Sintra - Once upon a time...
Once in Sintra, you're in fairytale land. It is an architectural dream and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Portugal. With its romantic settings, winding narrow roads, exquisite buildings and lush landscapes, it has undeniably impressed those who have been lucky to experience its beauty and magic first hand.
In Ancient times, Sintra was known as Lunae Mons (Mountains of the Moon) and was the legendary retreat of Diana the Huntress (Cynthia to the Romans) hence the name Cintra, which is today Sintra.
Steeped in history, Sintra is located at the foot of the Sintra Mountains. Once home to the Romans, the Moors, the monarchs and Portuguese nobility, the town of Sintra is filled with impressive royal retreats, estates and monuments dating back to the 8th century. With so many fascinating places to visit, I thought it best to list them individually.
If the walk up to the Pena Palace feel likes a bit of a trek and a long steep
climb, you can take one of the tram buses to ease the journey, they are located
at the park's entrance.
When visiting the Palace do not overlook its outstanding grounds. The Parque da Pena (The Pena Park) surrounds the Palace and has over 2,000 different types of plants from all around the world.
As well as a charming lodge hidden amongst the trees, The Chalet of the Countess of Edla, it also has many pretty benches, ponds and bridges, majestic fountains, caves and lakes and a labyrinth of paths - you'll even spot a black swan or two.
One of the park's most noticeable features is The statue of King Fernando II which sits high up on a rock, overlooking the Palace about half a mile away. Also in the heart of the Pena Park, at its highest point, sits The Cruz Alta (High
Cross) viewpoint, with the most wonderful views.
Quinta da Regaleira (The Regaleira Estate)
This impressive romantic palace is certainly one place not to be missed when visiting Sintra. It's one of my favourite hidden gems which is not usually on everyone's list. Dating back to 1697, the estate was used as a private residence and was originally owned by the Barons of Regaleira. In 1893, however, it was purchased by Carvalho Monteiro who re-designed the estate in 1904, and was sold in 1946. The estate was also known as the 'Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire'. It was then closed for many years until 1998 when it was finally opened to the public after having extensive restoration.
Located near the historic centre, the estate evokes a sense of magic and mystery. With its lavish grottos, wells, fountains and a luxurious park featuring waterfalls and lakes, you'll feel like you're in the secret garden. Its spiral staircase symbolising the steps leading to the Garden of Eden - the Poco Iniciatico (Initiation Well) resembling an upside down tower in an underworld, and its supernatural secret tunnels, will indeed seduce you.
Palacio de Monserrate (Monserrate Palace)
The Monserrate Palace was re-built in 1856 by Sir Francis Cook on the outskirts of Sintra as a summer residence. It is an absolutely stunning palatial villa with an Arabic styled interior and with magical botanical gardens, lakes and waterfalls. Discover these exotic surroundings by taking a stroll through its breathtaking grounds and relaxing in its little cafe.
Convento dos Capuchos (Capuchos Convent)
Also known as the Holy Cross or the Cork Convent, this extraordinary, extremely simple convent was founded in 1560. Hidden away in rural Sintra, located near the Palace of Monserrate, this enchanting place is not to be missed. You'll feel like 'Alice in Wonderland' walking through the labyrinth of corridors, child sized chapels and cells, lined with cork and cut into the rocks which were once inhabited by the Franciscan friars.
Palacio do Ramalhao (Ramalhao Palace)
Originally a small farm, it was later turned into a large estate. This historical building can be found in the Quinta do Ramalhao and boasts a fine aqueduct and an 18th century palace.
Today, Sintra flourishes from its commerce and tourism industries. It is located 18 kilometres east of the Atlantic Ocean, close to the Lisbon suburbs of Amadora and Odivelas, with a population of around 33,000.
If driving from Lisbon, take the IC19, it's circa. 28 kilometres and approximately a 30 minute drive. Parking can be abysmal in Sintra so the best option is to park in the car parks just below the town centre. You can either walk, hire bikes, take a bus or maybe even have a lovely ride on a horse-drawn carriage.
As well as sightseeing, Sintra is also known for its tennis and golf clubs in Penha Longa, located in Sintra's Natural Park . You can also partake in horse riding and many other sports too.
Sintra is ideal for day trips, although I would recommend longer as there's far too much to see in a day. Not only did Hans Christian Andersen and Lord Byron fall in love with the enchanting palatial Sintra - you will do too.
Palacio Nacional da Pena (Pena National Palace)
Voted as one of the seven wonders of Portugal and one of its most visited monuments, this extravagant palace sits proudly on top of the highest rock in Sintra, overlooking the town below. Dating back to the middle ages, it was originally built as a chapel and later became the Mosteiro da Nossa Senhora de Pena (Monastery) in 1507, housing 18 monks as it was such an ideal place for meditation.
Once damaged by lightening and then severely damaged by the 1755 earthquake, the palace was finally fabulously built on the remains in the 1840s, exuberating the romantic design it presents today. Used by the monarchy as a summer residence during the 19th Century, the palace was eventually purchased by the Portuguese state in 1889 and was turned into a museum in 1910. With its eclectic gothic facades, domes, turrets, arches, clock tower and drawbridge in lovely pastel colours, it's no wonder the palace was an inspiration for Walt Disney.
Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle)
The medieval castle is sat on another hilltop adjacent to the Pena Palace and is well worth the climb, merely for the stunning views. It was built during the 10th century as an important military fortress to defend both the locals and the Atlantic coast access to Lisbon. It was under Arab rule until 1147 when it was captured by the Christians. Within the castle walls you can also find the remains of the Capela de Sao Pedro de Canaferrim (Chapel) which was ordered to be built by King Afonso Henriques in 1154.
The castle was rebuilt in 1375 but the 1755 earthquake caused it considerable damage. Years later, in 1839 King Fernando II decided to conserve and restore the castle, but the castle walls were once again reconstructed in 1939.
Sintra soon became a tourist destination during the 1950s, therefore a few cliffs were cleared to create a picnic area near the castle. In 1979 the walls were reconstructed and medieval tombs were discovered. If you have time during your visit, take some time out to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
A richly decorated chapel and the aquarium also sit within its grounds, with statues of Gods and esoteric symbols in abundance - it is distinctly a spellbinding and mystical place, just waiting to be explored.
Today the estate enjoys many visitors for a variety of reasons. It is used as a melodramatic venue for open air concerts, opera, theatre, cinema as well as conferences and exhibitions - where else would be more perfect?
Palacio Nacional de Sintra (Sintra's National Palace)
This beautiful palace located in Sintra's town centre, is the oldest Portuguese palace and built during the 10th century. It was inhabited from 15th-19th centuries and was also damaged by the earthquake. In 1910 it became a national monument and was restored in the 1940s. Today it holds the biggest collection of azulejos (ceramic tiles) in the world and its 'Sala dos Brasoes'
(Coat of Arms Hall) displays the coat of arms of 74 Portuguese noble families.
The palace's architecture noticeably commands attention with its two gigantic conical chimneys.
Museu de História Natural de Sintra (Sintra's Natural History Museum)
A 19th century building located in the historic centre of Sintra's old town.
Chalet Biester (Biester Estate)
This stunning place is unfortunately a private residence, located on the way to the Pena Palace but well worth a peek. It is an awe-inspiring estate which was featured in the Johnny Depp movie 'The Ninth Gate'.
Museu do Brinquedo (Toy Museum) - Unfortunately now Closed!
This fantastic museum exhibits more than 20,000 toys, ranging from a 3,000 year old Egyptian toy, to the first ever toy car.
Camara Municipal de Sintra (Sintra's Town Hall)
Built on the demolished Sao Sebastiao Chapel site during the 1900s, the Town Hall is located near the Sintra National Palace and today is responsible for
Sintra's civic duties.
Museu de Arte Moderna (Modern Art Museum)
Portugal's first contemporary art museum which houses a fine collection of 20th century paintings and sculptures is based in a magnificent 1920s building.
© Copyright. All rights reserved.
© Copyright. All rights reserved.