Convento dos Capuchos

Monastery in Sintra

Image by Samuel Magal Getty Images

Hidden in the woods is this bewitchingly hobbit-hole-like convent, which was originally built in 1560 to house friars who lived in incredibly cramped conditions, in tiny cells with low, narrow doors. Byron mocked the monastery in his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, referring to recluse Honorius who spent a staggering 36 years here (before dying at age 95 in 1596).

It’s often nicknamed the Cork Convent, as its minuscule cells are lined with cork. Visiting here is an Alice in Wonderland experience, as you squeeze through to explore the warren of cells, chapels, kitchen and cavern. The monks lived a simple, touchingly well-ordered life in this idyllic yet spartan place, hiding up until 1834 when it was abandoned after all religious orders were abolished. Worthwhile audio guides are available for €3.

You can walk here – the monastery is 7.3km from Sintra-Vila (5.1km from the turn-off to Parque da Pena) along a remote, wooded road. There is no bus connection to the convent (taxis charge around €35 return; arrange ahead for a pick-up).