Talk to anyone who has been to Lisboa, and they will tell you that you must also see Sintra. For some, you haven't seen all the wonders of the world until you've seen Sintra, and it was also a love of Lord Byron's. So, with the little planning I actually do for any trip, I knew there was at least one place we had to visit whilst in Lisboa.
Sintra was once the summer getaway destination for the Portuguese royal family, and after they were no more, Lisboa's elite continued the tradition as it is now a posh suburb of the city. It's a quaint town built on the foothills of the Sintra mountains. The 19th Century style architecture and colorful buildings give it a particular fairytale charm. It's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
First, the train ride is an easy 40 minutes from Lisboa's Rossio train station. Something to note, you can only purchase one ticket per person, so each ticket requires a separate transaction. It's a little annoying, but we learned our mistake when one of us got stuck behind the sliding gates. On the bright side, each roundtrip ticket is only 3,10€. That's the cheapest train ticket I've ever seen in my life. Along the way is when you really see how poor the country is, and there is just neverending scribbles of graffiti everywhere.
As soon as we got off the train, we worried we had gravely underestimated the weather. I was in a little sundress, and Chris was in a thin t-shirt and shorts, and it was very much overcast. When I had checked the weather before we arrived, we were expecting hot, hot days; and when we arrived we had two days of hot, hot sun. So, we didn't think to expect different. In fact it, was so grey that day, that it was even slightly drizzling, and many people were in puffer jackets, while some even had rain coats. Before you worry if we suffered the entire day, let me just say that we walked so much we ended up being perfectly dressed for the weather.
Our first stop was the National Palace, where the royal family used to vacation. Just around the corner from the train station, it's a white palace sitting at the edge of one hill. The thing that makes it stand out are the two cone shaped points that are the palace chimneys. Out in front of the palace is a large open courtyard, great for photo ops and for taking in the view. I bought a little bag of kettle corn for 1€ from a guy with a little red cart like the ones you see at Disneyland. The kettle corn were nice and large, which I really liked. It made eating them easier. We then toured the palace climbing and descending more stairs, and taking in the intricacy of the details that only these old palaces possess. The Portuguese are famous for the beautiful tiles and there was certainly some lovely tile work in this palace. There was also an incredible kitchen, which I feel like would be any chef's dream.
After this Palace, it was about time for lunch, and I also wanted to see Palacio de Pena and the Moorish castle, but especially the former. Palacio de Pena truly makes Sintra its own unique fairytale land. None of the restaurants in the main square were particularly appealing other than for people watching so we decided to head towards Palacio de Pena and see what we could find along the way.
Along the way we found a restaurant on the edge of a hall called something Garret. It looked nice so we decided to opt for that. It was okay. We both ordered baccalau in different forms. Mine ended up being deep fried like fish and chips style, which it basically was. The patatas fritas in Portugal though, are not regular fries, they're actually chips...as in crisps. It was a bit heavy for me. Plus, baccalau bones can be annoying to deal with. After lunch we continued to stroll up the mountain towards the palace. What we didn't realize was that we'd be "strolling" up the entire mountain, and Pena sat at the very top.
It was a long climb up, but ultimately very worth it. Though once we arrived, we realized there were buses you could take for 3€. The palace itself is relatively new, and unlike any other palace I've seen, it's very colorful with red, and yellow, and bluish-purplish walls, and the design incorporates Moorish influences.
Upon arriving at the palace, there are great opportunities for photos and it's almost surreal, because it feels like a set. Let me just say, it was probably a great idea building the palace here, because it would take a lot of effort just to reach the palace, for any wrongdoers. This palace was full of more stairs and some interesting rooms. At the end of the tour, you come out onto a nice big terrace where you can grab a snack and drink. To be honest, I would've much rather have grabbed a sandwich here over what we had for lunch. There's a particular Portuguese multi-grain bread that I love and it is so delicious. We also picked up some Queijas, which is a little pastry famous in Sintra. It tasted to me like a mince pie, but the other crust was a bit strange...like uncooked dough.
Of course, we figured we made it this far so we walked down instead of taking a bus or tuk tuk. We were far too exhausted to continue on to the Moorish Castle. Our walk down was quite interesting actually, because we saw the posh side of town on our way down. So, it was here I realized there are Portuguese people living well. I mean, I guess I knew that Christiano Ronaldo couldn't be the only wealthy person in Portugal.
Sintra was an adventure, and if you've got the time and ability to, I'd recommend the hike. Just bring good shoes--I was not prepared! Even on an overcast day, the views were delectable. There's so much more we didn't have time to see, too. Another time!
BIG LOVE & HUGS