The charming and picturesque small town of Sintra Portugal is located within the stunning natural landscape of the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascaisl. This national park includes lush rain forest and steep hills that blend easily with the gorgeous coastline, situated only about 12 kilometers to the west. The hills and forest provide mild temperatures and a vast variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking and biking, but it’s the astonishing palaces and castles of Sintra that steal the show.
Quinta da Regaleira
This gothic and neo-manueline style palace, built in the mid-1800s, was my favorite. Not because of the interior, which was also remarkable, but because of the beautiful grounds and gardens surrounding the palace. They can only be described as paradise. I could have spent days wandering those gardens. Beneath the grounds are a series of caves and tunnels that lead to the bottom of an old secret well and a waterfall. It was a maze of wonders that left me wanting more.
Palace of Pena
The Palace of Pena rests high on a hill, and is surrounded by about 210 acres of cobblestone trails, little manmade lakes, well-groomed gardens and breathtaking viewpoints. At the top of the gardens is the High Cross, which is up 529 meters and gives a spectacular view of the town below and the coastline in the distance. The opulent exterior and interior details are mind blowing. It took me two hours to explore the landscape and I had to wait in line at the entrance of the palace for over an hour to get in, so give yourself plenty of time to take it all in and expect huge crowds of people.
The difference between a castle and a palace is that a palace is built for royalty, or some other important family, while a castle is a large group of buildings, fortified against an attack with thick walls and high towers that often served as refuge for a group of people. The Mouros Castle, also known as Moorish, was built by the Moors during the 8th and 9th century. It was easy to picture knights and ladies hiding safely inside the walls while violent battles erupted outside the castle.
This amazing palace is situated in the middle of Sintra and served as the favorite residency of Portuguese nobility during the 15th to 19th centuries. The palace’s most distinguishing feature are the two giant pointy chimneys that extend from the kitchens. Inside the lavish staterooms are indicative of the extensive history and importance of the palace.
With the exception of the National Palace, expect a lot of walking to see these historical landmarks. Don’t forget to wear good walking shoes, bring extra water, a charger for your camera and lots of patience. Count on spending at least two hours at each place, probably longer. They are well worth the time and will leave a lasting impression of extraordinary periods now lost in history forever.