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The Pena Palace in Sintra (Feb 2016).

With its elegant and colorful monuments, it’s no wonder that Sintra is a popular destination for tourists whilst in Portugal. From the Castelo dos Mouros (“Moorish Castle”) to the Pena Palace, this small town is the stuff of magical, fairy-tale architecture. It’s only a stone’s throw away from Lisbon, and so it makes for a super-easy day trip over from Lisbon. Which is exactly what had happened last year.

After two nights in Lisbon, the assistante and I checked out of our lovely hostel and proceeded to head over to the Rossio train station, located in the eponymous square right behind the Rua Augusta arch in the Baixa district. Although there are several train stations in the city, we needed to head to Rossio, since it was the only one with a direct line to Sintra. Upon arriving, the assistante and I dropped off our large bags at one of the hostels inside of the station, at no charge as well! Considering that we didn’t want to be lugging it around during our time in Sintra, it was convenient to have such a service there.

We purchased our train tickets at the counter (not very expensive, only 4,50 euros for a round trip!) and caught the next train at 10h40. It was only a 40-minute ride (again, very accessible for a day trip) and by 11h20, we arrived in Sintra.

Although it was possible to have done a private tour of the different sites in the town, we opted not to, even though there were tons of tour guides right outside of the train station who were advertising. Not only did they seem a bit pushy, but also the tours were way beyond my budget (some were calling for 60 euros and up- no thanks!). Instead, the assistante and I found the city shuttle that made a round trip to the three main sites (Pena Palace, Moorish Castle, and Sintra National Palace) for only 5 euros. While it would’ve been possible just to walk to each of the sites, it would’ve been easily an hour’s walk, not to forget up a very steep hill. Usually, I don’t mind trekking around places I visit, but considering that the shuttle was so cheap to begin with, you can bet that we hopped that shuttle and explored the monuments…without having to hike a mountain!

The shuttle made its way up the winding hill; the assistante and I got off at the first stop of the round-trip route, which was the Moorish castle. Built back in the 8th and 9th centuries, the castle was subjected to several changing hands in the 11th and 12th centuries, between the Portuguese and the Moors themselves. It was rebuilt and expanded over the 14th century, but unfortunately an 18th-century earthquake damaged much of the castle, which then fell into ruins until the early 20th century, when restoration efforts were taken into effect. Today, along with the rest of Sintra, it’s considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We only spent a short time there just wandering along the outer castle walls.There was an entrance fee to go in, but we actually decided to forgo it, just because there appeared to be just ruins and nothing else. I learned later, though, that there’s a small chapel inside of the walls that date back to the 12th century, but even then, I don’t think it would’ve been worth the 6 or so euros. Plus, we’d already seen the São Jorge Castle back in Lisbon, which we found the Moorish Castle to be quite similar to anyway, so it was all right that we didn’t pay to go in. The double-fortified castle walls, along with its sublime, aerial view from the Pena Palace to which we visited next, were satisfactory for us.

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Along the castle walls.
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Moorish Castle in the distance.

Next, we caught the shuttle over to the following site of the round-trip route, this time to the iconic Pena Palace. Granted, we still needed to make a small hike up to the entrance of the palace from the shuttle stop, but it was from there that we were able to get noteworthy views of the Moorish castle (as pictured above), so it wasn’t all that bad!

We arrived at the entrance of the Pena Palace; unlike the Moorish castle, we couldn’t actually see the palace from the outside, since it was obstructed by trees. That said, the only way to check out the palace was to pay for it: although we were a bit reluctant to do so (mind you, we’re both cheap travelers!), it was surprisingly reasonable at 6,50 euros to tour at least the courtyard, of which we were able to see the lovely, multicolored facades that were reminiscent of those in the Candyland board games I used to play as a child. Despite the rather overcast skies that day, nevertheless the red, yellow, and purple colors of the palace still remain vibrant.

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Inside the Pena Palace (with views from the top).

Finally, we caught the shuttle back down to the town center, where we popped into a small sandwich shop to grab some lunch to-go (we were famished by then). With our food in hand, we ate them while walking through the small center, briefly passing by the Sintra National Palace. Just like with the Moorish Castle, we chose not to go inside, since we were a bit short on time before we needed to catch our train back to Lisbon and also, its exterior didn’t quite impress us as much as the Pena Palace, which again has got to be the highlight of Sintra.

Instead, we splurged a bit on the local pastries at one of the patisseries- apparently, Sintra is known for its travesseiros, which is essentially a flaky almond pastry. What I discovered while in Portugal was that each city (not region, but city) has their own special pastry, and for me having a voracious sweet tooth, it was necessary that I tried as many of the different pastries as possible whilst there…and I did!

Eventually, we caught the 14h40 train back to Lisbon and after retrieving our belongings from the station’s hostel, we headed over to the other train station (Santa Apolonia) for our next destination in Portugal.

Sintra turned out to be worth the day trip over: in fact, it’s a must-see should anyone decide to visit Lisbon since again, it’s only a 40-minute train ride over. Despite it being rather gloomy and overcast when the assistante and I went, it was still worth the experience; I can imagine the monuments being absolutely stunning with sunny weather, though!

More to come on my travels in Portugal from last February. Coming up: Aveiro, Portugal!

 

— Rebecca

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