Sintra – a Disney fairy tale come to life…

I’m a bit of a sucker for Disney movies – always have been.

I’d kind of hoped that it was something that would calm down with age but it seems it hasn’t. Even today I could be perfectly content to spend an evening on the couch watching a marathon of The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast or possibly Sleeping Beauty.

Is that a Disney castle I spy???

So when I paid a visit to the incredibly picturesque village of Sintra and discovered it’s towering castles, candy coloured palaces and forest covered hill sides – I felt like I’d walked into my very own Disney wonderland. Now all I needed was the ability to sing and a new movie could be underway!

Enjoying the view from the Moorish Castle…

Seriously though, Sintra is incredible. The entire town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995 and it has become renowned for the dozens of palaces, castles and incredibly lavish royal and private estates located in it’s surrounds.

We visited the tiny town on a day trip from Lisbon before we jumped on a bus up to Porto in the evening. Sintra is only a little over 40 minutes away from Lisbon by train and I slept awkwardly with my mouth open for the majority of the trip – so it felt like we arrived in no time.

My first view of the village of Sintra…

We pulled into Sintra station, the very last stop on the line and then started the 10 minute walk up to the main part of the village along a winding road. Already the place had started to look fairly pleasingly scenic! In the distance I spotted the twin conical chimneys of the Palacio Nacional de Sintra.

One of the ornately decorated rooms inside the palace…

We arrived at the palace, paid the 6 Euro entrance fee and began wandering through the various courtyards, bedrooms, lounge areas and other rooms including a chapel. The palace had apparently been inhabited almost continuously since the 15th century but was likely built even earlier than that.

It was fascinating to see some of the ornately decorated rooms and I especially enjoyed checking out the huge industrial-sized palatial kitchen as well!

One of the inner courtyards of the Palacio Nacional…

Upon exiting the Palacio Nacional we wandered along through a small plaza area and onto one of the main streets in the village before shortly arriving at one of the village’s small bus stops. Around 30 seconds after our arrival, a bus pulled up and we were able to jump on and pay the 5 Euro for the hop-on hop-off service that circles between the village and the nearby Castelo dos Mouros and Palacio de Pena. Timing was on my side for once!

I’d heard you could also hike up the hill through the woods to get to the castle and then onto the palace. Usually, I’m all up for including a little extra physical activity within a day’s siteseeing – but we had to be back in Lisbon in time for our bus to Porto so time was short, ruling that option out.

The lovely forest we could have hiked through to get to the Castle…but didn’t!

As the bus wound its way up and up the steep hillside, at what seemed like a near vertical gradient, I’ll have to admit, I was glad I had that excuse! Apparently the hike/walk up takes around an hour – perhaps next time! We jumped off the bus for the first time at the entrance to the ‘Castelo dos Mouros’ or ‘Moorish Castle’.

This medieval castle was built during the 8th or 9th century and was in regular use until around the 16th century when it was abandoned.

One of the smaller buildings we passed on the way up to main area of the castle

After buying a joint ticket for the castle and the Palacio de Pena (our next planned stop) we clambered up a windy dirt path, passing by a few stone structures within the forest that were undergoing repair and restoration to arrive at the entrance to the castle itself.

Walking along the fortified walls and taking in the view…

Now when I say ‘castle’ I’m using the term fairly loosely. Nothing much really remains of the inner structure of the castle itself. Apparently a great deal of the original building was destroyed in the huge earthquake that rocked Lisbon and its surrounding areas in 1755.

The view of Sintra Village from above

The remains of the castle consist primarily of the exterior fortified walls and a few slightly crumbling towers. These are all perched right on top of a rocky outcrop on the side of a hill that overlooks the village of Sintra far below. It’s not just Sintra you get a great view of though, the castle has widespread views of the entire surrounding area, all the way out to sea and on a clear day you can see all the way back to Lisbon (we could!).

The brightly coloured Palacio de Pena in the distance

We set off to climb a steep set of stairs along the top of the walls to reach the highest point and whilst on the way I managed to catch a glimpse of the Palacio de Pena – next on the list of places to see – in the distance.

After stopping in the shade of the walls to scoff down some baguette sandwiches I’d packed earlier we made our way back down to the entrance to wait for another bus to pass by so we could jump on and make our way to the Palace. I’d read in our guidebook that it would take around ½ an hour to walk along the path there, so once again – we’d opted for the lazy route in taking the bus. Time constraints, oh dear!

However when we hopped on the bus, we barely had time to sit down before the vehicle rounded all of three corners before stopping again in front of the lower palace gates. It honestly couldn’t have been much more than a 10-15 minute walk. It made me quite embarrassed by our laziness really!

Once we walked through the lower gates we were given the option of paying 2 Euro for a shuttle, or walking the 10 minutes uphill to the entrance to the Palace itself. Needless to say I opted for the active option, hoping to counteract some of the slightly more lazy choices I had made earlier!

My first up close view of the Palacio de Pena

When we eventually arrived my breath was completely taken away. Some might find the brightly coloured and intricate detail of the Palace exterior overtly kitsch – but I absolutely loved it.

The main entrance to the palace

The place honestly looks the way that you dreamed castles would look when you were a small child. Particularly if you were a small child who was incredibly enthusiastic about Disney films…

I was extremely happy with life right at this moment!

There were swirling towers and turrets, curving balconies and beautiful terraces. And sadly, also – about a bazillion tourists! Ah well, I resolved myself to just shutting out the noise of everyone and instead played the soundtrack of Disney’s ‘Beauty and Beast’ on repeat within my mind. Problem solved!

Admiring the view out to sea

From one side of the castle we were able to once again get a stunning view over the area – I felt very lucky indeed that we had such a beautiful day for the few hours we were visiting the area.

I tripped backwards and nearly fell off the extremely high palace wall whilst taking this photo, so lucky it’s a good one!

The hilltop where the palace stands had originally been home to a monastery. The monastery was however almost completely destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755 that I’ve previously mentioned.

In the 1830s the beautiful location caught the eye of the Portuguese King Ferdinand and he set in motion the construction of a beautiful summer retreat for the Portuguese royal family. After a great deal of design input from the King himself as well as his beloved wife – the construction of the palace was finally completed in 1847. After passing hands through the royal family it was acquired by the state in 1889 and almost immediately became a popular tourist destination – not hard to see why!

Yep, it’s quite a way down!

We were able to wander through the inside of the palace but were not allowed to take any photos. A great deal of the rooms have been kept in pristine condition and I quite enjoyed seeing all of the different bedrooms, dressing rooms and private studies of the royal family. I felt like it gave quite a nice insight into what their day to day life must have been like. In terms of lavishness and overall grandeur I think the Palacio Nacional probably had a more impressive interior – however the stunning exterior and surrounds of the Palacio de Pena made it my favourite place visited in Sintra by a long shot!

Enjoying a shady stroll in the Parque de Palacio de Pena

After leaving the palace itself we decided to go a little cross country and with a few sneaky shortcuts and some close calls to me completely stacking myself (nothing unusual) we made our way through the forest and down the hillside to towards some of the Parque de Pena’s small man-made lakes and surrounding gardens.

Some of the park’s ‘lakes’ (pond is probably a more appropriate term!)

The walk itself was lovely and everything felt incredibly peaceful after the chaos and bustle of the Palace itself. We wandered around the small (and slightly green tinged) lakes before walking out of the gates and jumping onto the passing bus to make our way back to the train station and sadly away from the magical town of Sintra.

It pains me once again that I didn’t have more time there to explore. There were so many sites to see and I would have loved to have even spent a night or two in Sintra to wander through them all at a leisurely pace.

Buena vista indeed!

It wasn’t to be however – and although my time there was short, I will not forget it all the same. Now, if I ever feel a little longing to return to Sintra I guess I’ll just have to plug in an old Disney classic to fill the void until I get the chance to visit again!

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