A quick day trip from Lisbon was a faraway place called Sintra. Home to some palaces and gorgeous views of mountains and the ocean, it’s hard not to love this place. Collected from quick emails sent from the road, here’s some of my experiences on this incredible trip:
The Town of Sintra
My next stop in Portugal was a thirty minute train ride to the town of Sintra. It sit further west on the peninsula, surrounded by the Atlantic. The town was charming – brightly colored pinks and yellows of the buildings and houses dotted the hilly and wooded landscape. The train station was in the middle of the valley, and it was about a twenty minute walk to the town around circuitous roads. Rain was threatening and the air was held down by a damp humidity.
The walk was beautiful. I was surrounded by lush mountains on all sides and gorgeous buildings, and an array of tropical trees and plants. As I got closer to Sintra, I could hear a soft echo of midcentury American Christmas songs. “I’ll be home for Christmas” was one of the muffled songs that echoed through the valley.
On to the Palace!
My first stop was the source of the Christmas music. A small Christmas market set up outside the Sintra National Palace. Known for its two white coned chimneys, the Palace flowed from room to room named after the intricate ceiling decor. One room was the Blackbird Room, the next the Swan Room. It was large and pretty, filled with the usual trappings of a 15th century palace.
After the palace, I crossed into the quaint town yards away. The town rests along the mountainside and featured tons of restaurants, cafes and souvenir stands. The streets were all angled and kept rising up the incline. I absolutely took the time to eat some natas (incredible custard filled pastries, a Lisbon specialty). Then I drank a couple glasses of port wine. I followed those up with a cherry liqueur shot in a chocolate cup. It was now time to start my ascent to the two castles that sat at the top of the mountain. The first: a Moorish Castle built in the 8th century, and the second, a palace built on the site of a 15th century monastery.
Up to the Moorish Castle!
I kept walking up the roads until there was a paved path pointing towards the top of the mountain. The path disappeared, and I navigated a wet, dirt path that wound its side up the mountain. At one point, I passed rock climbers and still was nowhere close to the Moorish Castle. Passing caves and looking down the mountain at the palace I just visited, I finally reached the Moorish Castle. The remains are all stone walls, turrent and parapets, built precariously on the edge of the mountain. It overlooks the Atlantic from its watch towers and the views are stunning. Apparently, even the King of Norway spotted this castle in 1108 from his boat and invaded.
A ton of stone ramparts and towers were built up on the edge of the mountain, and you can still walk along all of them. Keeping with the 8th century motif, there was only a couple places railings were installed, so walking along some of the open steps and parapets raised the pulse a bit. Adding to the excitement were some 30 mph winds that made your heart skip when you realized on one side of the wall was a mountainside drop, the other a 20-40 foot drop onto a stone floor below. Nerves aside, the views were stunning, and there was still another castle above.
Up to the Palace of Pena!
The Palace of Pena is a technicolor colored palace another 1500 feet up the trail from the remains of the Moorish Castle. Originally a 15th century monastery, sometime along the way it was converted into the king’s residence. I eagerly headed into the castle’s courtyard when the winds kicked up again and rain started to fall as a cloud dropped from the sky and engulfed the entire castle. Everybody headed for cover, and I took the time to leisurely check out the bizarre layout of the castle and the gorgeous decorated rooms while listening to the winds mercilessly beat the stone walls outside.
It’s been a crazy few days in Portugal so far and it’s been a great ride. I’ve taken to grabbing some random pastries for snacks at night. Today my only plan is to jump around the city and eat as much food as I can, then spend the rest of my time in Lisbon catching up with some of the other sites.
Here are the other pages with stories and pictures of my three and a half weeks in Spain and Portugal: