Aguamel

Sintra, Lisbon Coast, Portugal Book from

Reviewed by Abi Dare
A perfectly formed bijou B&B with great rates, set in an enchanting Unesco-listed town between Lisbon and the coast
Perched on forested slopes, Sintra’s fairy-tale chimneys, turreted palaces and folly-filled gardens have a magical feel. Perhaps it’s the town’s origins as a Celtic centre of worship, or its cool hilltop air, which often wraps the trees in mist and which has long attracted writers, artists and aristocrats in search of a summer retreat; it might even be the ley lines on which it’s said to sit. Whatever the reason, it’s a fascinating place to explore - particularly once the day-trippers have departed.

This lovely little B&B is ideal for visitors who want to stay overnight and experience the town at its best. Hidden off a cobbled square in the historical centre, it occupies a 19th-century house that was rescued from abandon and transformed into a sanctuary as soothing and sweet as the Portuguese honey-water after which it’s named. Within its high white walls are 5 light-filled rooms dressed in softly shimmering wallpapers, and delicately fragranced candles flicker throughout. There’s also a breakfast room-cum-lounge with cushioned nooks, plus a geranium-scented patio where you can linger over the homemade cake laid on every afternoon. All in all, it’s stylish, homely and, like Sintra itself, utterly bewitching.

Highs

  • Sintra is one of Portugal’s gems - a beguiling little place that Byron once compared to paradise. It’s within easy reach of some glorious beaches, too
  • A beautiful renovation of a graceful old house, which shows in every detail
  • We loved the 2 Superior Rooms, which open onto a shared balcony gazing out over the plains far below. You might even spot the sea sparkling on the horizon
  • Delicious breakfasts are included in the very affordable rates
  • Spoiling touches: free tea, coffee and cake, an honesty fridge with soft drinks (you can store your own tipples, too), and a bottle of port if you book through i-escape

Lows

  • The B&B has changed hands and we have yet to meet the new owners, but we're told little has changed
  • No children under 10 are accepted - this is a tranquil, grown-up kind of place
  • No on-site parking, and finding a space nearby can be tricky. Consider arranging a transfer or arriving by train
  • Bathrooms are open-plan, so you’ll need to be on good terms with your travelling companion
  • The bar across the square can be a little noisy, but it tends to die down by bedtime

Best time to go

Aguamel is open all year, bar a couple of days over Christmas. We recommend coming in spring or autumn, when Sintra is relatively uncrowded. The town is often swamped by tourists in summer, though most are day-trippers who leave by late afternoon. Bear in mind that it’s always a few degrees cooler here than in Lisbon or on the coast, so pack accordingly.

Sintra plays host to a couple of festivals, including its annual fiesta on 28 and 29 June, and the Sintra Music Festival in July and August, when classical performances are held in the Palácio Nacional and other historic settings.

Our top tips

  • If you have a sweet tooth, make a beeline for Periquita, a bakery on Rua das Padarias that has been churning out delicious queijadas (similar to cheesecakes) since 1850
  • Try to plan your time so that you can explore Sintra’s main sights later in the day, after the crowds have left. Many are open into the evening during summer, when they take on a tranquil, more mystical ambiance

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique B&B
  • 5
  • Breakfast only (restaurants nearby)
  • Children aged 10+ welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room: Standard Room - Jasmine

Rooms

Continuing the honey-related theme, the 5 rooms are named after different pollen-producing flowers, with patterns and colour schemes to match. They’re all calming and uncluttered, with brushed-wood floors, silky fabrics that reflect the light pouring in through shuttered windows, and a smattering of well-chosen furniture (some new, some vintage). Bathrooms are open-plan, with in-room sinks, plus toilets and powerful showers hidden behind sheets of frosted glass. You also get flat-screen TVs, hairdryers and big bottles of shampoo and shower gel.

We stayed in Jasmine, one of the 3 double-bedded Standard Rooms, which are nestled under the eaves at the top of the house and feature unusual textured wallpaper in delicate shades of grey, cream and aquamarine. Ours was the most spacious of the trio, with a bank of sleek white wardrobes and a Scandi-style chair in one corner; Wildflower and Rosemary are a little smaller, with beds pushed up against one wall, but they’re fine for a night or two. The air-con wasn’t quite powerful enough to deal with the heatwave that swept Portugal during our stay, but comfy mattresses and wonderfully soft linens meant we slept well nevertheless.

If you can, we’d recommend paying a bit more for one of the 2 Superior Rooms on the floor beneath. These are larger, with kingsize beds and French doors opening onto a shared balcony dotted with tables, chairs and flower-filled pots - the perfect spot to sit back, drink up your free port and drink in the view. Heather is decked out in masculine greys and tartans, with a working fireplace for chilly evenings, while Orange Blossom - our favourite - comes in elegant blue and orange with mid-century modern pieces. Both rooms can be set up as twins if required.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Central heating
  • Hairdryer
  • Satellite tv
  • Shared balcony in Superior Rooms
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi

Eating

Wander downstairs each morning and you’ll find an extensive buffet spread laid out in the breakfast room, which is decorated in soft-but-striking greys and yellows, with jazzy gold pendant lights hanging low over marble-topped tables. There are cereals and pastries, cold cuts and cheeses, jams and membrillo, fruits and yoghurts (including soya-based options), a daily changing juice (pineapple and strawberry when we stayed), and freshly brewed tea and coffee. The highlight for us was the range of local herb-infused honeys - delicious when drizzled over a chunk of still-warm bread. Sink into an easy chair as scented candles glow around you, or take your plate out to the patio and eat under the sun; either way, it’s a lovely start to the day.

No other meals are served at Aguamel, but free homemade cake is provided every afternoon (the signature honey cake is particularly tempting), and complimentary tea and coffee is always available. You can also help yourself to soft drinks from the fridge (there's an honesty system in place), and you're welcome to store your own wine and snacks here, too.

When it comes to eating out, Sintra is packed with choices. We headed a couple of doors along to Restaurante Dona Maria, where tables spill out from frescoed dining rooms onto a pretty terrace strung with fairylights. Here, we tucked into bacalhau, crisp vinho verde and a local version of fondue made from herb-laden cheese, and watched the sun dip behind the rooftops into the distant sea - an unforgettable evening.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Complimentary tea, coffee and cake
  • Restaurants nearby
Eating: Breakfast room / lounge
Activity:

Activities

  • Wander Sintra’s steep, cobbled streets, lined with pastel-coloured houses dripping with jacaranda flowers, and browse the shops selling reclaimed azulejos and lace-fringed linens
  • There are a couple of interesting little museums to look out for on your way around: the Museu de Arte Moderna, and the Museu de História Natural (fossilised dinosaur eggs and flying reptiles)
  • Visit the 14th-century Palácio Nacional, whose conical chimneys dominate the town’s skyline; highlights include the ornately tiled Arab Room and the Magpie Room, painted with hundreds of rose-bearing birds
  • Spend a few hours getting lost in Quinta da Regaleira, a rambling garden hiding grottos, moss-covered towers, waterfalls and secret underground passageways that look like they’ve come straight out of a Harry Potter novel
  • Hop on a bus (or, if you’re feeling romantic, a horse-drawn carriage) and wind your way up to Castelo dos Mouros behind town, whose jagged ramparts offer views that stretch for miles
  • Head to the pink and yellow Palácio da Pena on the next hill. Its gargoyle-covered 19th-century façade is quite a sight
  • Visit the eerie Convento dos Capuchos, an abandoned monastery just outside town with cork-lined cells and derelict chapels scattered across silent woodland
  • Take a trip to the nearby coast, strung with surf-pounded beaches (including Praia da Ursa, famed for its wind-sculpted rock formations) and pretty seaside towns such as Azenhas do Mar, which clings to a cliff above the waves
  • Cooking classes, wine tasting, horse riding and mountain biking are all available nearby, too

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Cooking classes
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Mountain biking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Shopping / markets
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Wine tasting

Kids

The peaceful, romantic atmosphere at Aguamel is best suited to couples, and no children under 10 are allowed. Older kids are welcome, but there are no extra beds so they’ll need their own room.

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
10/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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