I had been to Sintra a few years ago while on business to Lisbon, Portugal. I knew one day I would have to come back, and I finally did. It is a short drive (or train ride) away from Lisbon (about 40 kilometers or 25 miles).
As I said in my original post on Sintra, it is one of the most enchanting towns in Europe, due to its multitude of fascinating sights. I don’t know of any other small town that offers so much for the tourist in such a compact area. Even after spending the better part of two days here this time, there are still things I did not get to see.
Sintra has its roots in Portugal’s Moorish past, dating to the eighth or ninth century. On my first visit I saw the Moorish castle (Castelo dos Mouros, a fine set of ramparts high above the town) and the Pena Palace (Palácio Da Pena), the polychromatic post card image of Sintra.
On this trip I added three more sights:
Quinta da Regaleira. This manor house with its gardens takes its name from Baroness da Regaleira, who bought the property in 1840. This was the summer residence of the Carvalho Monteiro family beginning in the mid 1800’s, and most of what we see now is from the late 1800’s and early 1900s.
The house exterior exhibits the ornate “neo Manueline” (named after King Dom Manuel I) style, but what really sets this incredible estate apart are the fascinating (and extensive) gardens.
The Monteiros had quite an imagination in creating these gardens – which contain numerous grottoes, underground walkways, an inverted tower (that goes several stories underground), gardens, pools, towers, statues and a chapel.
Many of these features contain symbolism from mythology, ancient classical works and the medieval period.
The National Palace (Palácio National, or Palácio de Sintra). The palace occupies a prominent spot in the center of town. It was originally an Arab construction and became the residence of the Portuguese royal family from the 12th century. Later on it became a royal summer retreat. Although the outside looks rather plain, painted white, the interior is something to behold. It has a unique blend of styles, including Gothic, Mudéjar (Iberian Arabic), and Manueline, with incredible collections of tiles and other artistic treasures.
The Convent of the Capuchos (Convento dos Capuchos or The Convent of the Holy Cross in the Sintra Hills). This is probably my favorite spot in Sintra and perhaps all of Portugal. This 16th century convent sits south of Sintra about 7 km (4.5 miles). It was abandoned in 1843 when religious orders were extinguished in Portugal.
Built among the huge boulders of its hillside location, it embodies the ideal of universal fraternity of the Franciscan friars who lived here.
It is simple, small, very picturesque, and feels like something right out of The Hobbit. Many of the rooms (especially the dormitories) and corridors are tiny.
The unusual extensive use of cork (that’s where the name ‘Capuchos’ comes from) throughout the monastery was for insulation, sound proofing and decoration.
We were given a brochure as a guide and allowed to wander the site on our own. Be sure to explore the nature trails above the monastery for a few other interesting sights.
All added up, I’ve spent about three days in Sintra and I could have easily spent one or two more. This is a special place. For more information on Sintra, visit www.sintra-portugal.com