Sintra near Lisbon is one of Portugal’s prettiest towns and a major tourist attraction, not least for its 19th century Romantic architecture and the nearby mountains (Serra de Sintra). The steep inclines and nearby beautiful forests provide Sintra with a climate much cooler than nearby Lisbon. Sintra was initially home to Moorish lords and later the summer residence for the kings of Portugal. It contains a host of famous Palaces and other noteworthy monuments and the surrounding area is part of the Sintra-Cacais Natural Park.
Buy the relatively inexpensive day ticket which permits entry to most of the town’s main attractions at Sintra’s train station, itself worthy of a visit. From there, hop on the no434 bus and enjoy a circular ride including the Palace of Pena and the Moorish Castle. Alternatively, treat yourself to an atmospheric journey by horse-drawn carriage.
Sintra’s Castelo dos Mouros was built by the Moors circa 8th/9th century, while the almost surreal and very colourful Pena Palace was a token of love for the Portuguese wife of a German noble. The Gothic/Renaissance Quinta da Regaleira has sprouting towers, turrets, Art Nouveau tiles and impressive gardens built around lakes, fountains and terraces. Its Initiation Well is linked to both Templar Knights and the Freemasons.
The 14th century Palácio Nacional de Sintra is right in the centre. It’s current external appearance is the result of centuries of different influences, while the magnificent interiors display the most precious tiles in Portugal. The ceiling of its Sala (Hall) das Armascontains paintings display the arms of no fewer than 72 noble families. The famous Salas das Cisnes and das Pegas were named after a flock of 136 painted magpies which carry a rose and a scroll with the words ‘Por bem’ in their beak, evidence of an apparent indiscretion by King Dom Joao when Queen Philippa’s back was turned.
Other architecturally noteworthy buildings in and around Sintra include the Palacio de Seteais (currently a hotel), the Museu do Brinquedo, the Teatro Virtual, the Convento dos Capuchos, the opulent Quinta da Regaleira and the classic gardens of Monserrate.
For something a lot more contemporary, the huge three floor Museu de Arte Moderna near the Estefania train station contains works by Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Roy Lichtenstein and displays styles such as minimalism, pop, kinetic and conceptual art, with different exhibitions every two months.
For day trips, try bus no417 to Cascais or no418 to Estoril, both leaving from the main bus station at Portela da Sintra. The famous Guincho Beach, historical Biscaia and the pretty villages of Figueira do Guincho, Areia and Charneca are all within striking distance.
Posted : Friday, May 13th, 2011 at 11:00
Karen Bryan is the founding editor of the UK based, multi author Europe a la Carte Blog which features Europe travel tips about the best places to visit in Europe.