On the winding roads that lead to the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), every turn reveals a different view of the surrounding hills, each seemingly more breathtaking than the last. For Lisbon visitors, it is almost inevitable that Sintra will become a part of the journey. There is no absence of tradition when it comes to the Sintra palaces – they are built on fairytale landscapes and lush forests that will impress even the most seasoned of travelers. But for us, even with a plethora of picture-worthy landmarks to discover, we for once tore up the idea of a schedule in favour of spontaneity.
Castelo dos Mouros
During the Moorish occupation of the Peninsula, the mighty Castelo dos Mouros fortress was built to protect against siege and occupation in the 8th and 9th centuries. It was the perfect strategic location from which to defend the town. After falling into the hands of several different groups during the Crusades, the castle was reconquered by Christians under the rule of the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henrique, in 1147. When peace was finally restored, the castle lost its strategic importance and was acquired by King Ferdinand II, who restored it to all its former glory in the 19th century.
While a small fee can be paid to enter the main grounds, a large portion of the castle and its gardens can be enjoyed from the outside. And while the castle itself is quite spectacular, its gardens are almost more impressive:
The Palacio Nacional da Pena
By midday, we were exploring King Ferdinand II’s extravagant sense of romanticism more in depth at the Pena Palace. Upon entering the garden, a breeze caressed the ponds while the tree canopies sat in patient silence, creating the illusion of a dream. We felt swiftly taken back in time to our make-believe summer home in the exotic garden we would have met in as royals. As one of the seven wonders of Portugal, the Pena Palace sits on a site once built for a chapel that fell to ruins in the 1755 earthquake. Years later, Ferdinand II, King Consort of Queen Maria II, acquired the site and transformed it into a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. Its bold multicoloured walls are so extravagant it will make you question whether it was all built for the same castle.
Palacio de Sintra
When staying in Sintra, a stay can be enjoyed at Palacio de Sintra, an enchanting little B&B that offers 9 comfortable suites. While each room is personalized to embody a unique Portuguese royal, views over the mountains on the terrace and a breakfast at their exquisite kitchen table will surely leave you feeling like a royal.
At 5:30 we found our taxi driver, Rodrigo, rushing to his place to change out of his work clothes. He was a sort of free spirit, one of those people you wouldn’t be surprised finding career-hopping every couple of years for the fun of it. Somewhere along the journey we steered off the main road and ended up on some of the area’s scenic routes on our way to Cascais. Spontaneity seemed to be the theme of the day, and a surprise trip to a beachtown with a local seemed to fit right in.
A yellow-ish tint had covered Cascais by the time we had gotten to the city centre and there was only enough time to catch the last hours of light on a brief walk before dinner. For a city that finds itself so close to a hub like Lisbon, Cascais has retained a lot of its small beachtown charm. Boat owners can still be found mending nets on the quay to prepare for the next morning’s catch.
Though we had originally come with plans to visit every Sintra landmark, we had undoubtedly found that things didn’t really go that way. Despite this the day had ended with a perfect sunset by the beach, recharging us with the energy we needed to take on the world.
Hoping you’ll get to visit,
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