never served as water source. It was used for ceremonial purposes that included Tarot initiation rites.The Well had a 27 m spiral staircase with several small landings. The spacing of these landings combined with the number of steps in the stairs were linked to Tarot mysticism.
The “Initiation Well” was also called “Initiatic Well” or “Inverted tower. Looking at the interior of the well it did looked like a tower with a circular staircases going round and round. Looking down we saw that the base of the tower was a tiled floor with a star design. We walked all the way down to the base and was very stunned to see underground tunnels leading to “who knows where?” It was a bit scary as there was no signboard/information about these tunnerl. Where would these tunnels led to and how far would they go in? Should we explore them or go back up the well?
We decided that since the tunnels were lighted, it would mean that these tunnels were meant to be explored by visitors.
We saw three separate tunnels so we went into one. The first one led us to a cave opening with a small waterfalls. It looked like a water theme private/secluded garden, very charming and mystical. We returned back into the tunnel to explore the second tunnel.
This second tunnel led us to the “Unfinished Well”. This second well was not as high or elaborated as the first one. It was supposed to contain straight stairs that connected a series of ring-shape floors to one another. But it was too dark to see any of these straight stairs/ring-shape floors. All we could see was stacks of stones pilling up to form the round well and a opening at the top.
A cave/water garden and the Unfinished WellThe third tunnel led us to a very surprising place. We found ourselves standing in the middle of a stage. The tunnel was an entry point for performers to get onto the stage! “Wow?” this was so interesting! From the stage we exited the underground system and made our way out of Quinta da Regaleira.
While we were moving on the ground of Quinta da Regaleira we saw Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of Mouros) high up on a hill. It was a lovely sight with the “huge” moon above the castle.
Somewhere in the same Quinta da Regaleira ground we also saw National Palace of Pena. It looked so interesting and we were excited that we would be visiting it the next day!
National Park and Palace of Pena
The next morning we had our breakfast and checkout of our stay by 9.30 am. Again we had to make a couple of loops due to the many one way road sto get to the ticket place of “National Park and Palace of Pena”. We were early so we were lucky to find a parking (free) near the ticketing office. We bought tickets for the park and palace ground for €7.50 per person.
Based on the advice of the ticketing officer we took the route that brought us passed three lakes before turning into the park. We had a map from the ticketing office, but found the direction very misleading because the routes of the map was not properly to scale.
Following the “lousy” map and our google map, we went looking for the “Warrior Statue”. We took a number of wrong turns and several u-turns. Finally we were on the right track. We found the “Warrior Statue” but could only see it from below. We searched around for a path that would get us to the side of the “Warrior Statue” but there was no accessible path. The rocks were too big and tall and there was no way up. We met a couple of visitors who also told us that they could not reach the “Warrior Statue”. The reason we were looking for a path up to the rock where the statue stood was that from there we could get a fantastic view of the palace. We finally had to resign to the fact that whoever the person who took that photo of the Palace while standing beside the statue surely was an professional rock climber!
From the “Warrior Statue” we took a route to the “High Cross”, it was a kilometer walk on a slightly uphill path. The last stage of route to the “High Cross” involved some scrambling up some huge rocks. The spaces on top of the rocks was limited but many people were packed there waiting for a chance to catch very fantastic shots.
Yat Thong and I finally got our chances to go up on a huge boulder. Balancing on the boulder we were so fascinated with colourful palace. Though it was far away it stood up prominently. Wow!
After the “High Cross” was another 1.5 km walk to the base of the colorful Palace. The walkway to the Palace was packed with visitors. We saw a long queue that seemed to start somewhere far (probably the door of the palace) and wind down the walkway to the base of the Palace ground. This queue were for visitors that were going into the Palace interior. For visitors like us who would be roaming about in the Palace ground needed not queue.
As usual after a few hours of trekking we needed a place to rest and relax. We found a nice cafe above the Palace Souvenir shop. We had two cups of cafe latte and two slices of cake and a strawberry tart, we were greedy! The bill for the five items came up to €16.
After a good rest we were back onto the upper level of the palace ground to take more photos. This palace definitely stood out because of its bright mixture of colours and shapes. There were red, yellow, purple, brown and white colors. There were square, spherical, cylindrical, conical shaped structures. So fascinating!
As usual standing infront of the Palace was a chapel and entry was free.
Our stay was a double room with ensuite bathroom at Almaa Sintra Hostel which we reserved from booking.com. The cost of the double room with breakfast was €65. We booked it because it was in Sintra, it had cooking faclities, it provided breakfast, it had street parking and it was within walking distance to Initiation well and the room pictures looked good.
Unfortunately this was a place where the pictures hid too many details. Though on the pictures the place looked nice and delightful it was actually very dim and dusty.
Our room was dim and felt moldy. The bathroom was horrid. There was a thick layer of black mold on the wall edge of the bath tub! The tub and shower curtains felt so unclean that we rather skipped a shower for a day!
The share kitchen was messy and every plate, bowl and utensil I took, I had to scrub it clean before we used them. We were so glad to be staying only one night and would leave early in the morning after breakfast!
Since we had already bought grocery for our dinner before arriving at this hostel, so even though I disliked cooking in the kitchen we still had to cook and consume our food.
We had to eat our dinner under a miserable small candle light! The wall lights were just too dim!
Generally we liked the location of Almaa Sintra Hostel as was within walking distance to the Iniciation Well. We were also glad and lucky that we could park our car at a small parking space just outside the gate to the hostel. In the compound of the hostel there was more parking spaces unfortunately it was off limit to guest. We did not like the messy, unkempt and dim hostel interior like the shared kitchen, dinning room and sitting lounge. Our room was not any better and the toilet with its moldy edge along the bathtub wall was a disgrace! Breakfast was okay.