Less than 30 kilometres from Lisbon, far behind the seven mountains, and seven woods, there’s a fairytale realm – Sintra. Colorful palaces, mysterious gardens, underground mazes and high fortifications, are just a part of the reasons why Sintra deserves to be called Disneyland for adults! Sintra is one of the oldest cities in Portugal that magically takes visitors back to past times.
The Moors’ Castle
The first point of my trip was the Moors’ Castle, located high on the one of the Sintra hills. It was a cool April morning when I got off from the bus line 434, just in front of the entrance to the complex. To my surprise, there were no tourists on the spot, so I didn’t have any problem to buy a ticket and go straight to explore this place. Curved and quite steep path led me to the top of the fortress. Partially dense forest limited the access of sunlight and the thick morning fog, rising over the ground, made an amazing mysterious atmosphere of this place. I won’t hide that I didn’t feel quite comfortable traversing this path alone, while on the other hand I must admit that it was also an interesting experience 😉
When I reached the highest point of the fortress called The King’s Tower, I saw the old, fortified walls, located on hills, which reminded me the Great Wall of China.
In the distance, I could see the Atlantic Coast, while on the other side the most beautiful view of the Pena Palace – the main attraction in Sintra.
After the peaceful Moors’ Castle, it was time to face hordes of tourists sieging (above mentioned) Pena Palace. The palace is located on a hill with panoramic views of Sintra.
The road to the castle leads through the beautiful park – Parque das Merendas, abundant with numerous unique plant species.
The palace itself looks like straight from the fairytale. Its architecture is an interesting combination of European and Islamic themes and above all, various colours. Every part of the palace has a different colour: red, yellow, purple, tu name but a few.
Inside you can see rich decorated chambers and old monastery with the red clock tower, while from the tarrace you can admire amazing views of Sintra.
The entrance to the park and the palace costs 11.50 €. The best option is to buy tickets via the Internet, otherwise you must be prepared to wait in a very long queue.
Quinta da Regaleira
Quinta da Regaleira was the place that immediately intrigued me during the browsing attractions in Sintra. The moment I saw pictures of the garden surrounding the mansion, looking exactly like from the Alice in Wonderland , I knew that was the place I had to visit.
The main attraction of the garden is the Ininitiation Well. What’s interesting, it wasn’t built as a source of water for a nearby residence. According to the legend it was the place where Masonic rituals were organized. During these rituals the participants were going down the spiral staircase to the bottom of the well. Even nowadays characteristic star can be seen on its floor. The architecture of the Initiation Well is inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. A few floors of winding stairs, covered in moss lead through the interior of the well. They symbolise the particular levels of heaven, purgatory and hell.
What was happening inside we can only guess. But it’s not over!
The garden is a maze of the underground corridors, interspersed by small creeks. Inconspicuous entrances between rocks, or secret corridors behind the waterfall look like the place was purposedly designed to hide some mystery.
The system of underground crossing and stairs probably symbolises the journey between light and darkness, or life and death.
To get to Quinta da Regaleira, it’s best to get off at the stop:National Palace and from there take a short walk.
In Sintra, there are many other interesting buildings like the National Palace, or the Convento dos Capuchos.
What to eat?
While a visit to Lisbon district – Belém cannot be “ticked off” without trying iconic cupcakes – pasteis de Belem, yes in this case, you cannot leave Sintra without trying queijadas and travesseiros! Queijadas is a kind of round, cheese cupcakes that taste more like marzipan than cheese. Supposedly a local variety of these cupcakes called: queijadas da sapa is baked according to the recipe, passed from generation to generation, known only by one family in Sintra.
Travesseiros is an oblong cake stuffed with almond and egg cream. The best are warm with a cup of coffee. The most famous place where you can try them is the Piriquita cafe, located near the National Palace.
How to get there:
Sintra is an excellent option for a day trip from Lisbon. It is only 30 km from the capital of Portugal. Trains towards Sintra leave from the Estação do Rossio station, every 10-20 minutes. One way ticket costs 3,8 €.
The Pena Palace and the Moors’ castle are pretty far from the train station. Unless you have time for a long march uphill, the best option is to use the bus line 434. Route of this bus includes following stops – National Palace, Moors’ Castle and Pena Palace.
One way ticket costs € 5 while, day ticket – € 12 and also includes a ride to Estoril (bus no 418) or Cascais (bus 403). Tickets can be bought from the driver.
The stop is right next to the train station. More information you can find on the page of carrier Scotturb.