A Land of Fairytales – Part 2

Back to Sintra the following day to see some more of its beauty and another beautiful day it was. We decided to start at the Castelo dos Mouros on the top of the hill, overlooking the township of Sintra. It dates back to the 9th century when the Moors built it containing two walled sections with a total perimeter of about 450 metres.

It is surrounded by beautiful parkland on one side and a sheer drop on the other. Its place on top of the hillside overlooking Sintra with it’s turrets, ramparts and towers really accentuates the romantic character of this place, particularly when enshrouded in rolling fog and mist.

There’s nothing much to do here but just wander the perimeter, climb and explore the towers and turrets and admire the breathtaking views. You can see all the way out to the Atlantic on a clear day.

View down to the town of Sintra

View from Parque de Pena

After some lunch we headed to Parque de Pena, where you can find the Palácio Nacional de Pena, a completely over-the-top Romanticist palace crossed with a little bit of Disney. If I had to choose, this was probably my favourite place. It’s pure fantasy!

Upon arrival at the park gates, there is quite a hike, but well worth it, up to the palace through the beautiful woods or you can take a little carriage bus up there if you’re feeling lazy. The palace is situated 450 metres above sea level and is perched high above Sintra.

First glimpse of Palácio de Pena

A newt under a window

It was built in the 1840’s by German architect Baron Wilhelm Eschwege for King Ferdinand and Queen Maria II. It became the summer residence for the Portuguese royal family and the last family member to live here was Queen Amélia in 1910 before leaving the country in exile. During the 1910 republic revolution, the monarchy was deposed by a military coup and the monarchy was never restored again in Portugal.  The palace was purchased by the State in 1889 and after the republic revolution it was classified a national monument and turned in to a museum.

The palace is a crazy fusion of styles, a mixture of eclectic Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Gothic and Islamic influences. King Ferdinand had exotic taste and probably would have been described as flamboyant but he wanted an extravagant love nest for him and his Queen.

My Rapunzel

Almost the entire palace is built upon rock. There are drawbridges, studded archways, a clock tower, turrets, terraces, chapels, circular towers and rainbow coloured outer walls. The palace is built within 200 hectares of the most wonderful and enchanting forest. King Ferdinand ordered trees to be planted from many distant places like China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and North America. A labyrinth of paths leads to many beautiful locations throughout the park. Again, we found the park the highlight of the visit. One path took us to a huge crucifix high up on a hill.

From here we got the most breathtaking views back to the palace.

Palácio de Pena

The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling through the forest, getting lost, exploring the many flower gardens, discovering hidden gazebos and fountains and photographing the beautiful flora and fauna.

And we also thought it would be a really great place to film a movie. So here are our first few attempts…..okay, so we thought it was funny. Apologies in advance….clearly too much time on our hands.

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A Land of Fairytales

A land of castles, fairytales, palaces and princesses exists about thirty minutes outside of Lisbon. It’s a township called Sintra. It’s one of Portugal’s biggest and most popular tourist attractions and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Around the 9th century, the Moors built their castle (Castelo dos Mouros) on top of a nearby hill. In the 11th century, a lot of the town was built up by Arab geographer Al-Bacr. Hans Christian Anderson found literary inspiration here and Lord Byron christened the place “glorious Eden”. Later it became the residence of the Portuguese royal family, which attracted many wealthy aristocrats who built huge mansions in the area.

Looking up at the Castle of the Moors

It’s a mystical, romantic and totally extravagant place that you need at least two days, if not more, to see it properly. Not only are there many buildings (palaces, castles, chapels, monasteries) to see and explore but the gardens surrounding them are truly spectacular as well and you could easily spend a whole afternoon exploring just one of the many enchanted forests surrounding each palace.

Day 1 we started at Quinta da Regaleira which basically translates to Regal Farm. Hardly a farm, this place was spectacular, quirky and pure fantasy. It was built just before the turn of the 20th century in Roman, Gothic and Renaissance styles. It is also known as ‘The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire’ named after the first owner António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. The ‘farm’ contains a magnificent palace with beautiful turrets, gargoyles and towers. There are five floors within and there is also a separate chapel.

The Palace of Quinta da Regaleira
View of Quinta da Regaleira from the Castle

But for us, the gardens were the highlight with its mysterious wells, underground grottos, statues, lakes and gazebos. There are four hectares to explore and an underground tunnel system leading to different grottos, the chapel and a tunnel that opened out to the dubiously named ‘Initiation Well’. An immense stone staircase spiralled 32 metres skyward.

The Initiation Well
The Initiation Well

After many hours exploring the park, we went on to the next, to the Palácio de Monserrate (Monserrate Palace).

It was built in the mid-1800’s and they are currently renovating the inside of the palace. Its architecture is reminiscent of a combination of the Taj Mahal and the Duomo in Florence. It’s simply breathtaking. It was once the former private residence of an Englishman, Sir Francis Cook.

Again, the lush gardens were the highlight for us. There are fabulous pathways leading in many different directions to romantic subtropical gardens, lakes and waterfalls. It was a beautiful summers day and we just enjoyed the sunshine and getting lost in the 30 hectares of gardens.

It was an afternoon of fun in the sun but it nearly ended in disaster though as we took a short cut through the Mexican garden full of yuccas, palms and cacti. The tread of my shoes served no purpose as I lost my footing and went so close to tumbling down the decline covered in cacti.

Stay tuned for Day 2 of our visit to Sintra…..