SINTRA TOUR SUPPORT
We take-off from Lisbon in the morning heading directly to the UNESCO-listed Pena Palace. The 19th-century Romantic palace is a wonder to discover and one you will not soon forget. It is one of the best places to take pictures. It’s placed high on top of the mountain with a splendid view that stretches for miles, all the way to the Ocean.
- PENA PALACE: Ferdinand of Saxe Coburg-Gotha, the artist-husband of Queen Maria II, and later Dom Ferdinand II, commissioned Prussian architect Ludwig von Eschwege in 1840 to build the Mouresque-Manueline epic (and as a final flourish added an armoured statue representing a medieval knight overlooking the palace from a nearby peak). Inspired by Stolzenfels and Rheinstein castles and Potsdam's Babelsberg Palace, a flourish of imagination and colour commenced. The eclectic, extravagant interior is equally unusual, brimming with precious Meissen porcelain, Portuguese-style furniture, trompe l’œilmurals and Dom Carlos’ unfinished nudes of buxom nymphs.
- PENA GARDENS: Nearly topped by King Ferdinand II's whimsical Palácio Nacional da Pena (only Cruz Alta, at 529m, is higher), these romantic gardens are filled with tropical plants, huge redwoods and fern trees, camellias, rhododendrons and lakes (note the castle-shaped duck houses for web-footed royalty!)
As you stroll through the beautiful and exotic landscape, your guide will give you historical and architectural details on the region. Later we continue through the National Park onwards to see the Chalets, Moorish Castle and Montserrate Palace.
- CHALET OF COUNTESS OF EDLA: While the crowds descend on the palace, another less-visited but fascinating site within the park is the Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs–evoking Chalet da Condessa d'Edla, an alpine-inspired summer getaway cottage commissioned by King Ferdinand II and his future second wife, Elise Hensler (the Countess of Edla).
- MOORISH CASTLE: Soaring 412m above sea level, this mist-enshrouded ruined castle looms high above the surrounding forest. When the clouds peel away, the vistas over Sintra’s palace-dotted hill and dale, across to the glittering Atlantic are – like the climb – breathtaking. The 10th-century Moorish castle’s dizzying ramparts stretch across the mountain ridges and past moss-clad boulders the size of small buses.
- MONTSERRATE PALACE: At the centre of a lush, 30-hectare park, a manicured lawn sweeps up to this whimsical, Moorish-Gothic-Indian palácio,the 19th-century romantic folly of English millionaire Sir Francis Cook. The wild and rambling gardens were created in the 18th century by wealthy English merchant Gerard de Visme, then enlarged by landscape painter William Stockdale (with help from London’s Kew Gardens). Its wooded hillsides bristle with exotic foliage, from Chinese weeping cypress to dragon trees and Himalayan rhododendrons. Seek out the Mexican garden nurturing palms, yuccas and agaves, and the bamboo-fringed Japanese garden abloom with camellias.
Moving forward we have the stunning Quinta da Regaleira. This yet another UNESCO-listed site has anciently carved buildings, incredible gardens and a gothic breeze that will enchant anyone who dares to enter. Full of history behind it, you will learn all about the caves, secret wells and art that originated from the Masonry, the Templars and the Rose Cross.
- QUINTA DA REGALEIRA: This magical villa and gardens is a neo-Manueline extravaganza, dreamed up by Italian opera-set designer, Luigi Manini, under the orders of Brazilian coffee tycoon, António Carvalho Monteiro, aka 'Monteiro dos Milhões' ('Moneybags Monteiro'). The villa is surprisingly homely inside, despite its ferociously carved fireplaces, frescos and Venetian-glass mosaics. Keep an eye out for mythological and Knights Templar symbols.
Before moving towards Cabo da Roca, You may want take a stroll through the historical center of Sintra. This is a good time to rest, lunch and try out some traditional regional pastries. Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of Continental Europe, is yet another great spot to take some pictures and feel the sea breeze.
Reaching the end of our trip we want to show the place where many Portuguese Royal Families used to vacation. We would not consider this trip a success if you didn’t experience the coastal splendor of Cascais.
- CASCAIS: Cascais has rocketed from sleepy fishing village to much-loved summertime playground of wave-frolicking lisboêtasever since King Luís I went for a dip in 1870. Its trio of golden bays attracts sun-worshipping holidaymakers, who come to splash in the ice-cold Atlantic. Don’t expect to get much sand to yourself at the weekend, though. There’s plenty of post-beach life, with winding lanes leading to small museums, cool gardens, a shiny marina and a pedestrianised old town dotted with designer boutiques and alfresco fish restaurants. After dark, lively bars fuel the party. There's also great surfing at Praia do Guincho, 9km northwest, and running or cycling along the shoreline path.
SINTRA NATIONAL PALACE: The star of Sintra-Vila is this palace, with its iconic twin conical chimneys and lavish, whimsical interior, which is a mix of Moorish and Manueline styles, with arabesque courtyards, barley-twist columns and 15th- and 16th-century geometric azulejos (hand-painted tiles) that figure among Portugal’s oldest. Of Moorish origins, the palace was first expanded by Dom Dinis (1261–1325), enlarged by João I in the 15th century (when the kitchens were built), then given a Manueline twist by Manuel I in the following century.
Highlights include the octagonal Sala dos Cisnes (Swan Room), adorned with frescos of 27 gold-collared swans, and the Sala das Pegas (Magpie Room), with its ceiling emblazoned with magpies. Lore has it that the queen caught João I kissing one of her ladies-in-waiting. The cheeky king claimed the kisses were innocent and all ‘por bem’ (‘for the good’), then commissioned one magpie for every lady-in-waiting.
Other standouts are the wooden Sala dos Brasões, bearing the shields of 72 leading 16th-century families, the shipshape Galleon Room and the Palatine chapel featuring an Islamic mosaic floor. Finally, you reach the restored kitchen of twin-chimney fame, where you can almost hear the crackle of a hog roasting on a spit for the king.
CAPUCHOS CONVENT: Hidden in the woods is this bewitchingly hobbit-hole-like convent, which was originally built in 1560 to house friars who lived in incredibly cramped conditions, in tiny cells with low, narrow doors. Byron mocked the monastery in his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, referring to recluse Honorius who spent a staggering 36 years here (before dying at age 95 in 1596). It’s often nicknamed the Cork Convent, as its minuscule cells are lined with cork. Visiting here is an Alice in Wonderland experience, as you squeeze through to explore the warren of cells, chapels, kitchen and cavern. The monks lived a simple, touchingly well-ordered life in this idyllic yet spartan place, hiding up until 1834 when it was abandoned after all religious orders were abolished.
SINTRA ARTS MUSEUM: This museum features a small and manageable collection of contemporary and modern art, around 80% of which is dedicated to local works. The permanent collection features some of Portugal's best-known artists, most notably sculptor Dorita de Castel-Branco and painters Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro and António Carneiro. Temporary exhibitions run the gamut from war photography to abstract art. Permanent highlights include Carneiro's Maria Josefina, Maria do Céu Crispim's Can You See Me? (made of nails), and several paintings from various artists of Sintra's 18th-century glory days.