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).
A view of Sintra and the surrounding countryside.
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.
A view of the house and chapel. The chapel contains scenes of the lives of Mary and Christ, and symbols from the Templar Order (Knights).
Ornate wood work and beautifully painted walls adorn this bedroom.
The Hunting Room. The mantlepiece depicts exceptionally well-carved hunting scenes.
The decorative exterior can be appreciated in this view.
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 Regaleira Tower, which provides a great view over the gardens and sits on top of Leda’s Grotto.
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.
A view from the bottom of the inverted tower at Quinta da Regaleira.
One of Quinta da Regaleira’s grottoes.
Entrance to one of the many tunnels in gardens.
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.
A view of the Palacio de Sintra from the Castelo dos Mouros. The conical towers are chimneys over the massive the kitchen.
The Grand Hall (or Hall of the Princes) at the National Palace.
The Blazons Hall, built during the reign of Manuel I (1495-1521). The ceiling in carved gilded woodwork is crowned by the royal coat-of-arms and is surrounded by the armorial bearings of seventy two noble families. The late 17th to early 18th century panels of painted tiles depict courtly and hunting scenes.
Grotto of the Baths, the decorated tiles depict scenes of nobility, fountains and gardens.
A view of the kitchen.
Another room in Palácio de Sintra.
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.
Courtyard of the Crosses. The courtyard leads into the Convent and contains three crosses representing Golgotha.
The Courtyard of the Fountain, where visitors making the long journey to the Convent would take refreshment.
Built among the huge boulders of its hillside location, it embodies the ideal of universal fraternity of the Franciscan friars who lived here.
The Hermitage of Our Lord in Gethsemane, with frescoes (near the door) of St. Francis of Assisi (left) and St. Anthony of Lisbon (right).
A view of the Cloister, a private space for the Franciscan community.
Entryway ceiling, lined in cork.
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.
Dormitory corridor. Note the ceiling and door frames decorated in cork.
The unusual extensive use of cork (that’s where the name ‘Capuchos’ comes from) throughout the monastery was for insulation, sound proofing and decoration.
The Chapter House, with cork entry way.
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