The climb from the town of Sintra to Pena Palace is a vertical labyrinth of green. Camelia trees, ferns, and dwarf palms wall the narrow switchbacks along the mountain side. As I gain altitude, the ferns and palms fall back, and ivy slithers over the trail. I pass through doorways hewn in stone walls built against forgotten enemies. Wild blackberry vines choke the canopy, berries hanging like drops of liquid ebony just out of reach.
Above me, Castelo dos Mouros, the Moorish ruins, uncurl like a strand of vertebrae down the spine of the mountain. Though many flags fly from the battlements, the ruins are ruled only by a host of summer winds. Visitors scurry along the castle walls, small and meaningless as beetles to the patient citadel that waits, still, for its guardians to come home.
On a peak opposite the ruins, Palácio da Pena makes its gaudy throne. The palace park is a forest of slender pines, twined in ribbons of ivy. Families of boulders sit back to back, resting on the slopes. Perhaps these vine-shrouded clusters are castle ruins from the Age of the Giants, an era so unmoored in the tide of time that it has sailed out of the straight channels of History and into the hungry seas of Myth.
A defiant white stone cross claims the mountain’s highest peak. Up here, the metallic September sun presses heavily, and only a shred of wind slips by. Below, the overfed palace swells from the forest, but where I sit beside the cross, a burned silence reigns, the silence of the full-blown blue sky.
I follow terraced paths down the mountainside, stopping where wild blackberry brambles have fought off the gardeners’ crusades. The berries are hot and glazed with the golden light that spills over the path. I scavenge the ripest, and find them already jammy in their skins, sweet with sun-sugar. Wild blackberries taste like the scabs and pie of my Oakland summers.