Archive for the ‘Sintra’ Category

Retreat Style Vacations

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Iberian Nasturtiums

We have been so very busy transforming our quirky, hilltop house into a   wonderful refuge for retreat style vacations.  The blog posts have been neglected.

If you are seeking an alternative to typically crowded tourist spots, or you  desire a relaxing get-away vacation, then consider Colina Flora, our soon-to-open “green” B&B at the edge of the Sintra Natural Park in Portugal – an ideal retreat just 5 minutes from wonderful beaches, quaint hillside villages, and the protected forest of this national conservation area, 40 minutes northwest of Lisbon. Portugal’s mild climate offers hikers/trekkers and bicycle enthusiasts wonderful trails/routes even during the winter months. And all types of surfers (kite, sail, etc) ride the exceptional waves here 12 months of the year.

Right out of our front gate one can take a scenic, but not strenuous, 8 kilometer bicycle tour along a quiet rural road through the protected forest, past huge moss-covered boulders and breathtaking vistas. Or one can hike from our back gate for 45 minutes through the woods to one of the best scenic views in the area at the former Peninha Convent overlooking the Atlantic Ocean below.

View of Ocean from Peninha

The historic town of Sintra (just 8 km by car) boasts several spectacular palaces and castles including Pena Palace said to be the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Disneyland castle. It dates back to the 19th century and is a whimsical mix of architectural styles. King Ferdinand filled the royal grounds with oddities from around the world as a summer playground for his wife Queen Maria II. The historic center of the magical city of Sintra offers many other wondrous sites, convivial restaurants and cafes, interesting shops and museums, a world-class cultural center and lovely expansive gardens in which to roam.

A year round equestrian center has been refurbished and recently reopened in Sintra for those wanting to ride by the hour or take guided tours of the “Serra” (ridge of mountains) on horseback.

Portuguese Wind Turbine

After 10 months of reconnoitering our adopted homeland, Portugal still enthralls us. And for such a tiny country, Portugal has in the past been, and currently is, a model – a forerunner: By early 2011, Portugal will be the first in the world to have an electric car EV charging network throughout the country. There are special perks to purchase electric cars and for installing solar panels which sell electricity back to the grid. Currently Portugal produces 23% of its electricity via wind power and solar power, the most of any European country. And Portugal´s island of Madeira is the first area of Europe to be officially GMO free.

Colina Flora is being beautifully, sustainably refurbished into a comfortable country house and will begin receiving guests Christmas 2010. Please email us for further information or for available dates, amenities, and winter specials. Our room prices range from 69 € – 99 € per night which include sumptuous 100% organic breakfasts and afternoon tea.

Stay well, go slow and be “green.”

Soon to Open…

Monday, August 30th, 2010

30 August 2010

Atlantic Ocean from Colina Flora

Quinta Colina Flora, our “green,” artistically contemporary B&B, is now scheduled to open for guests beginning in November 2010. We are situated in the tiny hillside hamlet of Pé da Serra, Colares in the heart of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, just 40 minutes northwest of Lisbon, with access to hiking and mountain biking trails right out of the inn’s gates. The cultural and historic centers of Lisbon, Estoril and Cascais are only a short drive along the coastal road.

Cliffs tower above the beach at Magoito

Despite its proximity to these larger urban centers, the 14,583 hectare (circa 30,000 acres) Sintra-Cascais Natural Park has a vast variety of landscapes including the Serra da Sintra mountainous forest with immense trees, a rich variety of vegetation and animal species, breathtaking vistas, lagoons, and a rugged stretch of coastline interspersed with magnificent dunes and beaches which are havens for swimming and all sorts of surfing.

Forest meets sea & sky at Biscaia

This Sintra-Cascais Natural Park is truly a hikers paradise with hundreds of miles/kilometers of trekking/mountain biking trails. The varying topography allows moderate walking to more strenuous hiking. Many of the Sintra area’s UN World Heritage historic sites can be accessed from marked trails. The characteristics of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park are so extraordinary that it is the only cultural landscape in the world to classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

This region is also a mecca for year-round cultural activities. From May through September music and art festivals are found everywhere. Earlier this summer both Sintra and Estoril held their annual music festivals hosting world-renowned artists. Cascais is currently hosting its annual 10-day Festas do Mar (Festival of the Sea) where every evening two bands perform in the large harbor plaza followed by a dazzling fireworks display. The historic center of town resonates with music, outdoor restaurants and cafes are bustling, and there are wine and beer stalls, all sorts of food and other vendors. A crowd of many thousands, spanning all ages, comes to enjoy this free event lasting into the early morning hours.

Brilliantly colored flora

Quinta Colina Flora’s beautifully appointed guest rooms, some with ocean views, art studio, secluded gardens, patios, chemical free swimming pool, and organic meals offer guests the opportunity to indulge in a stress-free, yet stimulating, Portuguese holiday – a haven for those seeking a truly relaxing retreat, and a diversity of outdoor and cultural activities. We offer shuttle service to and from the Lisbon airport, and to the nearby beaches. The local public bus is only a five-minute walk from our inn.

(Check-out our soon-to-be-launched website for further information.)

We sincerely hope you’ll visit us in the future.

Best from Portugal!

Aasta and James

Beaches in the Sintra Area

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Portugal charms travelers with its easy manner of mingling century old traditions with modern amenities and its friendly people. This is a land steeped in many tiers of diversity and stark contrasts. There are also dramatic changes in landscape and climate within this small, westernmost country of continental Europe with over 1,000 kilometers of wonderful coastline.

We have chosen to settle in the region of Sintra because of its mild climate, verdant hills, amazing cliffs , many pristine beaches, its proximity to Lisbon and because it also offers many cultural activities.

Spectacular Coastline at Azenhas do Mar, beach accessible down a rugged trail

Several of Portugal’s most beautiful beaches are in the Sintra region. Each unique and worth exploring. Our favorites are:

Adraga beach is a majestic smaller beach, surrounded by craggy cliffs and flower-decked green hillsides. It is below the picturesque village of Almoçageme. A great restaurant flanks the beach. Their fish specialties are praised throughout the area and the lively outdoor bar draws folks who love to linger late into the evening enjoying the fine regional wines and spirits while being serenaded by the pounding of the surf. Behind some large boulders is a secluded area for those wanting to sun-bathe in the buff.

The beach at Adraga, at dusk

The amazing vast Guincho beach near Cascais is a 15-minute drive from Adraga along a breathtaking serpentine coastal road. Guincho is a beach paradise for swimmers, surfers, and sun-lovers. We go there several times a week at sunset to walk along the shore. There are several cafes and restaurants and hiking trails right above the beach.

The municipality of Cascais offers free daily bicycles enabling day trippers to pedal along the gorgeous 7-kilometer flat coastal bike path to Guincho beach, or 2 km in the other direction to Cascais proper with its many shops and restaurants.

The lovely Praia Grande, Praia Pequena, Praia das Maçãs, and other beaches are a few minutes drive north of Adraga beach and can also be accessed along the coastal walking path. Praia das Maçãs borders a village which hosts several good restaurants, bars, internet cafes, shops and tennis courts.

The larger beaches, such as Guincho, have life guards, sun umbrellas, lounge chairs, and surfboards to rent and usually cafes, bars and restaurants are close by. Guincho also has a surfing school. We see surfers riding the waves year round and several major surfing competitions have been held there.

Several secluded white sandy beaches can only be reached on foot and offer respite from summer crowds.

Praia da Ursa is below Ulgueira, reached by wandering for 10 minutes down a steep trail. It is absolutely splendid and mostly devoid of fellow humans. The Portuguese love their beaches which are well maintained and very clean. July through September is major beach time, but hardy folks swim all year round.

Coastal hiking trails connect these beaches and lead into quaint villages and to paths into the forest of the vast Sintra National Park. Avid walkers can spend days wandering through these magical woods, marveling at the panoramic views and diverse flora and fauna, and visiting the many interesting historical sites.

Amidst all this beauty, and after months of searching, we have found a wonderful site for Quinta Colina Flora, our elegant “green” Bed & Breakfast! We are currently negotiating with the seller for a beautiful, secluded property set in lush green wooded hills overlooking the ocean. We hope to open by Christmas 2010 with three of the five planned guest rooms ready for occupancy.

We will pamper our guests with tasteful, casually elegant, large sunny rooms (each with private bath), sumptuous organic breakfasts, luncheon picnic baskets, afternoon tea by the swimming pool, and delicious dinners served with local wines.

This property is located is only a few minutes from Adraga Beach in the tiny hamlet of Pé da Serra. Many days worth of wonderful hiking lie outside the front gate of this property. The spectacular historic city of Sintra, a UN World Heritage site, with its many castles, museums and summer music/theater festivals is just a 10-minute drive, and the very agreeable city of Lisbon only a 40-minute drive. Due to the mild, temperate climate, this part of Portugal is a great four-season vacation destination.

Sintra

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

An example of a lovely house (regrettfully not ours) in Almocageme

Hello Everyone!

This blog is the precursor of our website to inform about our Quinta Colina Flora (a “green” Bed & Breakfast in the hills of the Sintra National Forest), share experiences, recipes, travel tips, and insights…

Portugal fascinated us during our previous two visits, and now, after four months as immigrants we are thrilled to have made the move. We are delighted by the ancient charm of this beautiful, tradition-rich country and its mild-mannered, friendly people.

We have chosen the region of Sintra as the site for our future B&B, an area with flowers blooming in every season, wondrous diverse landscapes and a rich abundance in the arts. Finding a suitable location has been challenging, but this interim period gives us the chance to explore our surroundings, source products for our inn, accomplish preparatory legwork, make contacts and kindle friendships.

This area is home to a large number of organic farmers, small food producers, artisans and artists, so it is proving easy to locate the necessary products for our future B&B which will stress “made in Portugal” and sustainability, serve only organic, mostly local foods, and attempt to make a difference.

We are temporarily renting a refurbished wine merchant`s house in the heart of the ancient, quaint and oh so lovely, small village of Almoçageme, which sits on hills overlooking the Atlantic, only a 45 minute drive north-west of Lisbon. Its mostly white-washed houses are huddled together with courtyards and gardens, enclosed by walls and hedges creating a maze of narrow streets and alleys with breathtaking views of the silver green-blue, often tumultuous, ocean.

What a treat it is to walk the cobbled road to the village market, buy threads and yarn in a tiny shop a few feet from our door and enjoy tea or coffee at one of the 6 cozy cafés. The fishmonger displays the catch of the day in the village square in an open blue and white tiled space which he hoses down at noon. Then the village elders (mostly the men) use it to congregate during the afternoons, and in the evenings, teenagers play cards and socialize there.

I have difficulty buying the whole fish, head and all, staring hopelessly at me, so I’ve asked the fishman to please decapitate them for me.  Sardines (I think they´re vegetarians) have just come into season and there is an abundance of tuna from the waters near the Portuguese island of Madeira, as well as mussels, clams, various white fish and octopus.  Traditionally the Portuguese enjoy lots of fish and meats, though vegetables and fruits are abundant at the various weekly farmers´ markets.

Portuguese cuisine has a immense repertoire of ways to cook fish.  Everyone seems to agree that they have over a 1000 recipes for “Bacalhau” (salt cod, Portugal´s favourite fish).  The next favourite seems to be sardines.  They are often served grilled whole.  A delicious sardine pate/spread is also very popular and frequently served as a starter with thick slices of bread.

The following quick and easy recipe was given to me by a friend whose relatives live in the US and don’t have easy access to fresh sardines.  This is a delicious way to smuggle some extra omega 3’s into one’s daily fare.

Sardine Pate:

1 stick unsalted softened butter – about 125 grams

1 tin of sardines in tomato sauce

Pinch of chilli powder

1 tablespoon of chopped parsley

1 garlic clove

1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Blend in food processor or blender…add salt and pepper to taste

Serve with fresh, warm country-style bread and, Enjoy!

Be well and GO SLOW!

Aasta

New Blog from Portugal

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

Wide, sandy beaches along a Big Sur-like Atlantic Coast

Greetings from the Sintra/Colares area of Portugal where the beaches are gorgeous, the Sintra Mountains are lush and a hikers’ paradise, the traditional villages are a treat to explore, and where many historic palaces dot the landscape.  And, of course, where the living is easy!

We are Quinta Colina Flora, a soon-to-open eco-friendly B&B in this special region of Portugal.  We hope you’ll join us periodically as we use this blog to document our journey.  Please also consider visiting as a guest at our small, intimate bed & breakfast.

Best Regards, Aasta & James