In November, we spent 10 days in Lisbon. Before I talk about this grand city, I would like to highlight two day trips we took to Sintra.
Sintra is located just 15 miles outside of Lisbon and makes a great day trip. It’s very easy to get there – we took the metro to the last stop on the blue line – the Reboleira station. From there, we hopped on the train to Sintra – for a mere €2.30 on our Lisbon Viva Viagem card, we arrived in Sintra 30 minutes later. We went fairly early in the day as recommended to beat the crowds. When we exited the train arrival area, we were met by a wall of tour operators and tuk-tuk drivers wanting us to tour with them.
On our first trip to Sintra, our first plan was to visit the Palácio de Pena (Pena Palace). To get there, we bypassed all of those hawking their means of travel and went down the street to our right to the taxi line-up. There, we found a driver in his taxi who agreed to take the 4 of us to the main entrance for €10. At the main entrance, you purchase your ticket. You can also choose to purchase a ticket for the shuttle bus to take you up to the palace gate. We chose to take the 10 minute walk, which is uphill but not overly strenuous.
The tickets have a timed entry that you must adhere to. For us, as we waited for in line for our entry time, there was a medical emergency that resulted in an ambulance arrival and delayed our entry. It was interesting to see how they could maneuver the vehicle up the hill and through the crowds and we hope that the individual was not seriously ill.
The palace was commissioned by the flamboyant Ferdinand II and was completed in 1854. It is a colourful mix of Gothic towers, Renaissance domes, Moorish minarets and Manueline carvings. As you wander around the exterior and the courtyards, it’s a wonder to behold.
The interior of the palace contains many impressive and well-preserved staterooms as well as an amazing kitchen filled with polished brass vessels.
The park around the palace is lush and dotted with various structures. We strolled down from the castle to the lower park entrance, where you can wander by the five lakes connected by small waterfalls and arranged along a lush and gentle valley. Rising out of the water of the lakes there are two duck houses designed as shelters for waterfowl,
From this spot you can choose to take a taxi or tuk-tuk down to Sintra. We however read in our Rick Steves guidebook that there was an ‘appealing’ 45 minute trail down and thought that sounded delightful. It first passes below the thousand year-old ruins of a Moorish Castle – this is billed as a great place to visit but we chose to miss it on this trip. The path was becoming steeper with rough stairs as we descended. We were then to enter the grounds of the Vila Sassetti, where we could pass through the garden into Sintra. Alas, the gates were locked. I was not about to go back up the steep trail so we looked downhill. Another locked gate, but Debbie explored and found where a hole had been cut in the fence. We crawled through and continued down what was quite a challenge for me but I managed to remain upright!
After this adventure, we were happy to see a small Ginja stand where we enjoyed a bit of sustenance!
Which was followed by a refreshing port tonic – this one with lemon rather than the orange we had encountered in Porto – equally delicious!
The Pena Palace visit took up most of the day so we decided to return to Lisbon and come back to Sintra on another day to see more of the sights.
Sintra is small, sprawling at the foot of the hill where the Pena Palace and Moorish Castle dominate the top. The town is an easy 10 minute walk from the train station and you pass by some great sculptures as you stroll along.
The Palácio Nacional (National Palace) dates to the 15th and 16th centuries, and housed royalty until 1910. It is the oldest surviving royal palace in Portugal and is still used for official receptions. The interior is sumptuous and a delight to visit.
The Quinta da Regaleira mansion and grounds were commissioned by by a wealthy merchant, Carvalho Monteiro, as a place where he could collect symbols that reflected his interests and ideologies that allegedly related to alchemy, Masonry and the Knights Templar. It was completed in 1912.
Reviews told us that the interior of the mansion did not compare to the Pena and National Palaces, so we skipped touring the interior.
The grounds surrounding the mansion are a wonderful place to wander for an hour or two. There is a labyrinth of paths, left wild and disorganized reflecting Monteiro’s belief in primitivism. You encounter numerous decorative structures, waterfalls, tunnels and lush and diverse foliage.
The Initiation Wells are two wells that have never served as water wells and actually resemble underground towers lined with stairs. The larger well contains a 27 metre spiral staircase which you descend, arriving at some of the numerous underground tunnels. You can gaze out at the back of a waterfall. A tip – know how to turn on the flashlight on your phone – it gets dark in places.
We are very happy that we chose to visit Sintra and would highly recommend a visit if you have a spare day or two in Lisbon.
Stay tuned for a recap of our time in Lisbon!
Bev & Harvey