34 (high mountains in the north) and mature cheeses. The best of these are made from a blend of cow, goat and sheep milk near Covilhã in the Serra da Estrela, the mountain range where locals go skiing in winter. All of these places were on our itinerary and we looked forward to starting our road trip the next day. Monday morning, after collecting our rental Toyota Yaris, a short drive took us to the coastal resorts of Estoril and Cascais, and from there, to fairytale Sintra, long the summer retreat of Portuguese kings. Situated at the top of a granite mountain range, Sintra emerged from the mist all woody ravines, waterfalls and castles. Instantly we liked the vibe of the town. Negotiating the Yaris through steep, wet and narrow pedestrian-thronged streets in the ancient village was a baptism by rain. Thankfully, our large Land Cruiser 200, ‘the incredible hulk’, was back home in the garage. The spunky Yaris needed little encouragement to bolt from the tourist buses and we embarked on a dramatic 36km route over the top of the Serra. Visualise hairpin bends, dense forest with romantic palaces, exotic gardens and sweeping views of the Atlantic. On the CASTLES WITH A VIEW Our favourite border fortresses offer a view to a notso distant Spanish horizon: Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, 800 years old, is intimate and has an excellent traditional shop selling regional products: almonds covered in sesame, lavender, herbs or chocolate; gourmet olive oil; and fruity and nutty liqueurs. Almeida remains in our memory for its formidable defence walls and ancient military barracks, as much as for its vibrant Sunday luncheon, where inhabitants made merry around the communal chicken barbeque. Sortelha, a tiny citadel rising up from among granite boulders, is well off the beaten track. It’s an effort to reach this gem, a 20km detour of putting the Yaris through its gears non-stop, but well worth it, for the entire pedestrian village is a museum.
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