Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Palacio de Seteais, Sintra

"And what's this palace over here?" I asked our driver as we turned into the long driveway, our car heading towards what looked like another important Sintra landmark. He had been pointing out all the palaces we were passing, all of them glowing beautifully in the night.

"This?  This is your hotel!"
"Whaaat? No seriously... what is this place?"
"It is true! This is your hotel! Very beautiful and very quiet."

I was stunned.  I was expecting a small quaint bed and breakfast, the type I usually book when B and I travel with no conference to attend or business to conduct. Imagine then my surprise, pulling up into a long driveway towards this palatial building.

 The Pena Palace, glowing in the night, can be seen from the front steps of the hotel.

The recommendation for this hotel came from Tours For You, a very responsive land tour operator in Portugal that I found online. I emailed them for hotel recommendations in Lisbon and Sintra, and they responded with a couple of suggestions. In the course of our email exchanges, I mentioned my preference for uniquely interior designed hotels or inns, and my love for everything old. They emailed me back a new shortlist for Lisbon, from which I chose the Britania. For Sintra, they simply said "you have to stay at the Palacio de Seteais." 

The Palacio de Seteais website looked very nice, but as I was planning for this trip sporadically and in between holiday events (and isn't Christmas in Manila is so chaotic?), I didn't really concentrate on what exactly I was booking. As long as the price was doable, it looked unique and different...and a room was available? Done. Was I really that dizzy during the holidays that the word "palacio" didn't register in my brain?

After I got over my initial shock, I felt only excitement.  Seteais (pronounced Seh-teh-ice) was built in the 18th century, and in 1956 was transformed into a hotel. The spaces are grand and I instantly felt  transported to another era. Almost all the furniture are antiques, with some very unique pieces scattered around the hotel.

The room was decorated traditionally but was comfortably "modern." Aside from the usual 5-star amenities like robes, slippers and toiletries, there was a Nespresso machine and free wifi that was pretty fast. On the dresser was a tray of traditional Sintra pastries and a decanter of port, thoughtfully laid out to welcome us.

We only had enough time to drop our bags in the room, gobble up everything on that welcome tray and snap a few shots because we had dinner reservations at G-spot restaurant (strange name, but the G actually stands for "gastronomic"). This was a recommendation by yet another online resource, Lisbon Explorer, who also made the dinner reservation for us. Actually, making reservations is not part of Lisbon Explorer's regular service (they provide private guides), but Antonio and I had such great rapport by email (he wrote me very lengthy answers to all my questions, plus offered a lot of other tips about traveling in Portugal) that he graciously offered to arrange it. And it's a good thing he did, but that's another post altogether.

A beautiful 18th century baby grand in the middle of one the hotel's many sitting rooms.

The next day,  our walking tour took us away from the hotel again.

Liliana, our tour guide said "if you're staying in a hotel as nice as the Seteais, you have to make time to stay and enjoy the hotel."  The 30-room hotel usually gets booked for weddings, and other very special occasions. As soon as we came back from our late lunch, I took Liliana's advice and immediately went around the hotel, poking around all the public rooms, surveying all the furnishings and interior details, and snapping more pictures.

The town of Sintra is described as a fairytale town in all the guidebooks because of its old world atmosphere: cobbled streets, castles and manor homes. Because of its unusual micro-climate, Sintra was the vacation town of the rich and the royalty and so many of them had big private homes here. Many of the huge homes are still private up to today.

It's only a 30-minute train or taxi ride away from Lisbon, and in hindsight, we didn't really need to spend the night here.

I was aware Sintra was a day trip from Lisbon, but having never been to Portugal, I just couldn't imagine how close it was.  I thought it would be more convenient to stay in Sintra for one night. Then, since we were arriving in the evening and I didn't want to chance not having taxi,  I  pre-booked a private transfer from the Lisbon airport directly to our Sintra hotel, about 50 euro. Ouch.

We easily figured out that the distance from Lisbon to Sintra is like that of Makati to Alabang--it's so close!  So it would've really been more convenient for us to just park ourselves in Lisbon and do Sintra as a day trip. I was irritated at myself for not planning better, specially when we had to go back to the hotel again to check out, losing precious time exploring Sintra.

Where breakfast is served
What we did right was we took the local train from Sintra back to Lisbon instead of booking another private transfer. It is very easy to do, and our Lisbon stop is the last one, so no worrying about where to get off. We were just cautioned not to take the train after 9 pm because it occasionally fills up with "unsavory youngsters."

 Taking the train from Sintra to Lisbon

We really enjoy using local public transport whenever we travel because we feel less touristy. Plus in this instance, we saved major bucks -- the train tickets were only 3 euro each.

 the view from our corner bedroom

Then again, had we visited Sintra only as a day trip from Lisbon, we would've totally missed the experience of this gorgeous hotel and our interesting "G-Spot dinner". We might have lost a couple of hours in town, but I appreciated those extra hours as I explored the hotel.  So it turns out, in further hindsight of my very first hindsight,  my imperfect plan was actually perfect for us.

 The rooms at the back have this view


pamela said...

wow!! love the hotel M:)

Carla Aston said...

Amazing! You have the most fabulous life. All the little details just make for pure luxury, don't they?

Marivic said...

Don't be fooled. In between all these gorgeous travel posts is regular life. The blog just makes it look like one long exciting adventure after the next. Thanks for always stopping by Carla!


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