It’s weird for me to start a blog post by saying I’d change something about my visit to a place, but as charming, magical and steep as I found the fairytale town of Sintra, I’d do things a bit differently next time. As usual, all good photos are taken by the wonderful Alex Stuart.
Sintra is a tiered town. You leave the train station and begin meandering uphill, instantly you can see some castles speckled up the hillside among what seems like a lot of green if you’ve just wondered straight from the city; I would definitely like to meander more through the parks. The first things you see are the large, white turrets of National Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra), you can definitely see the moorish influence in the architecture as it stands boldly on the edge of the town, facing outward. You walk up the winding streets till you reach the plateau on which it sits, which is the first of many photo opportunities you’ll find. We didn’t go inside, and once we’d got much further up the hill and peered down into the gardens through our lenses, we figured we hadn’t made a bad choice. What we did pay to see seemed much more impressive.
Around this area you’ll find the shops, the cafe’s and the tourist information too. It’s definitely worth a leisurely wander round this quaint little town – look out for Lord Byron references, there was one particularly adorable bar/cafe named after him. If you fancy you can also find plenty of places to try Ginjinha here… maybe on the way down. We, of course, opted for the cheap option of walking up the hill rather than paying for transport. If you can; do it. It’s fascinating, you get more of a sense of the architecture and the many layers of the town, also it was a nice day and I was relishing the fresh air and the steep climb, it added to our adventure.
Castelo dos Mouros
We climbed on up to the mossy walls of Castelo dos Mouros and up stone steps through the grounds, only stopping briefly to take some photos along the gorgeous outer battlements, sheltered by the trees and aged gently by the moss coverage. I really loved the battlements. Then we paid €8.50 to enter the woody realm of the moors. This castle had been under various ownership, you can see underground water storage (which has never been depleted in human record), heating systems and ancient stables. Much more recently a prince had owned it and you can see the influence where he had used it as a sort of muse, adding decorative gardens, and retaining the fascinating ‘escape’ door, which would be a last resort escape for moorish rulers. It sort of reminded me of my trip to Gol Konda Fort, not in architecture but the castle features were somewhat similar, I suppose similar to any hill fort really. There are some stunning views from the blustery ramparts here, and some more great photo opportunities. You can see the sea in a westerly (roughly, bare with me!) direction, Lisbon and much of Portugal to the east, and close by you have a very good view of National Palace of Pena (Palácio Nacional da Pena) from here, its bold colours really standing out against the grey when I visited.
National Palace of Pena
After we left the fort we climbed the short remaining distance up the hill to the highest point (I think) where we reached the gates of the National Palace of Pena; the grounds look big, and were very green and lush, and balanced up there somewhere is the gaudy pink and yellow castle. However, on discovering that entry is €14.50 per person we, and several other potential visitors, decided we could find cheaper things to do. If you continue up this hill you should also find my final ‘castle’ which is actually a Chateaux in the woods – Chalet e Jardim da Condessa D’Edla – and, although I’m not sure if it would be worth going in, looks like it should be very pretty.
So we took a different path down the hill, winding through the woods below Castelo dos Mouros, where there seemed to be some good climbing rocks, and a few more great examples of Moorish influence on the architecture. I love the sturdy rounded turrets with the terracotta colour tiles and the intricate designs on doors and windows. On the way down with spotted the Quinta Da Regaliera. I recognised it from my friend’s photographs – it’s her favourite – and the closer we got to it, winding our way down the hill and to the other side of town, the more fairytale-like and magical I found it. It reminded me of something wood-elvish, or from the faraway tree; if I were a princess, I’d definitely live here. Sadly by the time we got there it was too late to really go in, but at only €6 entry (I think…) I should definitely have done that first.
Getting There: You can take the train, very cheaply, from the Rossio Train station in Lisbon (which is a little tricky to find, but once you’re in the right Square you’ll get there eventually). It’s not the same as the Metro station but I’m pretty sure we went down to the Metro and followed signs from in there. I believe it took around an hour.
Warning: Sintra is a tourist trap. In the nicest way possible, it’s beautiful, adorable and a total honey pot, so you’ll need to be savvy to eat, drink and stay here cheaply. We took our own food. But there are hostels there, both of which looked very good.
Helpful: I found this site very helpful for calculating ticket price, especially the price simulator, if I go again I’ll probably by a combined ticket online: www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/