For anyone headed to Portugal it is a country that offers an impressive variety of culture, cuisine and friendliness. Of course many will be anxious to see the capital and perhaps the seaside towns, but if Sintra is not on the list, it certainly should be. Offering a marvelous daytrip from Lisbon, this historic and hilly town is a great experience of the lush countryside and culture of Portugal. This town is easily reached by any number of buses or trains as well as a series of good highways if you happen to be using a car.
The town always has visitors but the weekends are especially magical with various festivals and events. More than anything, the local attraction is the stunning beauty of the sculpted mountains and polished estates in this city. The landscape itself is majestic and inspiring, so much so that the Portuguese felt like crowning these natural formations with their Romantic expressions.
The area within which the town is set is known as Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. This region is mountainous compared to the hilly aspects of Lisbon. Gorgeous cliff faces of sheet white are crowned with layers of verdant forests and wild flowers bloom in the abundant shade. This region was prized from hundreds of years ago for its natural beauty by poets and cartographers and eventually caught the eye of kings and nobles. Kings of both Portuguese and Moorish decent have been building here since the 9th century. The Castelo dos Mouros was built in the 9th century and renovated in the 19th century. This is a fantastic castle whose walls run the length of the front cliff which overlooks much of the forests and plains below. As you begin your climb towards the city in whatever form of transportation, these walls will be the first signs of Sintra to greet you. Sintra is home to a growing number of beautiful golf communities as well as world class resorts. Chief among them is the Ritz Carlton Penha Longa Spa and Resort which is a surreal hotel set in a mystic landscape which transports one into the magic heart of Sintra.
Another fabulous wonder with compelling views of the mountainside and region is the Sintra National Palace. This is a building whose foundations go back to the 10th century and Moorish rulers as well. Nothing remains of the original palace but the 15th century rebuilding King John of Portugal undertook displays a veritable synthesis of Moorish, Gothic and Manueline motifs. The building features its royal chapel as its earliest room and then branches out into a series of rooms built over many centuries often named for common birds. Since you are only about 15 kilometers from the beach at this point be on the lookout for some great seafood as well as hearty country fare from the mountains.
The famous Pena Palace sits on the highest peak above the town and offers views from the sea on one side and all the way to Lisbon on the other. The walk even with a bus or car is not for the faint of heart, but the arrival at the palace from the moss-covered forest is simply stunning. There are a series of shuttles which take those unable or unwilling to walk right to the front gates, but if you can walk it, I highly recommend doing so. Besides the sumptuous interiors the external façade is a collection of fascinating ornaments from many different periods and movements. One set of yellow towers are adorned with vaulted arches while the courtyard has an Islamic style and the central passageway is set in a Mauve coloring with a fascinating carving of a newt coming out of the wall. Neo-Renaissance, Manueline and Gothic elements also abound on this truly eclectic structure.
Sintra is by far one of the easiest and best daytrips to do outside a major city in Europe. If you value an encounter with beauty and nature and are looking for a step beyond the ordinary be sure and get to Sintra and find the jewels of the Portuguese landscape.