The launch point for our journey was Lisbon. Lisbon is a thriving modern metropolis with an excellent public transportation system. Trains run daily round trip routes to Sintra. The journey takes 45 minutes and costs five Euros ($8) for a return ticket. The train line ends at the base of the Serra de Sinta, a mountain range rising 529 metres. Due to its altitude, the city has been a popular summer retreat for Moorish and Portuguese monarchies since the 9th Century.
Sintra has several distinctive landmarks. The architecture of their Town Hall is exquisite. The Palácio Nacional de Sintra’s iconic dual chimneys soar above the town square. You can see the ocean from the stone walls of the ancient Moorish fortress that once guarded this royal retreat. The most famous monument is the Palácio Nacional da Pena. This vibrantly colored homage to the Romanticist era is a Unesco World Heritage site and can be seen from Lisbon on a clear day. Built in the middle ages, the Palace was damaged by a devastating earthquake in 1755. In 1838 King Consort Ferdinand II commissioned a renovation to German architect Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege. Completed in 1854, this artistic masterpiece now awes visitors from around the world.
Hiking through Sintra is a brilliant workout. The lower palace grounds can be reached from the city centre by bus or taxi. Once you reach the base, it is a thirty minute scenic trek through the woods to the Castle’s apex. The regal residence displays a reminder of Portugal’s onetime Colonial wealth and maritime dominance.
People living in Sintra seem to be genuinely happy. The city is friendly and clean and locals seem to appreciate living in such a unique resort that is so close to the beach and a major airport. We enjoyed a wonderful brunch of fresh baked pastries, locally picked berries, salmon and native tea at Chalet Saudade. There is an array of charming boutiques to forage for souvenirs as you stroll along the tree-lined promenade overlooking the Valley of the Fox. We visited in December so the town was decked out for Christmas and a Green Holiday train roamed the city square. Even in the mountains, temperatures still reached 16˚ C (64˚ F).
Sintra definitely met our expectations – even the postcards are spectacular. It doesn’t get as much publicity as Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein Castle, but after recently seeing them both, we’re calling it a draw. Sintra should definitely be on your European Bucket List!