Sintra – Four Sites, Two Days, One great weekend!

Sintra….oh Sintra  

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.  I love thee for the depth and breadth and height…of your fabulous palaces and castles.  Etc., etc., etc.  You get the idea.

I arrived in Sintra, Portugal via a short 40 minute train ride from Lisbon.  It was a beautiful, sunny late afternoon, April, 25th.  This is an important date in Portuguese history marking the Carnation Revolution.  It’s similar to Independence Day in the U.S.  There was a grand sense of Portuguese pride in the air as I set out to find my hostel.  In hindsight though I imagine the Portuguese people feel pride for Sintra everyday.  I would.

National Palace of Sintra
National Palace of Sintra

After checking into my hostel and relaxing a while I went in search of an open market or grocery store to no avail.  It was a holiday, only the businesses catering to tourists were open!  Oh well.  I took the opportunity to walk around awhile and get a sense of the layout of this small city.  I was able to see most of the main sites, albeit from a distance.  In the city center there is the National Palace of Sintra and up on the hills the Moorish Castle Ruins and Pena Palace.  I bought a combo ticket to three of the four local sites I wanted to see and made my first visit.

Walking up to the National Palace you definitely notice the two huge conical chimney-looking things.  They actually are chimneys and located directly above the kitchen.  It was a very organized tour (and very crowded) with employees in every room ushering you along. Honestly, between the crowds and the feeling of needing to follow the pace of movement, I was a little disappointed with not being able to linger and go at a more leisurely pace.  It was beautiful nonetheless.

After leaving the palace I had time to walk the 10 minutes from the city center to get a quick view of the fourth site, Quinta da Regaleira, which I think should be on every travelers must-do list in Sintra.  Since I’m going in chronological order in this post, we’ll get back to it later on.

Moorish Castle Ruins above Sintra
Moorish Castle Ruins above Sintra

The next morning I started out early so I had time to visit the Moorish Ruins, Pena Palace and Park, as well as Quinta da Regaleira.  It was a bit foggy and quite cool as I started out but I was certain that after the 40 minute hike up the hill to my first stop at the castle ruins the rising temperature would burn off the morning fog.  So I set off.  I was wrong.  As you can see in the pictures it remained foggy, in fact it kept getting foggier all day!  That was fine with me though.  Being on a hilltop at an ancient castle ruin on a foggy day seemed right for some reason.  I continued on, taking pictures and enjoying being the only person touring the site early on a foggy Friday.

Pena Palace
Pena Palace

From there I continued on the centuries old trail about 20 minutes to another, even higher, hilltop and arrived at Pena Palace and Park.  This site is excellent.  Not only does it have a fantastic palace, the park is an ecological masterpiece. The designers and builders of this park (over the previous several hundred years) created an awe-inspiring space that’s hard to put into words.  There are trees and plants from all over the world, several lakes, statues, and buildings that all fit perfectly together (even though it was a blank canvas before being transformed).  The crowning achievement for many is Pena Palace and for good reason.  It’s magnificent and exotic looking with all its Moorish influences.  For me the best part was hiking through the entire park and ending up at the highest point in the Sintra Hills, Cruz Alta.  At the summit is a beautiful cross and (normally) great views.  Unfortunately for me though, it was still getting foggier so the panorama I was hoping for was nonexistent.  I hiked down the hill and back to the hostel to grab some late lunch and relax for a couple of hours.  Continuing on, after giving my feet a good rest, I made my way back to Quinta da Regaleira to finish out my day of Sintra sightseeing.  This palace and park was a private residence for most of its life.  Now it’s a great afternoon destination for anyone with a telephoto lens and keen eye (of which I have neither, but I still had fun).

Initiatic Well, Quinta da Regaleira
Initiatic Well, Quinta da Regaleira

Where I grew up if someone had land with a house and other structures, they would be called out buildings.  At Quinta da Regaleira they’re called the Chapel, the Greenhouse, Regaleira Tower, and Promenade of the Gods.  Not to mention the many statues, several grotto’s and even a few tunnels connecting several buildings, grotto’s and wells.  And that’s just the REST of the property.  For the main house there was no extravagance left out.  The inside is impressive but the outside is the real pièce de résistance of Quinta da Regaleira.  See below for visual proof!

Quinta da Regaleira
Quinta da Regaleira 

Since I’ll be traveling for such a long time I know I won’t remember everything from every day but I have no doubt I’ll remember these two days and the four amazing sites I was able to tour around Sintra.

Quinta da Regaleira Chapel, Main House in Background
Quinta da Regaleira Chapel, Main House in Background

 

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