Sintra: The Magical Land of Palaces

Sintra is only 25km from Lisbon and a historically significant town of Portugal. It is of no surprise that the whole town is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural significance and outstanding natural beauty. A day trip is enough to whisk you away into this castle-filled wonderland.

Getting there:

The easiest way to get there is by taking the train from Rossio train station in Lisbon to Sintra. Its costs around 5 euros for a return ticket and take around 40 minutes. I arrived relatively early at 11am to catch the train and make use of a full day at Sintra. If you only have one day there and you arrive relatively early, you could probably do 3-4 castles before they close. After recommendations from Joao, I decided to pick three sites that I know I would instantly fall in love with: Castelo dos Mouros; Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira.

  • Castelo dos Mouros

Even though there are busses that would take you to the castle, Joao gave me an off-road walking trail that would take me through a scenic pathway to the Castelo from the train station. Even though it was a rather strenuous hike up the side of a steep hill to the Moors Castle, it presents spectacular views of the horizon in the distance along the way. Taking a few stops on the way, it took around 50 minutes to get to the top. The National Park is beautiful beyond words with thick stands of leafy trees on either side and opened my eyes to the beauty of Sintra. Even the pure, untainted air felt different as we left the town, streets and cars beneath us and immersed myself in nature. As there was hardly anyone walking in this path, I had the opportunity to enjoy a calm and silence that I hadn’t experienced in ages.

Castelo dos Mouros is only the shell of what it once was. Only the outer fortifications still stand, covered in Moss and Lichens. The Canadian couple I met on my walk explained how the North Africa Muslim Moors built the original castle during the 10th Century as a military fort. Its mountaintop location made it an ideal strategic place to defend the town of Sintra and an outpost for Lisbon. When the Christian crusaders conquered Portugal, the castle was abandoned and later ruined by a fire and earthquake in the 18th century. King Ferdinand II restored most of the castle as he enjoyed seeing Pena Palace from the Castelo dos Mouros.

I met a number of people on my walk around the walls and towers. I loved how each wall presents a new vantage point with each being more mesmerising than the last. I also admired the architecture and found it amazing to think that they were able to assemble all these layers of stone on top of a mountain with rough terrain and without the use of modern equipment.

  • Pena Palace

After being blown away by the Castelo dos Mouros, I made a quick 15 minutes walk to Pena Palace which is undoubtedly the most popular sight in Sintra, for good reason. It was so colourful and beautiful against the blue sky. I walked along the edge of the castle, into the turrets and walked around the park outside. It was a really beautiful place to walk around in and to step back in time for a couple of hours.

After I finished wandering around the Palace of Pena, I decided to take a hike up the high cross. I thought I was completely lost, and could not see anyone for a good 20 minutes. It was only until I sat down on a rock on the side to take a breather that I saw a slightly elderly woman struggling to get up a rock. I ran over to assist and we both trekked together to get to the high cross. She was telling me about why she decided to pack her bags, leave her family and trek to Sintra. She was a religious catholic woman who decided to seek God for advice and forgiveness. We finally reached to the top of the statue where we had a wonderful view of the surrounding area.

After we reached the exit, we parted ways as she was making her way back down to town and I wanted to go the last castle for the day – the Quinta da Regaleira.

As I was making my way down the path to get to the main street, I realised that this was not for pedestrians. I only realised this after a number of cars were beeping at me. One car stopped next to me and asked if I wanted a lift to the bottom as its quite far. I saw a Portuguese family behind and thought why not – my feet were getting quite sore from the walking. On the way to the bottom, he asked me where I was from and if I wanted to see a traditional Portuguese village, which was just outside Sintra. Without thinking too much about it, I thought it would be a great insight to how the locals would live. The kind gentleman then dropped me off to Quinta da Regaleria.

  • Quinta da Regaleira

The Quinta da Regaleria was once just a fancy summer home, but around 1893, a wealthy man named Antonio Augusto Monterio purchased it. He was an eccentric individual born in Brazil to Portuguese parents and who made a fortune selling coffee and precious stones. After purchasing the property with the intent of using it as a summer home for his family, Monterio hired a French landscapist and an Italian architect to help him design the mansion according to his personal mystic ideologies. As such, symbolism related to Free Mansons, the Knights Templar, Christianity and Roscircuians were woven into the design. When walking around the Palace, you could see trickling waterfalls, precarious stepping-stones over a thickly moss-covered pong and winding stone stairways through the bushes. There is one surprise after another. To top it all off, a thick layer of fog covered the entire estate, making it all the more mysterious.

One of the most fascinating features is located beneath the group – a pair of wells spiralling deep within the earth. The wells contains nine platforms, which are said to be the “reminiscent of the Divine Comedy by Dante and the nine circles of Hell, the nine sections of Purgatory and the nine skies which constitute Paradise”. At the bottom of the well, there is a compass over a Knights Templar cross, said to be sign of his Rosicrucianism. Very little is known about how the wells were used and what events once transpired there.

All in all, I loved the beauty and symbolism of the Quinta de Regaleira. It was like an open window into the past that caries the memory of the regions rich and varied history.

Before heading back, i walked over to the town centre to try Sintra’s infamous pastries. The pastries of Piriquita, travesseiros are famous all over Portugal. They are these long, sugar coated ‘pillows’. I can’t quite describe the taste, but its very delicious – the inside is filled with egg yolk, sugar and almond. Like the pastry of belem, the recipe is a secret, under lock and key, patented and worth a fortune. I took some home to give to my family and fiance!

Do you have any questions about travelling to Sintra that I didn’t answer? Be sure to leave them in the comments, and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible 🙂  

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