Return to Sintra
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th January, 2016
Today I went to Sintra for the first time for 40 years, taking the train from the Rossio station in Lisbon, itself totally transformed from how it looked in the 1970s. The journey itself was different, too, as modern apartment blocks have taken over much of the previous scrubland and only a few of the picturesque single-storey dwellings that I remembered remain. I first went to Sintra when I was researching my biography of Christopher Isherwood, who lived there for a period with his German boyfriend Heinz, before the Second World War. It was not hard to picture it in the 1930s, as most of the grand late-19th and early 20th century villas still stood, as they do today, even if nowadays some have been transformed into guesthouses. I’m glad I went back there in winter now, when the town was largely free of tourists, who I imagine flood the place in summer, which certainly was not the case four decades ago. And this time, because I was not in search of echoes of Isherwood’s past but just enjoying the place for itself, I did go into the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, which I had almost to myself — an extraordinarily atmospheric royal residence, with spiral staircases and sudden views of the valley below and an all-pervading atmosphere of loss, as if the building itself was crying out for the excited voices of young princes, long gone into exile.