Every guidebook and everyone who has been to Portugal recommends Sintra as a not-to-miss destination. Sintra is a town located about 30km from Lisbon and is a formal royal residence. The entire mountain that Sintra sits on is classified as a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Palácio Nacional is kind of like the Portuguese equivalent of Versailles and was the summer residence for the royal family. The palácio can be toured and it is very well preserved. (If touring with babies: leave the stroller behind, there are many stairs). I was most impressed by the dining room and the kitchen. Azulejos are found throughout. When we had finished touring the palácio, we wandered the narrow streets and had a lunch on a terrace in the sunshine at a restaurant called Tacho Real. I had another whole roasted fish and Laurent had the suckling pig. We stopped into a café in front of the palácio for coffee and dessert.
After dessert, we got into the car and drove up the mountain to the serra. We didn’t have time to tour everything, so we got tickets to see the Palácio Nacional da Pena and the Castelo dos Mouros. Palácio Nacional da Pena is literally a castle in the sky. It is a giant, colorful, fairytale castle atop a mountain.
The construction was finished in 1885 and it was inhabited until 1910. We toured the inside of the palácio, but photos were not allowed. The tour leads you inside and outside of the palácio, it is a photographer’s paradise. We admired the juxtaposition of the different architectural styles. The views from the different overlooks were stunning. The former inhabitants had an extraordinary, 360° view over the countryside. After touring the palácio and admiring the views, we hiked back down to the entrance of Castelo dos Mouros.
The Castelo dos Mouros is a medieval castle that was constructed in the 8th or 9thcentury and it has since fallen to ruins. There have been restoration projects and you can walk along the ramparts that overlook the valley. It was really quite amazing to hike around this old fortress. The stone walls are very high, and the view across the valley and over the horizon is breathtaking. In some ways, this reminded me of my visit to the Great Wall of China in 2009. I can’t begin to imagine the manpower that was involved in the original construction as the terrain is precarious and unforgiving.
Before returning to Lisbon, we stopped at another tiny beach town, I forget which one, for a snack and a stroll in the sand. The return to Lisbon was slow going as we were caught in rush hour traffic. As we arrived somewhat late in Lisbon, we ended up eating dinner at an unmemorable touristy place near the Praça D. Pedro IV. The only thing it had going for it was the large terrace.
The following day we had to pack up our bags for the 300km drive back to Porto. We wished we had had at least one extra day in Lisbon; there were still plenty of things we would have liked to see. Luckily for us, the only day it rained during our trip was the day we drove to Porto. We took the highway in the downpour and only stopped in one town along the way for lunch. We had a low-key evening in Porto, having our last dinner on another terrace away from the touristy spots. We left the hotel somewhat early the next day to drive back to the airport. I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say that we most likely won’t ever fly Ryanair again.
Our trip was a wonderful discovery of Portugal. I would love to go back someday to spend a little more time in Lisbon and see the Mediterranean coast.
Click here for more of my photos of Sintra.