Ever wonder what it's like to roam fairytale-like castles and the most enchanting gardens?
Well, Sintra is the place for you! With the colorful and unique castles in the foothills of Portugal’s Sintra Mountains, this is the perfect day trip from Lisbon.
We took a trip to Sintra in May and here are our highlights:
1) Palácio Nacional da Pena
The castle originated in the Middle Ages with the dedication of a chapel to Our Lady of Pena. The Palace was gradually expanded after years of several kings' appreciation. Pena was a little town for centuries and housed some monks. It was struck by lightning in the 18th century but it was the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 that reduced it to ruins. It was not until 1838 that King consort Ferdinand II made the decision to purchase and restore it. He proposed vault arches, medieval and Islamic aspects be used in the architecture and designed the elegant window for the main façade. The castle expresses elements of 19th-century romanticism.
The Portuguese State purchased this building in 1889 and designated it as a National monument in 1910. It was claimed as a UNESCO site in 1995.
2) The Quinta da Regaleira
This is another Palace in Sinta that was constructed over a six-year period using a variety of architectural styles and is known for its ingenious usage of symbols throughout the estate that alludes to numerous prominent secret societies. The five-story estate combines Neo-Gothic, Italian Neo-Renaissance, and Manueline (16th century, opulent Portuguese) architectural styles.
It's most well-known for its pair of wells. The initiation well, or inverted tower, is the bigger of the two, with nine flights of spiral stairs cut into the wall going down to the well's floor. Because of its relationship with a divine purpose and finality, the number nine is a symbolic number in Christianity. Then there's the fact that the Templar order was created by eight Knights Templar and one Grandmaster, bringing the total number of Templars to nine. At the end of one tunnel is a second, smaller chapel with other tunnels leading to places like the other, smaller initiation well, and back outside to the grounds through the mouth of a grotto.
3) Palácio Nacional de Sintra
The two massive conical chimneys of the kitchen, each measuring 33 meters high, are undoubtedly the most identifiable feature of the Palace. Its architecture is influenced by medieval, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance, and Romantic styles and is regarded as an example of organic architecture. The Palace boasts of the country's greatest collection of Mudejar tiles and beautiful interior decoration. The interior is rather amazing, consisting of a mix of creative styles that varied depending on the tastes of the monarchs who lived there, and done out in such a way that the various chambers were given different titles.
4) Castelo dos Mouros
This castle sits across from Palácio Nacional da Pena and once defened the entire region. Its high vantage point provided a strategic view of the coastline and surrounding area. It was invaded by the Christian Crusaders in 1147 and left to be taken over by the dense forests that cover the hills. Ferdinand II partially restored the grounds which have since been maintained.
5) Monserrate Palace
Gerard de Visme, a wealthy English merchant, rented the Park of Monserrate and erected a neo-gothic house there. The property was afterward purchased by Francis Cook, a wealthy English entrepreneur who was eventually given the title Viscount of Monserrate by King Luis. Cook collaborated with architect James Knowles to alter what remained of the De Visme home. Monserrate Palace was completed in 1866, incorporating Gothic and Indian influences as well as Moorish characteristics.
This Palace is less visited than the others, yet it is nevertheless worthwhile to visit. It's an Arabic-style villa surrounded by English-style gardens. Sir Francis Cook, an Englishman, commissioned it.
Note about tickets
The entrance prices are a little confusing, but just visiting the castles and gardens should cost less than 30 euros overall. There are various add-ons available, such as guided tours, entry to specific locations, and so on, but the base ticket is inexpensive. If you're just interested in sightseeing and having a day trip, the non-guided tour should be enough; but, if you're interested in learning about the history and structures, I recommend taking a tour!