With its various palaces, the ruins of an Arab castle and the beaches surrounding it, Sintra stands out for looking taken from a fairy tale.
Just 30 kilometers from Lisbon is located this town catalogued by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site under the special category of «cultural landscape», because with its exotic vegetation and exceptional microclimate, it is not surprising that it has been disputed for years by Romans, Arabs, Portuguese and Castilians.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it achieved its splendor by becoming the favorite summer destination of the Portuguese monarchy and the inspiration of poets and writers such as Lord Byron, who defined it as «glorious Eden». Nowadays, Sintra retains its charm and for this and many reasons, it is the ideal place for a weekend getaway.
The best way to get to know Sintra and its surroundings is by car, since most of its monuments are located at distant points or on steep slopes that not all people could do on foot. To get to know the Vila-Velha or historic center, the reference point is the National Palace of Sintra or da Vila that dates from the sixteenth century and mixes several architectural styles: medieval, Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance.
Around, you can stroll through the various alleys, squares and observe the charming chalets, some of which offer hotel accommodation to tourists. It is worth making a stop at one of the many cafes to taste the traditional pastries of Sintra such as queijadas or travesseiros.
Inside the old town, there is also another architectural jewel of the city: the Quinta de la Regualeira or do Monteiro dos Milhões, which stands out for its gardens related to the enigmas of alchemy, masonry, the Templars and the Rosicrucians.
To get an idea of the distribution of the city, it is necessary to explore the Sierra de Sintra, where on a rocky massif stands the Castelo Dos Mouros, built by the Arabs during the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in the eighth century. It stands out for its walls, impressive towers and its views, from here you can see the Atlantic Ocean.
In the same municipality, known as São Pedro de Penaferrim, is located on a hill 500 meters high the Pena Palace, built with neo-Gothic, neoclassical and Islamic forms, and considered one of the seven wonders of Portugal.
Hidden among the woods, there is also the Convent dos Capuchos or da Santa Cruz, which is far from the luxuries since it was inhabited by successive communities of Franciscan monks, which with its tiny cork-lined cells transport its visitors to the sober but idyllic world of 1560 in which it was founded.
If you go west, just four kilometers away is Montserrate Park, a 30-hectare garden with totally wild areas and a wide variety of flora. The Monserrate Palace stands out in the center of the park and has been configured as one of the greatest examples of the romantic art of the country thanks to its circular tower and its extravagant decorations.
But the palaces and convents are not the only charm of Sintra, since only 12 kilometers to the West extend wonderful beaches for all tastes. The Praia Grande enjoys huge waves that attract surfers, as it is home to the European Championships.
For travelers seeking tranquility, Praia das Maçãs is a smaller and more intimate cove. Two kilometers away is the village of Azenhas do Mar, embedded in a cliff where you will also find another small hidden beach to escape the crowds.
Before leaving the region, you should not miss a typical Portuguese dish, such as cod, or Portuguese stew, which is cooked with beans. Also try the feijoada, all accompanied by port or green wine are ideal to complete the journey through the beautiful city of Sintra.