Novelty factor: 🏰 + 🍻
Despite being a short 2.5 hour plane journey away, I had somehow never visited any part of Portugal. Finally, in the last few days of my 23rd year, I managed to make it to Portugal; Lisbon, to be specific! Joined by my sister Beth and friend Claudia, I spent the week of my birthday exploring the Portuguese capital and the nearby coast. My 24th birthday fell on the third day of our trip, and we decided it was the perfect excuse to take advantage of the day trips on offer at our hostel (Living Lounge Hostel which by the way is 10/10!)
The Sintra Fairy Tale Tour caught our eye as soon as we checked in. The receptionist listed the many historical and quintessentially Portuguese sites included in the tour, which, she told us would somehow cost only €40! We were told we would be picked up at 9.30am by our tour guide, for a full day’s itinerary of the following…
- A stop at the legendary Pasteis de Belem for breakfast
- A drive on the coast of Cascais, stopping at Guincho Beach
- A trip to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of mainland Europe
- A traditional Portuguese three course meal including wine and beer
- Exploring the Quinta da Regaleira
- Finishing off with wine and cheese tasting in Sintra Old Quarter…
(I repeat, ALL FOR JUST €40!!^)
Our first stop of the day was a visit to the original home of the Portuguese tart, Pasteis de Belem. This place is globally recognised as a Lisbon institution, locals insist it is a must-do if you want a true taste of the delicious custard tarts associated with their country. Opened in 1837, the bakery is always heaving even 130 years later! We fought our way to the front of a queue of tourists, all eager to stuff our faces full of baked goodies. We managed to nab ourselves 3 pastries and 3 espressos, for just €2 each! Encased in a crispy filo tart was an ooey gooey custard fooey filling, I highly recommend!
Bellies full of coffee and custard, our lovely tour guide Diogo, shepherded our group of 8 back into the minibus for a 40-minute cruise along the coast of Cascais, before stopping off at the serene and secluded Guincho Beach. We had the entire beach to ourselves, and enough time for a quick run around, dipping our toes in the sea, before we were once again clambering into Diogo’s minivan heading up the hill to the rocky cliffs of the westernmost extent of mainland Europe, Cabo da Roca.
Around 150 metres above the sea, the picturesque Cabo da Roca with it’s retro lighthouse is high up on the cliffs; the perfect place for a panoramic view of Sintra and the spanning coast. We wandered around in the sun for an hour taking in the views, working up an appetite. Diogo, who we had befriended by this point and had enthusiastically joined in with the mocking of my pasty, sun-starved British skin, read our minds and asked what we wanted for lunch. He listed a number of delicious sounding traditional dishes, taking our orders and calling ahead to our lunch destination, much to our joy!
When we initially heard the words ‘Lunch is Included’ I’ll admit, I was picturing a brown paper bag of cellophane-wrapped sandwiches à la school trip. But considering the €40 price tag, we really were treated! We pulled up to a sort of ranch, surrounded by acres of greenery, a lavish Portuguese feast lovingly prepared by a sweet Portuguese lady and her family was waiting for us. The lunch included a starter, main, dessert, coffee and drinks! As per usual, I overindulged, treating myself to all of the above PLUS a second espresso – this later came back to haunt me and I would certainly advise going easy on the strong Portuguese coffee!
Our final stop was a grand tour of Sintra Old Quarter, which included a visit to the majestic Quinta da Regaleria, followed by a cheese and wine tasting! (I know, I couldn’t believe this was all included in the €40 price either!) The grand gothic estate is a UNESCO World Heritage site and takes the form of a sort of otherworldly fairy tale kingdom, complete with lakes, grottoes, wells, and fountains. The regal residence was so much fun to explore, it felt like some kind of cavernous territory from Labyrinth. We were only given an hour to explore and we all agreed we could have happily set up camp in one of the winding princess towers…but then again, there was cheese and wine waiting to be tasted!
This was definitely the perfect way to spend my birthday, and even if it’s not your birthday, the Sintra Fairy Tale Tour is a brilliant package deal, which crams in all the must-see tourist attractions in and around Lisbon, in just under 12 hours! While we were completely shattered when we got back to our hostel, I have to thank our tour guide who was kind, patient and helpful, making it a day to remember and one my best birthdays yet! Also, did I mention it all cost just 40 EUROS….
Check out the YOU TOUR Sintra Fairy Tale Day Trip here.