A 2 day trip from Algarve. Arriving in Sintra you will think you’ve just stepped into the pages of a medieval fairy tale.
It is best to arrive in Sintra as early in the morning as possible; aim for 8am or 9am at the latest to avoid the pile up of tourist buses that start mid-morning. Come by train from Lisbon as parking at every site is almost nonexistent. A trip from the Rossio Train Station in Lisbon takes you to Sintra in 35 minutes. Castles, quintas, and palaces are around every turn.
In the early 1800s Sintra was the summer retreat for nobility from all over Europe. Many nobility would retreat from the heat of their capital cities for several months every year. Sintra has a cooler summer microclimate due to its height and growth of lush vegetation as well as hundreds of constantly running fresh water springs. The nobility frolicked by hunting in the forests, catching abundant game, bathing in the sparkling clear waters and feasting nearly every night. Budding romances and royal alliances would be formed here in the welcoming climes amidst their sumptuous banquets.
Castelo Dos Mouros, MOOR’S CASTLE
Perched on the cliffs of one of the highest peaks are the impressive ruins of the Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros) dating to the 9th century when the Moors invading army reached Portugal. The castle was built as a protection for the village of Sintra with an ideal lookout over the Tagus River and the plains in order to spot any arriving foe. It was raised when the Christians banished the Moors in 1147 and then totally demolished by the earthquake of 1754. In the early 19th Century, during the reign of King Fernando 11, the King had the walls and abutments repaired and included the Castelo dos Mouros as part of the extensive Royal Gardens of Pena Place. The King’s main objective was to improve the view from his own Pena Palace where he resided. You can now climb around the wide walls and turrets of the Moors’ Castle and witness amazing views over the city and the hills all the way to the coast. This stop is a great adventure for the whole family and a perfect spot for an early morning picnic. From the Castelo dos Mouros it is only a twenty minute walk to the Pena Palace.
To get to the Moor’s Castel from the train station take a tourist bus to both The Moorish Castle and Pena Palace, as the climb is steep and unforgiving on very narrow roads.
Open All Year
Fernando’s 11 real triumph was in creating the bizarre Pena Palace, an awe inspiring mix of various architectural designs from the Romantic Period. Painted a bright yellow it stands out from the lush greenery around it.
A tour of the furnished inside of the castle takes about 2 hours; well worth it for the inspiring views of the inner courts rooms. You can also just take the tour around the walls and abutments if you are pressed for time. The castle is surrounded by its own large private gardens and forest. King Fernando’s guests, other European Kings and Noblemen would hunt wild game in the forest to grace their dinner tables. At this time, Pena Palace was the centre of life in Sintra, and many smaller palaces, castles and estates sprung up around it, owned by nobility and wealthy businessmen from all over Europe. Some came strictly for the cooler climate, some came for a rest from business in the heat of the summer, and others in hopes of arranging influential marriages for their sons and daughters. Pena Palace has been classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO
Open all year
But Pena Palace is only one of the incredible castles in SINTRA. The real gem is the highly unusual Quinta da Regaleira.
QUINTA DA REGALEIRA
In the late 1900s one of the most intriguing castles would be built by a Brazilian businessman. Importing hundreds of shiploads of exotic timber and gems from Brazil he used the profits from their sale to build the fabulous Quinta da Regaleira. It was fabulous in every respect. It included a magnificent castle with 5 full stories and two carriage houses, large enough for two big families. Included as well was a full size family church, gardens of fruit trees and vineyards together with paths and walkways. There is even an incredible tunnel that went deep into the ground to a depth of 200 meters with a secret staircase and tunnels to the bottom running the length of the estate. Visiting the grounds alone can take half a day and leave you amazed. There are references to Knights Templars, Masons, and dark magic hidden throughout the gardens… all very strange for a property that has a beautiful private Christian Church on its grounds.
As recently as 1984 Quinta da Reguleira was owned by the D’Orey family, the descendants of the second owner of the Quinta. While living on the property they had 10 children, but became property rich with little income to keep up the splendour of the Quinta da Reguleira and grounds. The Quinta was purchased from the D’Orey family descendants by a Japanese company, who promptly applied to the Sintra council to turn it into a hotel. The Sintra council judiciously vetoed this request and repurchased the Quinta. Now open to the public it should be your first visit in SINTRA. Bizarre and beautiful are not words usually used together, but in the case of the Quinta Da Regaleira they match perfectly. Quinta da Reguleira has also been proclaimed a World Heritage Site. Open All Year
How to visit Sintra. Three ways of visiting Sintra
1 Stay in a hotel in Sintra or an Air B & B and take the tourist bus to the sites.
2 Stay in Lisbon and take the train from Rossio Station (leaving every 30 minutes ) to Sintra
3 Take a tour from Lisbon (Sandman’s Tours are recommended, for being inexpensive and very good). The tour is 40euros and includes your train ticket return. You do not visit all the sites, unfortunately.