So many to choose from
Strewn amongst the lush hills just around 18 miles from Lisbon, are the enchanted palaces of Sintra. If you are just visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site for the day you will need to make the difficult decision of which palaces to visit, as these stunning retreats can keep you captivated for hours.
A reasonably priced and easy way of getting to Sintra from Lisbon, is by train from Rossio station.
The journey takes about 45 minutes and a return ticket was €4.90, the trains run every 20 minutes. Passing by the 18th century Águas Livres Aqueduct & Benfica (for those football lovers).
Palaces of choice
The bus route you need to catch varies depending on which palace you are visiting. However, they can all be caught from outside Sintra train station or in the town. Advice we were given was to go to Quinta da Regaleira first, so catch the no. 435 bus.
Quinta da Regaleira
The wait for the bus wasn’t too bad, it was the torrential weather conditions that we could have done without.
After 2 stops we were at our first palace, Quinta da Regaleira. Entrance fee was €6 each, armed with our map we went off to discover the caves, grottos, underground walkways and the amazing “subterranean towers”.
The element of enchantment that you encounter whilst wandering these gardens is magical. You really feel like you are on voyage of discovery and constantly being amazed at what you find.
A reference guide
I love nothing more than planning a trip and so often I use the DK Eyewitness books. This Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide was invaluable to us.
We used a previous version of this book to plan our Lisbon mini-break, now you can grab the revised copy.
Lake of the Waterfall
Heading into the dark unlit tunnels from the “Cave of the Orient” & through the “Grotto of the East” you weave your way through damp passageways.
There isn’t any particular path that you should take, the gardens are there to be discovered at your own pace and wonderment.
Viewing it from the bottom and looking up 27 metres through the twisting tower, is astonishing. There is a recessed spiral staircase snaking around the damp tower, that leads you up into the daylight, but all the while you can’t stop looking down at the magnificence below.
Festival of Grottos
The Labyrinthic Grotto is not to be missed, wandering around the pond by the Balnearium Fountain your eyes are drawn to the caves behind. Another intriguing warren of tunnels channelled into the mysterious landscape.
Romantic Palace of Pena
Next stop Palácio Nacional da Pena, from the main entrance as you gradually climb up to the enchanted colourful palace, it reveals itself in its true grandeur. Built during the 19th century in the Portuguese Romanticist period, this fortress stands proud within the Sintra Hills towering above the town of Sintra below.
This summer residence was built for the Portuguese royal family on the ruins of a monastery, which were severely damaged by lightning and then by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.
The last royal residents here were Don Carlos I and his wife Queen Amélia, from 1889 to 1908 and then briefly Don Manuel II, who reigned between 1908 & 1910.
Pena Palace became extremely popular with visitors and it is easy see why. With just a park ticket you are given the freedom to wander around the gardens surrounding the palace and also around the main ramparts and courtyards of this fortress.
Amazing views of the Castle of the Moors and across the far stretching landscape can be seen from the palace ramparts.
With its colourful turrets and watch towers around every corner you feel like you have walked onto a movie set.
Take a wander in
If you have the Park & Palace ticket you can wander around the King & Queen's private rooms, chapel and also visit the Manueline Cloister from the original 16th century Monastery.
With time, not on our side
the old Water-wheel, Garden of Camellias, the Islamic style pavilion and down to the Valley of the Lakes and the Duck Houses.
By the Valley of the Lakes is another entrance into the palace and also a bus stop, so we hopped on the next no. 434 and headed into Sintra town.
We realised by now that the Castle of the Moors would have to wait for another day.
We strolled around the quaint town of Sintra admired the external National Palace of Sintra and our feet took a well-earned rest at the Cantinho do Lord Byron.
The English Poet Lord Byron spent some time in Sintra and described it as "glorious Eden" in his poem “Childe Harolde's Pilgrimage”.
Excerpt from 'Childe Harolde's Pilgrimage'
Poor, paltry slaves! yet born midst noblest scenes—
Why, Nature, waste thy wonders on such men?
Lo! Cintra's glorious Eden intervenes
In variegated maze of mount and glen.
Ah me! what hand can pencil guide, or pen,
To follow half on which the eye dilates
Through views more dazzling unto mortal ken
Than those whereof such things the bard relates,
Who to the awe-struck world unlocked Elysium's gates?