In the last post, I talked about getting to Sintra and making your way through the historic downtown to Pena Palace. In this post, we’ll explore the colorful castle, as well as other nearby sites.
Palácio da Pena
Pena Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site, began its history as a monastery before the great 1755 earthquake left it in ruins. Ferdinand II took a liking to it and purchased the castle to turn into a summer home for the royal family and as a gift to his wife. It was during this reconstruction that it was adorned with the Disney-esque bright colors that we associate with it today. Though, admittedly, it was repainted in the late 1900s due to having faded almost entirely back to grey.
We arrived just after opening at 9:30am. The hours were changed due to COVID, but are back to 9am-6pm and 5-10€ (depending on if you want access to the interior of the castle) as of the posting of this blog.
Having seen several videos of the interior tour, we opted just to wander the terrace, taking in the beautiful views from the mountaintop palace walls. The terrace is very open and accommodated plenty of people who were trying to maintain social distance, including a local news crew.
Admire the architecture from the great, bubbly gate to the mermaiden triton that holds up a window. You can see a multitude of influences in the eclectic design of the building and that doesn’t include the sweeping views of the countryside.
After the terrace, your ticket permits you to enter the rest of the grounds, spread over 200 hectares. There are well-marked paths and maps to help you navigate around to some of the key points of interest. Unfortunately, several of the areas were closed including the stables and lake, but we still got to check out the Chalet of the Countess of Edla, the Queen’s Fern Valley, and Cruz Alta (the highest point in Sintra). The lattermost was occupied by a few tourists who were climbing on top of the cross to get photos of the castle. I found it rather distasteful.
Castelo Dos Mouros
Leaving through the second exit by the Chalet, we walked around a windy road back towards our initial entry point where we hopped across the street and entered the Moorish Castle.
One of the most fascinating things to me in regards to the Iberian Peninsula is its melting pot of history between so many different cultures, including Arabic influences from northern Africa. Constructed in the 8th and 9th centuries, the castle changed hands between kings a few times during the first and second Christian crusades before becoming strategically irrelevant a few hundred years after being built.
The castle is open the same hours as Pena Palace and entrance tickets are 8€. There are signs throughout the grounds that give a bit of insight to the buildings and history of the site and, of course, the incredible views from being situated atop a mountain.
Quinta da Regaleira
I know, I know… This blog is supposed to be about Sintra, but closer to the foot of the mountains, near the downtown area, you can find Quinta da Regaleira which is essentially a way to teleport to Rivendell (home of J.R.R. Tolkein’s elves for you non-nerds out there.)
The estate was used as a place to showcase the interests and ideologies of António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro through symbols and constructs. Using a blend of romantic and gothic architecture, you can follow winding, hidden passages down the mountain. There are fountains, waterfalls, wells, and gorgeous buildings laid throughout the grounds to admire.
Among them was an interesting take on a tower – the Initiation Well. Rather than climbing into the sky, this tower was inverted and dug into the ground. Rather than being filled with water like a normal well, it was used for ceremonial purposes. I wanted to take more pictures of it, but you’re at the discretion of how slow the people in front of you are going versus how fast the people behind you are walking.
You can visit the mansion, down towards the entrance; however, its an assembly line of people to get in, so it may take a little while to get through.
I really enjoyed our visit to Sintra. It was a magical place packed with a lot to see in a close geographic area. I highly recommend comfortable sneakers (rather than the clunky boots I decided to wear) and going early.
There are plenty of restaurants and shops and if you’re like us, you’ll find plenty of restrooms in each of the major sites.
You’ll be tired, but at least you can rest with a nice bottle of wine when you get back to Lisbon.