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At its heart lies a magical town, Sintra, whose unique mild microclimate gives rise to some of the most beautiful parks in Portugal. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it retains a medieval layout, with narrow and labyrinthine streets, steps and inviting arcades.

Ptolemy referred to the ten twisting miles of mountains in western Portugal as ‘the mountains of the Moon’. Thought to be the retreat of Diana the Huntress- Cynthia to the Romans – it was, thus, given the name Çintra.

A very ancient place, almost every phase of human occupation is visible here-from Neolithic traces to Bronze Age chambered tombs and dolmens, through to the Romans and the Moors, who built their precipitous castle here in the 8c. Throughout the 12c and 13c, convents, monasteries and military orders erected their residences, estates, water-mills and vineyards; the town once supported a thriving and distinguished Sephardi Jewish community many of whom guided the 15c Portuguese ‘Age of Discovery’, mapping the coast of Africa.

Since antiquity it has been a place full of myths and legends about supernatural activities; the great Portuguese Renaissance poet, Luis de Camoes, referred to the mountains of Sintra as a land ruled by water nymphs. During the 17c Union of the Crowns of Spain and Portugal, Sintra became a summer retreat for the Portuguese nobility, from the heats, both social and thermal, of the Castilian court in Lisbon. 18c Portuguese royals outdid one another in building their country palaces there.

William Beckford, writer of ‘Vathek’ came to the palace of Seteais in the 1780s, and later rented the romantic palace of Montserrate where Francis Cook constructed an exotic Orientalist pavilion high up on a slope. Lord Byron waxed lyrical about Sintra’s charms: ‘Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes, in variegated maze of mount and glen’, in his epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. WH Auden, Christopher Isherwood and Stephen Spender sought solace here and wrote of their experiences, and the composer Richard Strauss saw in Sintra a garden “comparable to Italy, Sicily, Greece or Egypt, a true garden of Klingsor, and there in the heights, a castle of the Holy Grail”.

Altogether Sintra represents one of the most magical, as well as one of the most influential, conjunctions of man and nature in Europe, a cradle of the Romantic Movement in architecture as well as literature.

COST £1975 Members, £2025 non-Members, £190 single room supplement, £300 deposit, includes return flights London to Lisbon, all transfers and taxis, five nights accommodation in Palacio de Seteais, all breakfasts, three lunches with wine, one private lunch in a manor house with wine, two dinners with wine, all tuition and lectures, the services of a local guide for part of the tour, all entrance fees and private visits, all gratuities, VAT.