Sintra is one of those places with a magical atmosphere. High in the hills on a strategic location it was conquered by Moors and Christians. Lord Byron called it Glorious Sintra. Luís Camões, Portugal’s epic poet and writer, read his Lusiadas from the castle. Kings and Queens spent their summers here and retreated from here. It is a World Heritage Site.
The Royal Palace
A favourite of the Royal family who spent their vacations in Sintra the National or Royal Palace stands majestically in Sintra’s centre with its two prominent conical chimneys. The palace has a rich display of antique azulejos (tiles).
The Quinta da Regaleira
This property was acquired in 1892 by Antonio Carvalho Monteiro. He hired the Italian architect Luigi Mannini to design the palace in the neo-manueline style. The building includes a Hunting Room or Dining Room with hunting scenes and sculptures, a Billiard Room or Monarch’s Room with paintings engraved into the wooden ceiling of Portuguese monarchs from Portugal’s first King Afonso Henriques to King João V. The gardens are dotted with mythological statues, ponds, grottoes, and an Initiation Well following masonic rituals. Visits are by guided tours and should be booked in advance by calling +351-21-9106650.
Monserrate Palace & Park
A short drive from the centre of town the Monserrate Park is another heritage. In the 16th Century Abbot Gaspar Preto constructed a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Monserrate. In 1790 Gerard de Visme began constructing a small palace here which was rented by William Beckford (1760-1844). In 1863 Francis Cook bought the estate and began constructing the palace in moorish style which is now open to the public after going through some restoration work. Cook was a rich man and furnished the palace with various art collections. Monserrate is famous however for its park. Carefully landscaped with many species of imported trees, paths winding through the vegetation, bridges and fountains and a rose garden.
The Moors Castle was built in the 8th century in a strategic position atop the hills. Along the years the castle fell into ruin and was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1755. However its present state is largely due to King Ferdinand II of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1816-1885), the artist King who devoted his time to restoring Sintra’s main monuments when he acquired them in 1838. The Pena Palace and Park are one of his best works. The sightseeing bus includes a stop here.
The Pena Palace
This palace at 527 metres above sea level can be seen from miles around and was built in the 19th century on rocks. Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha married Queen Maria II in 1836. The original palace was built during the reign of King João II and run by the Jeronimos monks. King Manuel I built the convent in stone and dedicated it to Our Lady of Pena. However, it collapsed in the 1755 earthquake. The style of the palace is a mixture of Gothic, Manueline, Islamic and Rennaissence. From the palace there are spectacular views. The interior is decorated with delicately carved ceilings and walls, antiques and exotic wood.
A good pair of walking shoes is recommended as Sintra has a few steep hills to climb. The town has lovely small shops and cafés and restaurants waiting to be explored.