Monserrate - Sintra´s Somewhat Hidden Magic Jewel
I might be exaggerating but for the last three years, it feels like no tourist that has ever visited Lisbon has left the city without a one day trip to Sintra behind them. Sintra has become crazy popular, to the degree that us Lisbon locals are borderline avoiding it. That does not make it any less beautiful and magical though. The city and especially the park have an energy that is hard to explain, exactly like the micro climate surrounding the area. While heaps of tourists make their way up the mountain to get to the colourful Pena castle or to the Quinta de Regaleira (which is allegedly the most visited monument in Portugal), few actually make the drive to Monserrate, Sintra´s more or less hidden jewel.
If they´d visit, they´d find an eclectic palatial villa, taken straight out of Aladdin, surrounded by some romantic gardens with the most exotic palm trees and cacti ever. Sintra´s romanticism is well spread throughout all villas on the small mountain, but the Islamic architectural influence, this time in soft pink and orange (as opposed to Pena´s sharp red and yellow), make Monserrate unique. The inside of the villa unveils a long corridor with intricate, white walls that suffer deeply because of the above mentioned micro climate and yet stand tall and moist. The library´s door is a masterpiece, just like the stove in the underground kitchen and the main and secondary domes.
Upstairs, a projector on a wall tells the story of the last owners of Monserrate, the Cook family. The story is fascinating, told by the now aged son of castle´s caretaker. His narrative makes you think you were there when it all happened and the pictures incorporated in the story make you wish you were. The rooms are pretty empty other than a piano here and a table there, but the majestic walls, chandeliers and windows tell the story that needs to be told.
As you walk outside, you first notice a huge patch of grass going down the hill. Now this is where the magic happens. In summer, a huge white screen is installed at the foot hill and good old movies (vintage or new) are showed as the night comes. It is the ultimate open air cinema. With the lake and the Mexican garden behind the screen, the sound of crickets and the soft grass underneath the blankets, it´s probably the world´s best date idea you could have.
Seeing the crazy number of tourists that Pena and Quinta da Regaleira have attracted, one might think that yet another post about a breathtaking hidden castle will not help Sintra´s crowding case, but then again, a place as beautiful as Monserrate deserves to be admired. As long as it´s treated with respect and consideration and as long as all we leave behind are footprints.