Sometimes my holiday destinations are determined by whether it’s cheap and easy to get there, sometimes it’s about the weather, sometimes it’s to attend an event or exhibition. However, my most recent holiday was mostly determined by Pinterest – a first for me. We’d had Lisbon on our list of places to go for a while but when I saw photos of Sintra on Pinterest, we knew we had to go.
- Where: Sintra, Portugal
- Month: September
- For: 3 days
- Suited to: Couples
- Expect: Narnia, Castles, Good Food
- Accommodations: 1
- Restaurant recommendations: 1
- Cost (accommodation): ~£200 pp + flights
- Spending: £50/day pp (meals & entrance fees)
We flew from London into Lisbon (LIS). In terms of getting to Sintra, we hopped in a cab at the airport and it was a quick and easy 40 euro trip; much less hassle than heading into Lisbon and then finding the train (although we did get the train back from Sintra to Lisbon and it was super easy).
Our room had a great view over the National Palace of Sintra and well located for the main attractions of the town.
What to do
Stroll through town: One early afternoon we had a stroll through town and shots of ginja (a Portuguese cherry liqueur) served in edible chocolate cups – a good idea for all shots!
Sintra town itself is full of small streets and staircases and was decked out with festive garlands, putting us very much in the holiday mood.
Quinta da Regaleira: An easy 15 minute stroll from our hotel, Quinta da Regaleira was the summer residence of the Carvalho Monteiro family and the house sits within extensive fairytale grounds intersected by paths and featuring a chapel, wells, grottos, towers, statues and intricate benches. It was like falling into Narnia.
Winding our way along paths lined with cedars, magnolias, lime trees and a whole host of others I couldn’t identify, we came to the Lake of the Waterfall, a rocky outcrop with waterfall hiding behind it a system of pitch black caves, navigable by stumbling or phone light only. We made our way with trepidation over the stepping stones (the last thing I fancied was ending up in the algae covered water, especially as I had no idea if it was ankle-deep or neck-deep!) and into the network of tunnels.
We popped out at the Initiation Well which feels like a tower but is sunk several floors (over 25 metres down) into the earth with a spiral staircase winding around a central void. It looks like it should belong in Lord of the Rings or something like that.
We spent a few happy hours just wandering around the grounds while I pretended to be Titania in my own fairy kingdom. My photos really don’t do the place justice, only a visit can convey the real sense of the place and its beauty and calm.
The grounds really are the star of the show and so we spent most of our time wandering around, only heading back to the house at the end of our visit, shortly before the whole place closed.
Save for the Hunting Room which contained a beautiful floor mosaic, the interior didn’t quite match the beautifully elaborate exterior. Although the third floor, which featured intricate turrets and finials, offered great panoramic views across the area and over to the sea.
Palacio de Pena: Originally the site of a monastery, the building that now stands on the site was built as a summer palace on the orders of King-Consort Don Fernando II in the 19th century. The eclectic design features turrets, cloisters, watch-towers and terraces all clad in tiles or painted in bright colours which gives the whole place a slightly unreal almost Disney feel.
Tip: Visit first thing in the morning to take advantage of your base in Sintra and to get there before the hordes of day-trippers arrive from Lisbon.
We hopped on the first bus from Sintra that would get us there for when it opened. It's at the top of a ridiculously high peak and the bus ride twists and turns along steep and twisty roads that, even as a confident driver, I’d never want to drive on. We were dropped off at the ticket office and after buying tickets faced the need to decide whether to wait for a little electric shuttle bus to take us a further few minutes up the hill to the entrance, or we could walk. Rather than wait, we decided to walk the 500m up the hill, which was a nice little bit of exercise for our thighs.
I felt like when I touched walls that they should have a dull, hollow feeling, as if they should be a fibreglass facade rather than solid stone. It’s a very unreal place and almost too fairytale to be real.
From the Palacio de Pena we had an excellent view across to the top of another peak, on which the Moorish Castle stands, somewhere we were due to visit the next morning. We could also see two other peaks in the distance, one which seemed to have a statue of a sort of soldier and another with a cross. My boyfriend, undaunted by their perceived distance and height, determined that we should go and find both once we had finished exploring the Palace.
The Palace itself is set in over eighty hectares of beautiful wooded grounds. We wandered the paths dappled with sunlight and eventually found our way to the Statue of the Warrior, a bronze statue which is claimed to be either a representation of the King or Baron von Eschwege, the architect of the Palace.
With one monument found, we were spurred on to reach the Cruz Alta, a carved stone cross located at the highest point of the Sintra hills. It was a bit of a climb but well worth it for the amazing view across to the Palacio de Pena.
After taking in the magnificent view we wend our way down through the trees, picking out random little paths to follow as we went, sometimes ducking under rock formations (and in my case, running through to avoid the risk of the completely and utterly stable rocks suddenly and inexplicably moving and me being crushed to death) and following little streams as they fed into ponds.
We sat out on the terrace and enjoyed a wonderful lunch and bottle of wine with a view over the National Palace of Sintra.