If Lisbon reminded me of San Francisco, then Sintra reminded me of Newport, Rhode Island. When Sintra was in its heyday, the richest of the rich built incredible palaces of sometimes questionable taste but never lacking in detail, opulence or personality. And just like in Newport, these homes/castles are no longer inhabited but are open to tourists, and touring them is the main reason why people visit. Of course, a big difference is that Newport, RI, is on the coast and Sintra is in the mountains. But it’s only about a 20-minute drive to the coast.
Without a doubt, the most luxurious place to stay in Sintra is the five-star Hotel Tivoli Palácio de Seteais. That’s where we stayed when we explored this UNESCO world heritage town last October. The Palacio de Seteais is a real Sintra palace and it’s decorated in luxurious 18th Century style with beautiful mural, rugs and furnishings. Built for a Dutch consul who was very successful in the diamond business, the palace was completed in 1797 and became a hotel in 1955.
The Hotel Tivoli Palácio de Seteais is situated outside of the town center, but it is in walking distance to amazing yet underrated Quinta da Regaleira. (We only made it to Quinta da Regaleira and Monserrate, and didn’t get to the famous Pena Palace, but that’s the subject of another post.)
We enjoyed the lovely lawn and the serene setting until we realized that we were basically stuck at the hotel for dinner when our 11-month-old son went to sleep at 7pm. Yes, we were one of the one of the world’s most romantic hotels with an 11-month-old. While this was not ideal, it was still better than not being at one of the world’s most romantic hotels, right?
Being stuck at the hotel for dinner was a excellent experience for our palates but a draining experience for our wallet. It was easily our best meal in Portugal, and we enjoyed just about all of meals in Portugal. The Seteais restaurant served updated, classic Portuguese dishes with superb execution. The restaurant’s atmosphere is impossibly romantic, capped off by a piano player. If you don’t stay at the hotel while you’re in Sintra, then at least visit the restaurant and while you’re there poke around the beautiful public areas of the hotel.
But alas the romance factor was completely lost on my husband and me. That’s because we ended up taking turns, i.e. dining alone while one person stayed in the room with the sleeping baby. Some people might find this depressing, but we found it practical. At least we both enjoyed delicious dinners. We couldn’t have eaten in the room, so we would have been eating in the small foyer, and I think that would have been depressing.
The waiters seemed benignly amused as we felt compelled to explain to them in detail what we were doing. But they were nice about it. The Portugese are amazingly nice people — you can’t go there and not be struck by their niceness. They’re on par with the Costa Ricans, who are so nice that they had to invent a Spanglish word, Twanis, which means “too nice.” Perhaps the Portugese have such a word as well. If not, they should.
Discount Disclosure: I received a media rate at Hotel Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, but I am free to write whatever I want.