Sintra is a
charming, touristic, hilly town with Atlantic views from its hill
tops. Just 30 minutes from Lisbon, Sintra was a summer retreat for the wealthy
If you plan to drive here, arrive early to grab a parking space for the day
or better still take the train from Lisbon.
Arriving in Sintra, enjoy a coffee and custard pastry overlooking the scenic Praca de Republica square by the National Palace. Then catch Bus 434 up the hill (or hike- and I do mean hike) up to the stunning Pena Palace. The views are only eclipsed by the crowning glory - a romantic yellow and red castle – the stuff of storybooks. Pena Palace is extravagant both on the bright elaborate caketop towers, to the lavish interior chambers. Flamboyant King Ferdinand designed this fantasy castle in the 1830’s. I lost count of Queen Maria’s dressing rooms. The Pena Palace and grounds became a Unesco world heritage site in 1995.
Then hike over to the Castle of the Moors, a stone edifice of a former castle. The view to the Atlantic and the architecture from 1143 are amazing at this important fortress defending Europe’s west coast from Portugal’s Muslim occupation, to the Republic of Portugal's possession in 1910.
Descend to the pretty village of Sintra, find a quiet café like Romaria de Baco on Rua Gil Vicente, or a wine bar by São Martinho Church before your next palace and garden tours. Quinta da Regaleira is a 15-minute walk along a narrow sidewalk with pedicabs and buses whizzing by. Or drive if continuing on to Monserrate (be warned parking is scarce everywhere in Sintra). Quinta de Regaleira has spectacular grounds, including an Initiatic Staircase, a circular tower dropping 10 stories into the earth, a veritable heaven and hell transition. The Lake of Waterfalls, Tower and Grottos among the expansive gardens are not to be missed. The Baroness’ groundskeeper in 1890 sure had his work. The Palace is incredible, a neo-manueline (Portugal’s ornate 15th century style) 3-story castle of beautiful stone carvings, woodwork and lavish decor. Nice summer home for the well-to-do Carvalho Montiero family in 1895.
Leaving Sintra, Monserrate Park is a 10 minute drive along hair-raising one lane roads. This terra cotta rooftop palace was my favorite. The 1856 neo-gothic Monserrate Palace features a Carrera marble fountain in the octagonal center. Imagine summer guest Lord Byron in the Billiard room, or enjoying a concert in the ornate music dome. The 33-hectare estate surrounding the Palace is vast and magical, botanical gardens, man-made waterfalls and ornamental lakes created by Sir Francis Cook.
The National Palace and Gardens of Queluz is another secret gem in Sintra. Don’t be fooled by the inauspicious entry way. Its the Versaille of Portugal, a most premier palace in otherwise uninteresting Quelez. Tour dozens of palatial state rooms laden with chandeliers, mirrors and fresco ceilings in the palace that leads out to a most splendid garden, a spectacular Neptune fountain and a fabulous photo opp of the sprawling palace in blue and pink. Only from the gardens can you truly behold the palace’s granduer, from the Grand Hall to the Don Quixote bedroom.
Also near Sintra, 15 minutes’ drive, is Convent of the Capuchos, and Park "Peninha” Cabo de Roca - Europe’s western most point and the last place to see the sunset, but also busy – like Ireland’s Cliffs of Moor. Sitnra is an easy drive back to Lisbon, or you can carry on north to Porto and the Douro River valley for port wine tours and tastigns.
More Portugal Travel Tips and Itineraries on:
Lisbon Travel Tips
Drinking Port wine in Porto
Touring up the Douro River Valley
The Schist Villages - Interior Portugal
Evora and Portugal's Stonehedge
National Palace - Quelez
National Palace - Quelez
Quinta de Regaliera
All Stories by Heather Burke