Less than an hour’s drive north of the coastal town of Estoril, and west of Lisbon, the town of Sintra sits prettily in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains. The town is most famous for being the home of a number of royal palaces, but its crowning glory is the Palácio da Pena; the rainbow-coloured, Moorish inspired castle sitting high in the hills above the town. The appeal of the unique palace is what keeps the crowds flocking each year, but once you’ve explored the winding walkways and long-standing rooms within the palace walls, there’s much more this small town has to offer…
Palácio da Pena
Originally a monastery, Pena was bought by Portugal’s royal family in the 19th century, who then adapted it to its current romantic style, drawing on medieval and Islamic influences to create an eclectic monument featuring bright yellows, gleaming red turrets and deep blue patterned tiles (it is still Portugal, after all). It’s rumoured that the construction of the palace began after an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared in the hills.
Wandering, open-mouthed, around the impressive construction, it soon becomes apparent that each room is grander, more splendid and more dramatic than the previous. Reaching the palace’s upper courtyard is rewarded with views that will stop you in your steps. Tiny villages, verdant fields and the glittering coast far in the distance. Even today, you’ll feel the sense of ruling over the kingdom much, much further below.
After spending the morning touring the palace and ambling around Sintra’s cobbled streets, you’ll be looking for somewhere to stop and refresh with the same level of charm and tradition as the rest of the town – and there’s no better place for traditional Portuguese fare than Café Paris. Located in the historic centre of town, opposite the National Palace, Café Paris has become the most emblematic eatery in Sintra. Be sure to choose a table looking out onto the square for people watching, but before taking your seat head up to the rooftop terrace to enjoy a glass or something cold whilst enjoying the view. Back at the table, try the regional speciality dessert; caramelised pumpkin.
Quinta da Regaleira
A great way to walk off a Portuguese lunch is by wandering around one of Sintra’s many enchanting gardens. Quinta da Realerisa is actually the name of a grand ornate house standing five floors high near the historic centre, but the real attraction is located behind the house in the sprawling gardens.
The mystical gardens span over four hectares and were inspired by the original wonder’s mystic ideologies and are said to represent secret orders such as the Knights Templar and dark alchemy. However, the house and gardens are now owned by the local government and are open to the public to enjoy. Spend a couple of hours in the shade of the tall trees exploring the magical walkways, hidden tunnels and deep wells.
Have you visited this pretty part of Portugal?