Sintra – Beautiful castles in the clouds!

We stayed in Lisbon for several weeks over the holidays and happened upon a British born tour guide near our accommodations. We took several tours with him – you’ll hear more about that when I post about Lisbon (but we have a lot of photos and stories, so that one will take some time) – and one of the tours was Sintra. We started out bright and early, catching the first train from Lisbon to Sintra. We met our tour guide, Peter, at Rossio Station early enough that he was able to tell us about the history of the station and point out the beautiful stone carvings and decor. He also explained about how the statue featured in the front of the building was a recent reproduction because a few years ago some tourists, who clearly had enjoyed way too much Portuguese wine, had decided to climb up for a photo and managed to cause the statue to fall and break into many pieces. The original statue, of King Sebastion who was killed fighting in North Africa, dated back to the 1500s, so it was quite a shame to have some foolishness destroy it. Alas, it was cloudy and still dark when we met at the station, so I have no photos for this post, guess I’ll make a note to get a few on a future visit for a future post.

Our tour group consisted or our guide Peter and a lovely couple from Northern California. We spent the hour on the train learning about Sintra. We began with information about the Moors when they controlled this part of Portugal and the fortifications and outpost that was on the hillside. When the Portuguese and Crusaders from elsewhere in Europe approached the outpost one day in the 1100s, the soldiers garrisoned there realized how outnumbered they were and immediately surrendered the area. From here, King Alfonso and the Crusaders would carry on to Lisbon and lay siege to the main Moorish settlement and, ultimately, take Portugal from the Moors. Sintra still boasts significant Moorish remains and influences and was always an important place for the monarchs who ruled the country. In the 1800s, Queen Maria’s German husband, Prince Ferdinand II, designed Pena Palace, using remains of the much older convent on the sight. It is quite the building, incorporating many styles from the existing buildings and the new construction. The park it sits on is also renowned for great views, but on the day we were there it was shrouded in clouds – I guess we’ll have to go back some day!

Approaching the Pena Palace. As you can see, it was a bit foggy and damp. We had timed tickets for the first entry of the day, and Peter said it was not crowded, but it was certainly a popular place. If you go, go as early as you can. Also, you need to enter the grounds a good 30 minutes before your ticket time, as there is a bit of a climb (or you can catch the paid shuttle) to the top from the ticket booth. It is also a bit of a climb from town. This is definitely one of those experiences that need to be planned in advance, there are some logistics that need to be taken into account. We appreciated having a tour guide, especially for such a small group.
The entry gate, the Prince, part of the German Monarchy, had a very good sense of what it took to impress those in the exalted social and political circles they interacted with.
The stone carvings scattered around the palace were impressive, and fun!
I could probably do an entire post on the various ceilings, not just in the Palace, but all over Portugal.
The bathing chamber for the Prince’s quarters.
A sleeping chamber, this one is in part of the convent that was incorporated into the Palace. Again, notice the ceiling.
The queen’s sleeping quarters and bed. The detail work on the furniture, walls, and ceiling really ups the luxury and wow factors for the space.
Another elaborate room in what was the original convent, these areas of the palace are notable for the relatively small size of the rooms compared to what you might expect from such a luxurious Royal Residence of the period.
A stained glass window.
The “Stag Room” was used to host feasts.
After our tour of the Palace we walked back down the hill toward town past the Moorish Castle and walls that remain. Because the cloud cover remained, we put touring this site on our “next time” list. The walk through the grounds is another highlight of a visit to Sintra, so when doing your planning remember your walking shoes!
A fancy tower and roof as seen in town.

Sintra has been a favorite place for Portuguese Royalty since they defeated the Moors and took over the place. In addition to the Pena Palace, the city also boasts the National Palace, built on the foundation of a large Moorish building. Another grand building well worth a visit.

Sintra has both the Pena Palace and the National Palace. The National Palace is right in town and has history going back to the time the Moors were in charge. In fact, there are several Moorish influences still very visible in the Palace, like these tiles, which have vibrant colors and raised edges. You see this style of tile in lots of places and you see its influence lots of places.
This large room had a Magpie motif on the ceiling and the story has it that King John I (1357-1433) had it painted as such after he was caught kissing a lady which caused the women of the court to chatter like magpies. This story does not appear on the “official” websites, but I am certain our tour guide was not sharing a story that had not been handed down based on some accurate recording of the King’s thoughts as the room was decorated. The room also had more lovely tile and an impressive fire place.
Another room in the National Palace with more elaborate tiles and a very fancy door frame.
This little alcove in the National Place has so many of the ornamental features that catch my eye: an elaborately carved frame, beautiful tiles and a decorated ceiling.
A fountain on the palace grounds, with bright fish!
I just like the look of this handsome fellow.

Because Sintra was where the Royals spent so much time the city has many large villas for the members of the court who moved around with the Kings and Queens. One of these is the Quinta da Regaleira, which has extensive grounds with many whimsical, and sometimes befuddling structures. The owner was a very wealthy Brazilian mining magnate who had a thing for secret societies, like the Freemasons, so not only is it very fancy, it also has grottos and caves on the grounds that could have been used for any number of rituals and activities.

The main house, built in the early 1900s it has a lot of gothic style and incorporates the intricate carvings of the Manuelian style, which you see a lot in Portugal.
There is an inverted tower on the grounds that lead down to some tunnels. It is not a well, and you can take the stone stairs down to the bottom.
Looking up from the bottom of the tower.
Inside the caves, these are not naturally occurring. There are several dead ends, but also a path out to a water feature.
Looking out on the water feature from the cave.
One of the more whimsical structures on the grounds.

We spent a good day in Sintra, and only scratched the surface. This is definitely one of those places that deserves the amount of tourism and attention it gets. We will likely make a few more trips here over the years to see more of sights and the area.

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