Over­ex­posed: the cas­tles of Sin­tra, Por­tu­gal; un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated: the walled city of Evora

Woonsocket Call - - TRAVEL - By DE­BRA BRUNO vis­it­por­tu­gal.com/en/con­tent/dis­cov­er­ing-sin­tra vis­itevora.net/en/

Spe­cial To The Wash­ing­ton Post

• Sto­ry­book Sin­tra is del­uged with tourists Af­ter a visit in 1809, young Lord By­ron called the Por­tuguese city of Sin­tra “glo­ri­ous Eden.” The English poet never could re­sist a pretty face or a ro­man­tic vista, and Sin­tra, which served as a coastal re­treat for Por­tu­gal’s rulers, has plenty of the lat­ter. High­lights in­clude the moun­tain­top Pena Palace, a fairy-tale cas­tle with a hodge­podge of ar­chi­tec­tural styles painted in rain­bow shades, and, crown­ing a nearby hill, the in­trigu­ing ruins of a me­dieval Moor­ish cas­tle, which offers spec­tac­u­lar views all the way to the coast. Sin­tra is a charm­ing cob­ble­stoned place with shops and cafes, as well as an­other royal res­i­dence, the 15th cen­tury Na­tional Palace, filled with or­nate rooms and tra­di­tional Por­tuguese tiles.

To see this town and the palaces that over­look it, how­ever, you will face enor­mous crowds and lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges. Sin­tra hosted 3.2 mil­lion tourists in 2017; vis­it­ing dur­ing peak sea­son (May to Septem­ber) or any week­end guar­an­tees long lines. And although it is only 15 miles north­west of the heart of Lis­bon, the jour­ney re­quires a 40-minute train ride. To visit Pena Palace and the Moor­ish cas­tle, you’ll then have to take a crowded shut­tle bus to the top of the moun­tain and wait in a long line to buy tick­ets. (It’s bet­ter, of course, to buy en­trance tick­ets on­line.) Travel books warn vis­i­tors to leave Lis­bon by 8:30 a.m. to beat the crowds. Never drive: The roads are nar­row and of­ten one-way. • In Evora, a peace­ful “liv­ing mu­seum”

A bet­ter choice is en­chant­ing Evora, a city in the Alen­tejo re­gion that, like Sin­tra, boasts a des­ig­na­tion as a UN­ESCO World Her­itage site. Trav­el­ers to Lis­bon some­times think Evora is too far, not re­al­iz­ing that a 90-minute train ride in­land will take them to one of the pret­ti­est places in Por­tu­gal, with white­washed build­ings tucked in­side the me­dieval walls of a walk­a­ble town. Evora, which is called a “liv­ing mu­seum,” offers lay­ers of his­tory, re­li­gious art and a foodie ex­pe­ri­ence and re­ceives about one-eighth the num­ber of an­nual tourists that Sin­tra does.

The Ro­mans lived here, then the Moors, and then, for a while, Por­tu­gal’s kings (only part of the royal palace re­mains). A Ro­man tem­ple relic can be found in the cen­ter of town; its 14 Co- rinthian col­umns are dra­mat­i­cally lit at night. Moor­ish in­flu­ence is seen in the wrought-iron bal­conies, and nar­row, me­an­der­ing streets. An im­pres­sive 16th-cen­tury aque­duct cuts through the city, with build­ings care­fully in­serted into some of its arches. Vis­i­tors can spend hours wan­der­ing cob­ble­stones lanes lined with white­washed homes edged with mus­tard yel­low, said to ward off evil spir­its.

The Gothic Evora cathe­dral is the largest me­dieval cathe­dral in Por­tu­gal. In­side is the Mu­seum of Sa­cred Art; look for an en­tranc­ing ivory statue of the vir­gin and child that opens to re­veal tiny scenes from the life of Christ. The 16th cen­tury Church of St. Fran­cis is best known for its Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Os­sos), de­signed by monks to re­mind Evora’s res­i­dents of the tran­sience of life.

A visit to Evora offers an­other bonus not found in Sin­tra – the op­por­tu­nity to try a dif­fer­ent re­gional cui­sine. Hearty, bread-based Alen­tejo food em­pha­sizes cheese, cilantro, salt cod and lots of gar­lic.

Vanda de Mello, Bloomberg

Sin­tra, Por­tu­gal.

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