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Discovery Portugal, Sintra

by Elisabetta Spinelli from Italy

When I came to Portugal last September, I wasn’t expecting that much. Me and my friends planned it quite in a rush, barely knowing what we were going to do, what we were going to see. I wasn’t even that excited, I hate warm places.

What I saw during the week we stayed had left me totally amazed, though. The whole country is full of little treasures, often little cities no one has heard of.

One of those is Sintra.

Sintra, ​Pàlacio Nacional by Elisabetta Spinelli

I wasn’t the only one who fell in love with this little town on the hills of Estremadura – Byron defined it a “Glorious Eden”. Sintra was born from an old Arab settlement, not far from the current capital, Lisbon. It takes about one hour by train to arrive here, but it’s totally worth it.

​Sierra de Sintra by Elisabetta Spinelli

How long should I stay?

To be honest, I’d suggest you two days. Arrive in Sintra in the morning, settle down, visit the centre first – which, having been there only one day, I haven’t seen. Although we did not visit the town, we still managed (guess why) to have a stop at Piriquita, a very nice pastry shop, where you can taste the famous travesseiros, a specialty of the owners, and other typical Portuguese sweets. Being about 8 pm, the place was deserted.

Do not worry if you exaggerate with food: Sintra is best seen on foot.

​Walking through Sierra de Sintra by Elisabetta Spinelli

Castelo dos Mouros is a remnant of the Arab settlement. Me and my friends decided to ignore the Tuktuk that waited for tourists at the train station, and took the long way through the  gardens of Sierra de Sintra to go there. If you’re willing to spend a little bit more time in town, I’d suggest you this. Otherwise, just have a fun ride on the Tuktuk!

​Sintra, Castelo dos Mouros by Elisabetta Spinelli

After a beautiful hike, we finally arrived to the Castelo, and had our lunch there. The castle is very ancient, and you can see all the Estremadoura from up there.

​Sintra, view from the castle by Elisabetta Spinelli

It’s not the highest point of the town, though. You just have to turn your back to see the most famous attraction of the area: Pàlacio da Pena.

Sintra, Pàlacio da Pena by Elisabetta Spinelli

Pàlacio da Pena was built for King Ferdinand II by its wife in 1840, and it’s a den of various architectural styles. As the whole Sintra city center is, the palace is under UNESCO’s tutelage.

Entering inside the castle is an unique experience, one I could’ve never thought to have. There’s an incredible attention to details in the whole structure: wonderful statues, rich furnitures on the inside, magnificent decors. This is a place I would love getting lost in.

Sintra, Grumpy Triton by Elisabetta Spinelli

When we reached the exit, it was pretty late, so we decided to rent a Tuktuk to get to our next destination: Quinta da Regaleira.

Sintra, La Quinta da Regaleira by Elisabetta Spinelli

Quinta da Regaleira, or Pàlacio da Regaleira, is an estate acquired by the so-called Baronesse of Regaleira in 1840. Only few years after, she sold the property to an enterpreneur, Antonio Augusto Cavalho do Monteiro.

Monteiro had made is fortune in Brasil thanks to coffee bean plantation, and became so rich that people started calling him “Monteiro dos Milhoes” (Monteiro the Millionaire).

Sintra, view from the balcony by Elisabetta Spinelli

Monteiro, though, did not only think about money. He was a graduate student of Law in Coimbra, and was interested in iconography and symbolism. This is why he decided to rebuild Quinta da Regaleira, giving its nowadays characteristic dark, mysterious style.

Scattered around the mansion, the gardens and the chapel, we can see various alchemical and masonic symbols.

Sintra, the Initiatic Well by Elisabetta Spinelli

To me, Sintra is one of the most hardly-known, yet beautiful places in Portugal. Visiting the whole town can be fatiguing, but hard work totally pays off here.

Coming to Sintra isn’t really difficult if you’re already staying in Lisbon: trains come there every hour, and go back to the capital even on late evening.

Sintra, the Chapel by Elisabetta Spinelli

Even the gardens have their own logic. According to Monteiro’s ideas of primitivism, the gardens immediately surrounding the villa are very refined and trimmed, but as you proceed visiting the many towers, paths and tunnels, nature becomes wilder, savage, mysterious.

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