The streets lined with tiled cafes and ornate churches are pretty enough, but hit the Riberia and you’ll get mesmerised by the Duoro and the scene stealing Bridge. You’ll want to capture every panorama, then start it all again once the light changes or you walk along a few feet.
I’ve previously posted about some of my experiences in Sintra, specifically my visit to Quinta De Regaleira, one of my favourite places in the world, but there is another spot almost as magical in this mountain oasis of fairytale wonder – the Pena National Palace. Situated in the magical town of Sintra, a place full of palaces, castles and not much else 30 minutes outside of Lisbon in Portugal, this is a UNESCO world Heritage Site not to miss. The palace dates back to the middle ages, but has none of the harsh stone and rubble you may imagine – instead it’s an explosion of colourful turrets and scrambled architecture like none I’ve seen before. The palace’s history mirrors that of the country – wars, invasions, falling monarchies all impacted the habitation of this retreat in the clouds.
The exterior hosts a few different styles – big lilcac walkways leading up to the piazza, bright marigold turrets peering over the mountain ranges, imposing red towers housing the main rooms, and mosaic covered facades and archways leading visitors through to enjoy views from every angle over the rest of the town.
The interior leads you through confusing and magical rooms – it’s layout so dizzying and confusing you just have to commit and keep moving. There’s luxurious original furnishings and art work along with ornate furnishings, and a peaceful central courtyard to enjoy. stumble through the yellow entrance to enjoy the insides of this palace.
And while the interiors are beautiful, by far the best thing to do at Pena Palace is explore the outsides – climb all the turrets, and enjoy all the marvelous views through the framing of splendid architecture.
The world is full of beautiful things and places to explore, but every now and then you discover somewhere that resonates so strongly with you that it simply fills you with awe. I didn’t really know much about Sintra, a historic town in the hills surrounding Lisbon, before I spent a day there. Reading online it seemed like the most popular trip out from the city, and while I was only away for a long weekend it was my first time in Portugal and I wanted to fit in as much as possible – but nothing, not even the impressiveness of the Google image results and visitor reviews really prepared me for how much I loved Sintra. The town is effectively a collection of elaborate Palaces and Mansions, and amongst the regal fairytale backdrop Quinta de Regaleira is the dark but alluring villain, a gothic and ornate estate filled with tricks and illusions at every turn.
The estate itself dates back a few centuries, but it was under the ownership of eccentric millionaire António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, and using the skills of architect Luigi Manini that the ornate features, and grotto laden garden were developed. The main building spirals out of the ground with turrets and gothic swirls. There is an enchanting veranda along the front of the palace showcases subtle tiling and ironwork while looking over the front facing lawn where visitors first approach.
Next to the main building is a terrace hosting the site’s cafe and dining options. After a hectic day this was my first chance to sit down and grab a quick bite to eat in the form of a spinach pastry and a strong latte. The estate has a few cats wandering around who are eager to nudge your legs in the hope of a discarded nibble.
The main building is just the tip of the iceberg at Quinta da Regaleira – the grounds are extensive and filled with treasures and surprises. Zig-zagging unevenly across the hillside, the pathways in the gardens purposely confuse visitors and lead them to new discoveries. Turrets and watchtowers dot the landscape – staircases lead into walls and dark corners, resulting in amazing views and different levels.
Among the features of the estate are multiple grottos, water features and fountains, sculptures and small buildings including a tiny chapel.
One of the stand out elements of the estate is the use of secretive tunnels through the hillside, leading visitors to the Initiation Wells, underground towers lined with stairs. The design is thought to be inspired by Tarot mysticism, with the experience of walking up the staircases being surreal and slightly unnerving.
My only disappointment with Quinta da Regaleira was with myself – I didn’t get time to pace myself, explore every corner of the estate, a be able to relax and take the whole experience in.
For anyone visiting Lisbon, Sintra is an experience not to be missed and I know I will be back as soon as I can.