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Not Just Lisbon: Rolling Out Of Portugal's Capital

I’ve already written about my first trip to Europe, the city of Lisbon, and all the fantastic things a traveller with a disability can do there, but Portugal is such a compact and welcoming place, there’s plenty more to do outside the city. 


Sintra

Let’s start just outside the city with the historic, and a bit bizarre, sites of Sintra.

Pena Palace, a landmark in Sintra
Pena Palace in Sintra

Nestled in the mountains, this small village used to be where the Portuguese nobility would spend their downtime. Now it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with palaces, historic sites and beautiful views of the countryside.

My stepdad pushing me in my wheelchair as the train goes by in Sintra

We took the train here from Lisbon and it was fantastic. It takes about 40 minutes, costs a little less than €5 and departs from either Lisbon’s Rossio or Estação de Oriente. We ate some delicious savoury pastries at a little cafe next to the Sintra train station (eat these every chance you get!) and then it was on to a little bus that goes around to all the sites.


You can’t leave Sintra without going to the Pena Palace. It’s like something out of a crazy dream. 


It’s a former monastery taken over and rebuilt by King Ferdinand II as a summer residence in the 1800s. It’s just amazing, like something out of a fairy tale, and you need to see it.


I couldn’t really go into the palace because of all the stairs, but the grounds around the castle and the stunning views were worth the trip. There’s also 200 acres of gardens at the site, which are fantastic to explore.


They’ve also taken some real steps to make the site, which can be quite steep, as accessible as possible. I was able to use these accessible scooters which attached to my wheelchair, helping to tackle all the hills. 


Me in my wheelchair in front of Pena Palace. My wheelchair is attached to a scooter. My mom is sitting next to me.
Me and the super scooter 500 in front of Pena Palace. It was a crazy climb!

Another real treat in Sinta is the Moorish Castle. It’s old. Really old. Like, 10th century old.

Usually a site that old means it's going to be a challenge for a person with a disability, but they’ve really  gone out of their way to make this a great experience, no matter your ability.


Where ramps aren’t practical, they’ve actually built in elevators for wheelchair users, helping you get to all those hard-to-reach places along the castle’s ramparts. The castle sends a staff member along with you to help you navigate, and also teaches you about the history of the site as you go.


I can’t stress enough how amazing it was to see the effort to accommodate people with different abilities here. It was definitely the most thoughtful and accommodating tourist attraction I visited in Portugal, if not the world!



We didn’t have time for it all, but there’s a lot more to see in Sintra. There are several more palaces, gardens with secret passages and Knights Templar wishing wells, all just a train ride away from downtown Lisbon.


The Algarve 

After the city, we headed for the southern part of Portugal, the Algarve, known for its beautiful beaches. 


The trip was easy. We boarded a wheelchair-accessible train out of Lisbon, switched to a smaller and still accessible train at the town of Tunes, and got off at Lagos, where we were staying. The entire trip took about four hours. 


If you want sun and sand and beaches Lagos is the place for you. It’s basically built around its marina, and its beaches.

Chilling on the beach. I'm in my wheelchair in the sand.

There’s a 4.5km beach near the town centre, called Meia Praia. The western end is called Praia de São Roque.


There’s an accessible boardwalk out to the beach, but when I was there, there were no beach mats, so we had to contend with sand and all the trouble that causes for wheelchairs. I was up and walking until we found a place to get settled.


If you are an everyday wheelchair user I wouldn’t recommend this place.  There was sadly no way that you can get on the beach because there are no sand chairs and no accessible ramp long enough that can get you to the water. I hope that has changed since I have been there because there were other areas they were trying to make more accessible.


But the water is really cold anyway. Really cold. This is the north Atlantic, not the Mediterranean, and you can feel the difference.  


On a boat with sunglasses on looking over the water.

They have great dolphin boat tours in Lagos. We had a great day out on the water.


It could be more accessible, but it is a special place for me because my mom and stepdad suprised me! We met up for dinner with my very good friend Tori who was also visiting Portugal with her family.


Me and my friend Tori sit across the table from each other in a resturant.
Tori and I join hands across the table.

Evora


Next on our trip was Evora, a small hilltown on the way back towards Lisbon. This was a historic Roman settlement and you can still see plenty of ruins around the quaint streets.


Me in my wheelchair in front of some Roman ruins in Evora. The ground is cracked and broken all around me.

There’s no train to Evora, so we were riding the bus, which required me to take a few stairs. Definitely check things out beforehand if you need a chair lift. 


Evora is also home to a famous historical bone chapel tucked into an old church. This is another place that was difficult to get around as it has a lot of steps.


We had fun in Evora, but it was a difficult place for me to navigate with my wheels. There’s lots of steps and cobblestones and a ton of places where smooth sidewalks didn’t exist. I’d probably give it a pass for anybody with mobility issues.


Getting out of Lisbon has its challenges. It’s definitely less wheelchair friendly in the smaller towns, but then there’s hidden accessibility gems like the Moorish castle that really make you happy you made the effort. It all depends on your mobility, but with a lot of research and planning there’s plenty of memorable experiences for travellers with mobiliy challenges to find here.






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