Sintra, Portugal Bouldering
Sintra mountain range in Portugal is an emerging and much-talked-about bouldering venue. The Climb Newcastle setting team of Chris Graham, Andy Earl and Suzan Dudink check it out.
Serra de Sintra is a mountain range-come-forest located 30km to the west of Lisbon in Portugal, a venue of choice for day-trippers in the country, and indeed for many royal families over the years leaving a number of fascinating palaces and gardens in the area. Being close to Lisbon it's pretty quick to get to Sintra, the accomodation is good and Portugal is a relatively cheap European country.
Along with lush vegetation (an indication as we found of tropical weather at times), the area is littered with boulders and in recent years has emerged as Portugal's top venue for bouldering. Although varying wildly in quality, the good problems really are good and with so much to do in the area, including beaches less than 15 minutes drive from the boulders, this could make a particularly good venue for a part-climbing holiday.
Images: Andy working his magic on Mola (7b) at Malveira (right) and enjoying some artwork in the town of Sintra (left).
The bouldering in Sintra is currently split into several seperate areas within the mountain range along with outlying bouldering at two coastal venues, one in the West and one in the town of Cascais. We'll give you some more info on the specific areas but first some basic info.
Chris on the classic Kalashnikov (7b/c) at Peninha.
Travel: Easyjet fly to Lisbon airport from Liverpool, London Luton and Edinburgh. The flight takes around 2 and half hours and lands you in Lisbon airport located on the outer ring road of the city. Be warned, apparently volcano ash can cause flight delays!
Car hire: You will need a car and many of the parking spots are located down "off-road" tracks so take the insurance waiver! Also if you happen to meet the locals and follow them to a sector, do remember that they don't have hire cars! All of the big hire car companies are at Lisbon airport. Sintra is 30km to the west of Lisbon and if you are lucky with traffic you could be climbing in little more than half an hour. You may also want to purchase a good map or bring a satnav as the directions in the topo are sometimes sketchy (or could that be our grasp of the portuguese language).
Image left: Suzan making the first female ascent of Coconut Groove Sit Start (7b).
Accomodation: We stayed in this villa in the village of Azoia, which was very convenient for the boulders. There seems to be plenty of choice in accomodation, both in the rural areas around the boulders and in the bigger towns of Sintra and Cascais, and all pretty good value.
Food: There is a small supermarket in Malveira to the West (even here you can
get almost everything and it stays open late), and larger shops in the busy towns
of Sintra and Cascais. The "Jumbo" hypermarket in Cascais got us very excited and here you can
stock up on pretty much everything.
If you like Climb Newcastle's cappucinos then you will find the portuguese version very unsatisfactory. On the other hand the wine is cheap as chips - you'd struggle to spend more than 4 euros on Portugal's speciality green wine.
Guides: You can get a topo from the Boulder Sintra website for 10 euros, and the locals post regular updates there on new problems. A lot of effort has evidently been put into the topos but be warned that many of the sectors can be difficult to find (which could also be down the nature of the mountain range) so bring a satnav, map or iphone! Due to the area being very much in development the topo is also outdated in places so check the website for the newest problems, and don't trust the grades as many of them seem to be in the process of settling.
When to Go: We went in April and found the weather to be very mixed with both rain and sunshine every day. There's a reason that the forest is lush green - when it rains it really really rains and if you're caught at the boulders you could be forgiven for thinking you're in South America. Thankfully though many of the areas are extremely quick drying. The locals tell us that even in the height of summer it is possible to find shady boulders, but that much like the UK the last winter was a total washout.
Don't forget to pack...
Here's some things you might not think to pack for a trip...
- A raincoat.
- Finger tape and plasters.
- Satnav, iphone or other gps device.
- 2 weeks clothing in case your 5 day trip gets extended by a bloody volcano.
- More plasters (this rock is sharp!).
Culture and Other Activities:
When they are good they are very good, but Sintra doesn't have quality problems to the extent of many other European bouldering venues. Perhaps where it does win as a venue is for those looking for a part-climbing holiday with a few days on the blocs, a bit of culture and a bit of beach! The town of Sintra itself is steeped in history; check out the commanding Moorish castle, Pena Palace and the National Palace. Cascais is a nice coastal town with sandy bays close to bars and quirky shops. The beach of choice is Guincho, which featured in the James Bond film on her majesty's service and is popular for surfing. Apparently the area has many good golf courses and Lisbon, just 30km away, offers a variety of attractions and shopping as you'd expect from a capital city.
Image left: The sun often shines at the extensive Guincho beach, whilst the cloud hangs above the bouders just a few km away.
Malveira We found the climbing in Malveira (above the town of the same name) to be some of the best quality, and it is also very quick drying. Like many of the other areas it is split into several sectors often with different parking and approaches. Check out some of the videos at the bottom of this page for some of the top picks in this area.
Video right and image below: Chris and Andy make quick work of Obelix (7c) at Malveira.
Peninha feels to us to be to Sintra's Bas Cuvier. There are some classic problems here mainly left behind by a visiting Ben Moon. It is one of the slowest drying areas but very shady so a good summer option. Sadly it seems to suffer as a human toilet slightly spoiling the surroundings.
Capuchos is located high up in the middle of the mountain range and has some of the sharpest rock around. Much of the area is open and quick drying. It is also home to some of the best mid-grade climbs (6s) in the area around Megagrip.
Albarrasinta has slightly smoother rock than Capuchos, particularly on the classic Mito bloc. The main area of Mecca is also good but slow-drying.
San Pedro is the closest climbing to the town of Sintra and despite not being extensive offers a handful of very good problems. It is also pretty close to...
Topada is a new area that the locals showed us around. It is the smoothest of the rock in the mountain range with a strange mix of granite and sandstone. The area is in dense vegetation so takes a long time to dry out, it isn't in the topo yet but you may be able to work out some of the problems from the Boulder Sintra website.
Baia do Mexilhoeiro, located close to the coastal town of Cascais, is Sintra's answer to St Bees with problems on boulders located on plateaus of rock at the base of the cliffs. Be warned though, the atlantic sea is not known for being calm and you will want a calm low tide to enjoy this area the best.
Cavalo: is also coastal and is a steep roof offering some of the hardest problems in the area.