Sintra … palaces and adventures in Wonderland

I didn’t stumble upon any Cheshire cats during my stay in Sintra last Summer, but if I had I wouldn’t have been remotely surprised. Thirty kilometres west of Lisbon and a few kilometres short of the most westerly point in mainland Europe, the grounds and palaces of Sintra are simply magical and many have compared them to the wonderlands of Lewis Carroll. Originally a lookout point by Muslim settlers guarding the area from sea bound attack, Sintra’s beauty has over the centuries attracted kings, noblemen and romantic poets to live out their flights of fancy within its “…variegated maze of mount and glen”*.

Today, Sintra is awash with visitors and tourists as indeed the internet is awash with blogs and posts about Sintra. So, attached is little more than a selection of photographs – and the odd quip – capturing some of the magic and wonderment I enjoyed there back in June 2016. Enjoy. x

*From Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto I by Lord Byron

Within the grounds of the Regaleira Palace, nothing is what it seems. What appears to be an unassuming mossy boulder…

…hides behind it a huge spiral well

…and at the bottom of the well

…tunnels lit with fairy-lights lead out

…to secret pools and waterfalls

The Regaleira Palace

The palace too is full of charming and playful details…

…echoing the world of Lewis Carroll. Is that the March Hare down there?

If it is, then what on earth is he doing to the Mock Turtle?

The beautiful Moorish palace of Pena on the peak of Sintra’s hilltop

All visitors to Pena are given a warm, friendly welcome

Everywhere one looks in Pena there appears to be a creature staring back

…although I am not quite sure which visitor that particular creature is looking back at

The palace has some fascinating gargoyles including this crocodile one above the Moorish main gateway

A snap of the snapper

A rather fishy looking gargoyle within Pena’s Manueline Cloisters

The cloisters also showcase some stunning azulejos dating back to the nineteenth century

There are also some rather ‘striking’ tile designs to be found within the palace

Each of these tiles would have been created and painted by hand

But, what arguably makes Pena so magical are its glorious hilltop views towards the Atlantic

Yet, Pena does not stand on the highest peak in the area. The High Cross within the grounds of Pena stands 528m above sea level…

…offering one of the most romantic views of Pena, as well as being something to cling onto to prevent the strong Atlantic Sea gales whisking one off the peak!

Pena also looks rather lovely from the slightly more sheltered and less elevated Moors Castle ruins

The Moors Castle

The one thousand year old castle was perfectly positioned to guard Lisbon in the east from Atlantic-bound attack from the west

..as well as guard Sintra below

The National Palace, easily identified by its twin conical chimneys, is Sintra’s crown jewel

The restored ceiling of the Sala das Pegas (Magpie Room) within the National Palace, dating back to the fifteenth century

Each magpie carries the words of King João I’s motto “por bem” (for the good). Legend has it that the queen caught João kissing one of her ladies-in-waiting at the palace. He reassured her that it was all innocent and ‘for the good’, then publicly humiliated his queen by commissioning one magpie for each lady-in-waiting

If this is true, why did the queen need so many ladies-in-waiting?

The state room also retains some original azulejos

The vine leaf azulejos found in the bedchamber of King Sebastian dates back to the sixteenth century and it is believed that they are some of the oldest in Portugal

The ceilings become grander further into the palace

The ceiling in the Sala dos Cisnes (Swan Room) is believed to be another attempt by King João I to flaunt his infidelity: one swan for each conquest within court

The Palatine Chapel

The most breath-taking ceiling is undoubtedly within the Sala dos Brasõs (Blazons Hall)

The carved gilded woodwork portrays the shields of seventy-two noble families from the sixteenth century

Underneath are more contemporary azulejos from the early eighteenth century depicting courtly and hunting pursuits

Clearly, too much indulgence in courtly and hunting pursuits can cause injuries such as a twisted ankle

Useful information

Sintra is very easy to get to via public transport from Lisbon. Trains leave regularly from Lisbon’s central Rossio station or Oriente daily, and take around 45 minutes to terminate at Sintra. A return journey costs around €4.50 (2017).

The tourist bus route 434 makes a round trip through Sintra town and up to the more lofty sites of Pena and the Moors Castle saving time and energy walking the long, steep slopes up to them. It leave regularly from Sintra station, but it’s worth noting that Lisbon travelcards like the Viva Viagem are not accepted on this route nor on any Sintra bus. Tickets can be purchased on board, but be prepared for a price shock: a single fare costs more than the return train fare to Lisbon (€5 2017)! A one day ticket can be purchased on board at €12 (2017) offering unlimited hop-on-hop-off access all day on the route. This can be a viable option if visiting Sintra just for the day and wishing to visit all the main sites before evening. Understandably, the buses on this route are often packed particularly from early afternoon, so it’s worth considering whether one has the energy to walk back down to the town from Pena. It is a long walk but the views are stunning and the route is well sign posted. It took me the best part of two hours to complete, making a detour to the Moors Castle along the way. More details about Sintra’s bus network can be found on the official Sintra’s visitors website here.

The bus does not pass Quinta da Regaleira, but this palace can easily be reached by foot through the town. It too is well sign posted. Get there early to enjoy the Initiatic Well and other delights within its grounds in reasonable peace and quiet.

There are entrance fees to all the main sites, though few combination tickets to keep costs down. Details of fees and opening times for all the main sites can be found on the official and comprehensive Sintra visitors  site here.

Due to being so close to the Atlantic coast, the weather in Sintra is capricious even during the Summer months. Mist can suddenly roll down the hill without warning dropping the temperature and reducing visibility quickly and dramatically. Strong sea breezes can cause a chill but the sun can still be strong enough to burn. So, be prepared and take care. Bring some warm clothing even if it’s a hot sunny day, and plenty of sun screen and/or a floppy hat for when the sun pops out again.

Sintra is extremely popular, and there are far more sites to visit there than are included in this post. I would therefore recommend staying at least one night in Sintra – budget permitting as it can be expensive – to have the advantage of setting off early and beating the crowds as well as avoiding culture fatigue by trying to visit everything in one day.


Lisbon … the (holy) spirit of Rio with a smattering of San Francisco found in mainland Europe’s most westerly capital. Cristo Rei and Ponte 25 de Abril

 

 

 


Évora … the magnificent church of tiles verses the macabre chapel of bones

 

 

 

 


 

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