Sintra

The westernmost point of Europe, Sintra is an understandably popular day trip from Lisbon, only 40 minutes away by train. The climate is cooler than Lisbon, which attracted Portuguese royalty to build their summer palaces here. Now it’s heaving with tourists in the summer, but the sights are definitely worth seeing, though preferably at the start or end of the day if possible.

I was the first into the Palacio Nacional de Sintra when it opened at 9.30am, the best way to explore the summer palace of Portuguese royalty. It was mainly built in the 14th century and expanded in the 15th. The distinctive pair of 33m cones are chimneys for the kitchen.

Inside is filled with things of interest, through a warren of interconnecting rooms.

Throughout are a variety of wall tiles, and some fantastic stone door frames.

The highlights though are the wonderful ceilings, particularly in the self-descriptive Swan Room and Magpie Room, and the stunning Blazons Hall.

I then headed up the hillside, though Sintra is even hillier than Lisbon! On the way I passed Villa Sasseti, an Italian inspired building from 1890.

There are a large number of rock climbing routes on the mountainside below Castelo dos Mouros, explained in this handy map.

In a failed attempt to beat the crowds I passed by Castelo dos Mouros and continued straight onto Palacio Nacional de la Pena. This is a surreal and colourful example of romanticism architecture from the mid 19th century.

I’d heard that the interior was as interesting as the exterior, but hadn’t counted on the hour long queue before 11am to get in, nor that photos are not allowed inside. It wasn’t possible to gauge the queue length once you’d joined, as it snaked up to the palace entrance. Once inside the situation didn’t improve as it was basically a extension of the queue, moving at about the same speed.

If I’d known I would have saved time, money and energy and just explored the park and exterior of the palace, which includes the chapel where oddly photos are allowed. By the time I came out the queue outside was even larger, and this was on a weekday!

Thankfully things improved as I explored the vast, and relatively deserted surrounding Pena Park. There were some attractive greenhouses, large stables, lots of ferns from New Zealand and Australia, and series of man made lakes.

The highlight for me though was the wonderful bark decorated Chalet da Condessa d’Edla, with colourful ceilings inside.

I returned toward Sintra stopping at the Castelo dos Mouros, a 10th century Moorish Castle which rises up to 412m above sea level. The views of the surrounding area were expansive, though care needs to be taken on the scarily narrow walls with no safety features…

Close to Sintra town is the eclectic Quinta da Regaleira, developed in the late 19th century and filled with grottos and follies, an atmospheric place other than the summer crowds.

The most famous part of the site is the Initiation Well, which has nine levels, representing the nine levels of hell. I felt vertigo looking down from the top, and wouldn’t be surprised if phone, cameras and even people have fallen down it in pursuit of the perfect photo.

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