Peppered with wealthy people, pricey real estate, and expat community, Sintra is synonymous to splendour. It is home to three palaces and a castle and one of the most expensive municipalities in the Iberian Peninsula. The affluent district is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, and need I say a popular tourist destination.
Pena National Palace (Pena Palàis)
Pena Palace is the most famous of the three palaces. The first thing that springs to my mind as I think of Pena Palace is the yellow and red facade of the palace peeking out of the dense thicket. And on a clear day, the palace can be spotted even from Lisbon at 33km distance.
A 15 min hike up the hill, part of the Sintra mountains, to reach the palace is like getting a colour therapy. The various shades of green, yellow, brown of the forest filled with pine, hazelnut and eucalyptus trees among others, the yellow, and red of the palace together with bird songs and steep climb would make even the most depressed person on the planet feel like the happiest person alive by the time s/he reaches the entrance of the castle.
And if hikes and happiness in life is not your thing, there is also a bus service every 15 minutes departing from the entrance.
Pena Palace comes from an extraordinary background. First, that is to say, in the middle ages there was a Chapel dedicated to Our Lady, later a monastery was built around it to accommodate a maximum of 18 monks. Unfortunately, in the 18thcentury, the monastery suffered massive damage by lightning and subsequently, the infamous 1755 Lisbon earthquake, considered one of the worst earthquakes in history, brought it down to its knees. Amidst all the chaos the chapel remained intact with only minor damages.
The site and the ruins fascinated king Ferdinand for a long time. Eventually, he acquired more property surrounding the site and transformed the ruins into a palace. The palace later served as a summer residence of Portuguese royal family.
The Pena Palace is now Portugal’s national monument, also a museum, UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the seven wonders of Portugal.
You can read about two other wonders of Portugal as well as UNESCO World Heritage sites here.
The museum will take you back in time providing a glimpse into the ways the Portuguese royals once vacationed. But, what fascinated me the most was the architecture in the Moorish and Gothic style especially the gargoyles and the vast forest that surrounds the palace.
An adult ticket to the palace costs 14 euro (in 2018), and it takes at least three hours to tour the palace.
Portuguese Renaissance Sintra National Palace
Nestled right in the heart of the city, Sintra National Palace is the best-preserved medieval royal Palace in Portugal. The two tall conical chimney’s jutting out of the building, also the symbol of Sintra, is what characterises the otherwise minimalist exterior of the palace. With a combination of Moorish and Manueline style, the interiors are anything but minimalist. The unique attractions of the palace include the swan room with its ceiling festooned with 27 gold-collared swans and the Magpie room with magpies on the ceiling.
The Cabo da Roca – Westernmost point of mainland Europe
Cabo da Roca is Europe’s westernmost extent. In other words, continental Europe ends here on the west. It could also be the end of your life if you’re not careful around the cliffs. Standing on the headland of rugged cliffs, amidst the gorgeous views, all I could manage to think of was “what happens if I slide and fall into the cold Atlantic Ocean? Are there sharks?” Having said that the view of the blue-green Atlantic Ocean is outstanding. It gives you a sense of what earth is all about on very a small-scale. I suspect it is also an excellent spot for birding, perhaps endemic too, as I’ve also seen some birdwatchers on the site.
Portugal is known for its pastelarias (bakeries) and every region in Portugal has its speciality pastry. Portugal also has its own “7 wonders of Portuguese gastronomy,” and Pastel de Belém from Lisbon is one of them. Travesseiros is Sintra’s popular pastry, Piriquita is where you get the authentic Travesseiros.