Lawrence’s has a history like no other place in Portugal. Arguably the second-oldest hotel establishment in Europe, and without doubt the most ancient in all the Iberian Peninsula, it is intimate enough for guests to quickly absorb its exquisite 18th-century character.
First opened in 1764, the hotel’s understated luxury perfectly complements the lush, green naturalness of its Sintra surroundings. It doesn’t pretend to have the landmark grandeur of some of the region’s more illustrious five-star addresses, but its central location is as good as it gets just a few short strides from Sintra’s main square where the magnificent National Palace lies.
Lawrence’s has just sixteen bedrooms, five of them suites, operating under a five-star classification. The name derives from the Lawrence family who first opened it well over 250 years ago and still reside in the Sintra area. Lovingly restored by a Dutch husband and wife team in the 1990s, its current owner, Imostrong SA, is striving to retain the hotel’s timeless British-style elegance by only changing things when absolutely necessary.
Afternoon tea continues to be served on the terrace, or beside a blazing fireplace in winter, and the hotel’s restaurant still ranks very high on Sintra’s list of top eateries. There’s even talk of a Michelin star somewhere down the line.
“Unique for its long history, Lawrence’s is more of a large house than a hotel, where people can feel totally at home,” remarked the hotel’s front office manager, David Silva.
Most of the bedrooms face the peaceful forest at the back where the soothing sound of a mountain stream blends harmoniously with the soft rustling noise of the trees and the occasional flourish of birdsong.
Lord Byron was obviously entranced by all of this. He wrote several passages of his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage from this very spot, describing the vista from his room in splendid detail;
‘Oh, Christ! it is a goodly sight to see
What Heaven hath done for this delicious land!
What fruits of fragrance blush on every tree!
What goodly prospects o’er the hills expand!
Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes
In variegated maze of mount and glen.
Ah me! what hand can pencil guide, or pen,
To follow half on which the eye dilates
Through views more dazzling unto mortal ken.
The horrid crags, by toppling convent crowned,
The cork-trees hoar that clothe the shaggy steep,
The mountain moss by scorching skies imbrowned,
The sunken glen, whose sunless shrubs must weep,
The tender azure of the unruffled deep,
The orange tints that gild the greenest bough,
The torrents that from cliff to valley leap,
The vine on high, the willow branch below,
Mixed in one mighty scene, with varied beauty glow.’
Equally spellbound, today’s guests at Lawrence’s can only marvel at the views set out before them, stretching right up to the staggering heights of Sintra’s Moorish castle. The hills stand out from the relatively flat surrounding landscape, their highest point being Cruz Alta at 528 m, and the scenic wonders come into focus long before one’s arrival at the village. The area was certainly striking enough for the Greco-Roman writer Ptolemy to label it Serra da Lua, or Moon Mountain.
Happily, Byron would still recognise the hotel were he to return today, although the suite that bears his name would probably be occupied. It normally is.