Sintra has palaces and castles enough to satisfy anyone – even UNESCO, who made it a World Heritage Site in 1995 for its nineteenth century Romantic cultural landscape.
That famous English libertine Lord Byron called Sintra “the most beautiful [village] in the world”. There is the Pena National Palace with its yellow and red towers reaching high into the sky. Once a monastery on top of a hill, Portuguese royalty redeveloped it as a palace in the nineteenth century, one so majestic it can even be seen from Lisbon on a clear day. It’s still used by the president of Portugal for official occasions.
Pena Palace is surrounded by 200 hectares of wild forests and gardens. Less showy but more historic is the Sintra National Palace, dating back to medieval times. The oldest surviving part is the Royal Chapel. Not to be outdone by royalty, a wealthy Englishman and friend of King Luis of Portugal built his own castle in Sintra: Monserrate Palace with turrets and domes enough to rival any real king’s home. Another rich man’s folly is the Regaleira Palace, in the Quinta de Regaleira in central Sintra. This incredible gothic house is surrounded by four hectares of gardens containing grottos, fountains, lakes etc. Over the years it’s passed from the hands of one rich man to another, then to a Japanese corporation, until finally it was bought by the Portuguese government and opened to the public.
At the opposite end stylistically is the Neoclassical Seteais Palace, now a hotel. And finally, overlooking it all, is the Castle of the Moors, with its walls and towers a restoration of those dating from Moorish times. The castle itself was updated in the nineteenth century, that heyday of castle building in Sintra. Fifteen miles from Lisbon by road and about forty minutes by train, Sintra’s the perfect day trip for living out your romantic castle daydreams.