The enchanting town of Sintra is all about scenic splendour; a realm of romance where majestic fairy tale-like palaces, a grandiose castle, regal estates and charming red-tiled houses stand amidst a landscape of luxuriant forests and hilltops.
Characterised by its singular mystique and peacefulness, the province of Sintra offers scenery of striking beauty with its rocky mountain range, lush greenery and sweep of pristine beaches. Named ‘Hill of the Moon’ by its Celtic settlers and ‘Mons Lunae’ by the Romans, Sintra’s sleepy mountain range is also home to an extensive natural park that stretches out to Cascais’, wave-lapped coast.
For five centuries, Portuguese royalty used their sumptuous, hilltop mansions and luxurious estates in Sintra as summer residences to enjoy the crisp air and refreshing microclimate of its mountain range far from the city heat. Once described as ‘Glorious Eden’ by 19th Century English poet Lord Byron, this dreamy, fairy tale land continues to draw the attention of world-class writers and filmmakers, who find inspiration in Sintra’s unparalleled beauty, history and legends.
Sintra’s historic centre is an open-air museum filled with magnificent treasures such as the breathtaking gardens of the luxurious Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, the 18th Century Capuchos Convent, Monserrate Park and several museums. Two of Lisbon’s most prestigious golf courses, Penha Longa Golf and Beloura Golf are just a short drive from the heart of town and boast magnificent facilities and views. Charming shops, antique dealers, restaurants and cafés also enrich this picturesque area, as well as a selection of museums where you can appreciate varied themes such as modern art, archaeology and historical toys.
Nestling in Sintra’s historic centre near the fabulous Tivoli Sintra Hotel is the National Palace, an impressive monument that is renowned for being the only royal palace of medieval origin to remain intact in the country. Its glorious combination of Moorish, Gothic and Manueline styles, as well as its extravagantly adorned rooms, oriental-inspired tile work, delicate paintings, antique furniture and superbly woven carpets make this stately palace well worth a visit. The most attractive architectural feature of this national monument is its pair of towering white spires – a prominent landmark of Sintra’s misty skyline.
Winding along a ridge of Sintra’s immense mountain range, the colossal 8th–9th Century Moorish Castle is an extraordinary reminder of Portugal’s past. Conquered by King D. Afonso Henriques in 1147 and restored later by order of King D. Fernando II in 1839, this eye-catching military structure has remained impeccably preserved through time. Appreciate the austere towers, original cistern and amazing battlements of the castle, from where marvellous panoramic views of the town can be enjoyed.
The awe-inspiring Pena Palace, another prominent feature of Sintra’s landscape, is considered one of the most original architectural masterpieces ever created. Resembling something out of a fairy tale with its combination of Gothic, Manueline, Moorish and Indian inspired styles, this 19th Century UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts a striking array of exotic turrets, ramparts and domes bathed in shades of pastel colours, intricately sculpted window frames and brightly tiled spires. Built by order of King D. Fernando II and Queen Maria with the purpose of creating an idyllic retreat for royalty, this romantic palace contains lovely Victorian-inspired rooms, resplendent trompe-d’oeils, regal furniture and beautifully manicured gardens.
Enjoy spectacular sunsets on Sintra’s beaches at the relaxing water sports haven of Ericeira or the charming, whitewashed fishing village of Azenhas do Mar. Praia Grande, Praia da Adraga and Praia das Maçãs are some of Sintra’s most sought-after beaches, loved for their natural beauty and fabulous conditions for body-boarding and surfing.
Tickle your taste buds with Sintra’s delicious local recipes and savour its heavenly cheese tarts (‘queijadinhas’) flaky, sugar-sprinkled pastries (‘travesseiros’) and its rustic suckling pig (‘Leitão de Negrais’), roast kid (‘Cabrito Assado’) and divine seafood dishes.
Places to see
Quinta da Regaleira
Located in the heart of Sintra, this lovely estate was built at the beginning of the 20th Century by order of Portuguese millionaire António Augusto Carvalho and is regarded as an ‘architectural dream come true.’ Designed by visionary Italian architect Luigi Manini, this five-storey UNESCO World Heritage Site is distinguished for its blend of Gothic, Manueline and Neoclassic features, a beautiful chapel, abundant gardens, elegant ponds and lakes. One of the estate’s most intriguing features is its spiralling stairway – a long set of steps leading you down to a mysterious area of underground grottoes and caves.
Palácio Real de Queluz (Queluz National Palace)
Claimed to be one of the greatest examples of Rococo architecture in Europe, this sophisticated 18th Century palace houses a museum and functions as an official guest house for foreign heads of state. Historically, this noteworthy monument was the summer retreat of King D. Pedro II and his wife, Queen Maria I – who would hide in the palace years later due to her heightened state of mental illness. Representing the extravagance of Portugal’s heyday, this monument features beautiful ornate tiles, elaborately gilded decoration, crystal chandeliers and its famous Versailles-inspired gardens.
Palácio Nacional de Mafra (Mafra National Palace)
Built during the reign of King D. João V (18th Century), this grandiose palace-monastery is one of the most sumptuous examples of Baroque architecture in Europe and is located in Mafra, just a short drive from Sintra. Desirous of creating a monument of extreme opulence that would rival the wealth of Portugal’s neighbouring countries, the king sought guidance from his ambassador who provided him with small scale models of the most majestic religious buildings in Rome and valuable pieces of Italian artwork for inspiration. Encompassing a palace, convent and church, this Neoclassical monument possesses 1,200 stunning rooms, 4,700 doors and windows, 156 staircases, a dazzling library containing approximately 40,000 rare books and an astounding nature reserve, the Tapada de Mafra.