In the forested mountains surrounding Sintra a simple and isolated convent originally built to be close to nature grows continually closer. Now overgrown with vibrantly lush vegetation, this abandoned 16th-century monastery is serene and isolated, both enchantingly haunting and reminiscent of fantasy stories.
Inspiring to the imagination, this magical ruin is today just as much an escape from the busy and opulent resort town of Sintra as it was when it was built in 1560. The monastery was founded by a group of reclusive Franciscan friars who lived an extremely simple and rudimentary lifestyle in this remote corner of the Sintra hills.
The monks took their vow of austerity to the extreme here, living in rock-hewn structures designed to blend completely with the idyllic natural landscape. They slept on stone beds in tiny cell-like quarters cut out of giant granite boulders. As a sole comfort, the monks lined the walls and roofs with cork—found in abundance in the surrounding woods—for protection against the cold and wet. This is why the complex, while officially named the Convent of the Friars Minor Capuchin, is commonly known as the Convent of the Capuchos, or “Cork Convent.”
The humble monastery remained active until the 1830s when the religious orders were abolished in Portugal and the complex was abandoned. Today it blends more than ever with nature, but has been restored and is open daily to explorers who make their way into the wilderness of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
Know Before You Go
Getting there can be a little challenging, which does help filter out the crowds. The monastery is just over 7 km from Sintra-Vila, and about 5 km from the Parque da Pena split. The road is both remote and winding, if you don't mind the walk. Follow the step-by-step directions on the website, signage, or GPS coordinates. Busses to the convent are very rare, if ever. Taxis also work, but can charge up to 30 or 40 euro for one way. Adult tickets are 7 euro. Audio guides are available for another 3 euro and well worth it.