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Quinta do Pisão

Quinta do Pisão: A paradise with many lives

Take the kids to the countryside without leaving the city. In the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park there is a place where you can follow trails through nature, ride bikes, horses or donkeys, pick vegetables or follow a ball of fur that likes to play tricks.

Written by
Andreia Costa

There are no horns honking, aircraft passing overhead or noises from the railway line. People are only encountered here infrequently, and any sign of their presence is drowned out by the birdsong and the sound of the wind in the trees. This is Quinta do Pisão, in the heart of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. Covering an area of 380 hectares and free to enter, here you ride horses and donkeys, pick vegetables from the organic garden and even follow the Cuquedo trail (inspired by the protagonist of the Portuguese children's bestseller that is part of the National Reading Plan). However, this space has had many lives. From a necropolis to a textile factory, with stint as a homeless shelter on the way, the stories are waiting to be discovered bit by bit. Are you coming?

A prehistoric life

The visit begins and ends in the former lime warehouse (although it’s possible to head to the trail area without entering the site). The Casa de Cal is home to the visitor centre where you can ask for information and maps, rent bikes, buy farm products and visit the permanent exhibition on natural and historical-cultural values.

Whether on foot, by bike or however one pleases (the only things banned here are cars), the journey begins in a time capsule. The Porto Covo cave, which is right at the start of the route, dates back to prehistoric times. The remains of adults and children were discovered at this site, indicating that it was once a necropolis. Along with the artifacts, the discoveries allowed us to identify how this space was used during the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age periods, going back in time 4,500 to 5,000 years.

Up ahead there is an old kiln that was used to produce lime. The caretaker lived above it as he had to constantly monitor the kiln to ensure the fire didn’t burn too hot or too fast.

Horse and donkey rides

In the riding arena there are horses and Mirandese donkeys, which are on the verge of extinction. This is one of the most popular stops in Quinta do Pisão. Here there are rides that take children aged from six to 10 on a 90-minute exploration of the park. The ride costs €25 or €30, depending on the animal. Younger children (from three years of age) can also take part in the workshops, which involve brushing, feeding, harnessing and going for a ride in the riding arena. This activity costs €10 for a ride on a donkey and €15 for a ride on a horse. However, demand is great, so we recommend you book a place at least three days in advance by sending an e-mail to

The most interesting thing is discovering the lives this space had before it was inhabited by these two adorable species of animal. Quinta dos Perrinhos became Pisão in 1774 when it was purchased by the Royal Woollens Factory of Cascaes, as the town of Cascais was known at the time, to trample (pisoar) fabrics (hence the current name). Just like they did with grapes in the wine making process, the fabrics were trampled by “Saloias” (people from the countryside around Lisbon). The workers’ houses stood where the riding arena now is, and the neighbouring chapel from that era still survives.


Homeless shelter

When the factory closed in 1816 the land passed into the hands of the Cascais Santa Casa da Misericórdia. It is not known what exactly happened over the ensuing decades up until the 1930s, when the estate became a home for beggars. “Begging was illegal in Lisbon, so they were sent here where they were put to work in the fields,” says Bárbara Madeira.

During the late 1940s an asylum was built to house people suffering with mental illnesses. Beggars, prisoners from the penal colony, the mentally ill and tuberculosis patients lived together on the site. The local police was responsible for maintaining order. The record of a year’s production for all these workers (who really didn’t have a choice) was something in the order of: 397 kg of barley, 651 kg of broad beans, 12.5 kg of honey, 615 kg of corn and 1,809 kg of wheat. What was deemed legal was eventually transformed into a social support centre. The rest was closed down.

Pick vegetables to take home

The Santa Casa de Cascais ceded the land to the city council, which redeveloped the area that now extends over 380 hectares. The most common route is to the organic garden, which takes between 30 and 40 minutes on foot. Then you quite literally have to put your hands in the soil. Lettuce, herbs and whatever else is ready to pick can be taken home. There is always someone from Quinta do Pisão around to help and answer any questions you may have. You can pay for your purchases at the Casa de Cal, where you can also buy eggs. This is because there are other residents besides the donkeys and horses. There are ten chickens that, together with the sheep, have a mobile house that travels around. “The animals eat scraps from the ground and fertilise the soil,” explains Bárbara Madeira. There is one hen that is more timid than the others. “She jumps on the back of a sheep, jumps the fence and goes to lay her eggs wherever she wants, without anyone knowing or seeing where.”

Quinta do Pisão also produces honey. It has seven hives that are run by four beekeepers. So don’t forget to add a jar of sweetness to your shopping.


Free-range animals

There is complete peace farther up in the steepest part of the park. There are fewer people, but the trails are still accessible on foot, by bike and on horseback - and those with their own horses can also move around freely. 

Pisão is developing a new project to bring large herbivores into the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park as a means of mitigating wildfires. “They will eat the undergrowth and make way for smaller grasses to grow, while the droppings will also fertilise the soil.” Until then, you might come across the shy Sorraia and Garrano horses. Donkeys, on the other hand, like to approach visitors, although there are notices along the trails asking people to stay 12 metres away from the animals. And of course be sure not to feed them. Other animals that you may come across include foxes, rabbits, herons and round-winged eagles.

There are 14 short trails scattered across the park and which take 30 or 40 minutes to complete. These are designed to provide a quick escape in the middle of nature after a hard day at school.

Cuquedo hunt

It’s not difficult to entertain children here. As well as the horses and donkeys, there is a Cuquedo trail (which is inspired by O Cuquedo, a Portuguese children’s book by Clara Cunha and Paulo Galindro) that takes about 20 minutes. It’s recommended for children aged three and over, as they should be a bit more independent. You can buy a map, but there are signs along the way to help you look for the furry little black ball with skinny legs and arms and bulging white eyes under striped eyebrows. The protagonist is harmless, but has one small flaw: he likes scaring people!


Holiday camp events

Every year about 1,000 children spend time at the Quinta do Pisão holiday camps. “The funniest thing is that we see it’s the children who have been here at the camps who then bring their parents,” says Bárbara Madeira. “Afternoons at the Quinta” take place at weekends during the summer, with lots of music and activities, but the year’s big event takes place during May. The Festa dos Maios runs over two weekends, offering free activities such as sheep shearing and much more.

And if all this isn’t enough, just across the road is Pedra Amarela, which is run by the same people who run Quinta do Pisão, and where you can go on a slide, climb trees and follow a signposted circuit. The landscape is always breathtaking.

All different, all equal

Quinta do Pisão has one more lesson: inclusion. Along all the trails there are observation tables (with rocks, plants, etc.), all with information in Braille for the blind. There are also wooden strips near the edge of each trail so that they can continue on foot.

And wheelchair users are not left out either. At Casa de Cal there is transport for those with mobility problems. “Sometimes people look at them with a bit of trepidation, but they soon relax once they realise how they work. It's a way to let families enjoy a walk together and to make sure no one feels as if they are a burden,” says our guide Bárbara Madeira.

Quinta do Pisão. Open every day. Apr-Sep 9am to 9pm; Oct-Mar 9an to 6pm

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