Saturday, 7 February 2009



CINTRA BUT if in search of far horizons, it is to Cintra that you must go. A short hour from Lisbon in the train and the engine puffs into the station tired with its con- stant climb. A drive through the rather dull town brings you to a little English hotel that for three generations has housed British visitors. Its little landlady, though she has spent some sixty years of her seventy-six under this roof in Portugal, is as English in her black bombazine and white bonnet as if she had but just landed from Southampton. When she leads you to your room and opens the casement you will fancy yourself in the terrestrial paradise. Deep below, a tangled glen shelters a cascade whose music rises to your ear; the perfume of rose and white locust and heliotrope and jasmine is wafted by the gentle breeze, while the eternal mildness, the sifted sunlight over the far-reaching plains stretching to the broad blue ocean that bounds the horizon, make an impression that lives forever in the memory. Tradition has it that in one of these rooms (the one in the corner where his bust stands upon a table and souvenirs of him hang framed upon the walls) Lord Byron wrote the opening cantos of "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage": " Lo, Cintra's glorious Eden intervenes In variegated maze of mount and glen." His rhapsodies in this and other poems, and those of Southey, who called it "the most blessed spot in the habitable globe," have done much for its fame, but, except by the English, it is still but little visited.


The Serra de Cintra, that purple silhouette that we had first beheld from the ocean, is an exceedingly beautiful succession of hills in whose dimples nestle glens of surpassing loveliness. In them you might fancy yourself in some tropic land — in Guatemala, for example — for tree-ferns spread their umbrella- like fronds over cascades and splashing waters; laurestinas and daturas grow in rich profusion, while roses and ferns cover the huge oak and cork trees, and under your feet the petals of azaleas, magenta, pink and gray, mingle with rich camellias and magnolias to form a carpet soft and rich in color as the weave of a Persian loom. Such a vale is lovely Monserrate, the princely quinta laid out by Beck- ford, of Fonthill, centuries ago and still owned by an Englishman, Sir Francis Cook, who draws his Portuguese title of Visconde therefrom. I think I prefer, however, mysterious Penha Verde, once the home of Dom Joao de Castro, an honest man who died with but a single vintem in his coffers, though there had passed through his hands the un- told wealth of India, of which he was governor for many years. All the reward he asked for his suc- cessful siege of Diu was the hill with the six trees, upon which the chapel now stands — a knoll overlooking the lovely valley of Collares, and a vast ex- panse of glen and hillsides of dense pine woods mounting to rocky summits that touch the fleecy sea clouds. Penha Verde is a sad dark park, if you will, but filled with romantic charm — with mossy statues aligning green-carpeted pathways and, at unexpected corners, capillas and quaint fountains adorned with rare Talavera tiles depicting homely scenes of rustic beauty.

But Cintra's chief enchantment is the wonderful drive up the mountain to the two highest points in the range, one crowned by the old Moorish castle walls, hung in mid-air as it were, the other by the Palace of the Pena. While the road is undoubtedly beautiful upon a sunny morning, with the pungent odor of the pines in your nostrils and glimpses at each turn over plain and valley as you mount ever higher and higher, I shall never forget it on a certain forenoon when the sky was gray and leaden. During the night the sea fog had driven in and blotted the hills from sight. We thought it would lift later, however, so called a coachman and started up. First, the vapory clouds were well above our heads but, as we mounted, the air freshened and the pines began to bend and their needles to hum in the gather- ing wind. Then all but the nearest objects vanished; then the vapors would lift again and dim silhouettes appear like prints on Japanese kakemonos: writhing tree-forms and great granite boulders. Each twist of the road brought us more completely into a realm of dreams, of goblin-shapes and grotesque outlines, until we turned at last through a gate, a green-coated official saluted us, and we strained up to a massive portal — a fantastic creation in the dim light like the entrance to an enchanted castle. Here I sketched for a while until patches of blue opened above my head and flecks of sunshine darted through the trees. The areas of clear sky grew larger, and then, as if by the wand of a magician, the sun dispersed the cohorts of the fogs and mists and the noonday burst serene. I climbed to the aerial terraces of the castle and there below lay the great province of Estremadura spread out like a map in every direction. What a sense of space, of vision without limit ! What exhil- aration to stand in this proud eagle's nest and survey the unbroken stretch of land and sea !

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