The Unexpected Spectacle of Sintra

IMG_6523Like a page torn from a fairytale, as Lonely Planet remarks with stunning accuracy, this dazzling town is nestled at the foot of the Sintra mountains just 35 minutes from Lisbon by train.

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Its historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the National Palace, the Castle of the Moors, but especially the Pena Palace, are all marvelous examples of the spectacle that awaits you in a place even as tiny but as historically rich as Sintra.

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The National Palace of Sintra, while its exterior isn’t the most impressive, is the best preserved medieval palace in Portugal and its interior rooms boast an eclectic mix of Egyptian, Gothic, Moorish, and Renaissance architectural styles.

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My favorite room in the palace was probably the Hall of the Blazons, which the pages I’d printed from Rick Steves’ Portugal guidebook informed me was the westernmost room of any palace in Europe. I was really impressed with the tilework, like the image above, which filled the walls like tapestries. The ceiling was also a unique and equally impressive sight.

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The National Palace, while it wasn’t my favourite site in Sintra, is still worth visiting for its historical and cultural importance.

The Castle of the Moors, in my opinion the second-most interesting site in Sintra, was built over a thousand years ago during the Arab occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, and served as an important strategic point during the Reconquista (not unlike the Alhambra of Granada).

From its walls and towers there are panoramic views of not just Sintra, but other sites scattered on the flanks of the Sintra mountains and in the valley below.

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But the Pena Palace was undoubtedly the highlight of our afternoon in Sintra. We rounded the final cobblestoned switchback, out of breath but nearly frozen from the strong winds, caught sight of the magnificent palace somewhat similar to the famous Walt Disney castle, and our moods turned from annoyed to giddy as children on Christmas morning.

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It was kind of unreal, the last thing either of us (myself and my friend Lena who’s currently studying abroad in Lisbon) expected to find at the top of that trek through the gorgeous greenery but bothersome winds. Contrary to the National Palace, however, the Pena Palace had a more impressive exterior than interior. I got particularly camera/pro HDR -happy with this guy:

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I’m sure your face would look like that too if you were forced to hold up a palace window against your will.

Our afternoon in Sintra, while unfortunately pricey (25 euro each for entry into the three monuments), was an unexpectedly delightful one. A small, charming town abundant with historical sites, it is certainly worth the day trip from larger, busier Lisbon.

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