SINTRA, Portugal, March 15, 2014 – Recently tripadvisor published a list of “10 breathtaking towns in Europe you probably never heard of.” As a longtime advocate of the joy of discovery in travel, such lists are always intriguing, so it was especially captivating to discover that Sintra, Portugal is among the ten.
As the prominent science fiction writer Ray Bradbury once wrote, “Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” Though Sintra is less than an hour by train from Lisbon, it seems to be light years away. This hillside village may have more castles, gardens, museums and scenery than any town its size in the world.
Sintra is a distinctive must-see destination, yet it remains relatively unheard of for many travelers. Thanks to its stunning 19th architecture, Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage site with no less than six major attractions.
Regular train service departs from Rossio Station in Lisbon to the hillside town where 33,000 residents live among the parks and gardens that compliment magnificent palaces and castles to the delight of any visitor. Two highlights are the 19th century Pena Palace and the National Palace of Portugal, the summer residence of the Portuguese kings.
Pena Palace is arguably the showcase. Though regarded as one of the “Seven Wonders of Portugal,” it hasn’t always been the luxurious structure it is today. For hundreds of years it was little more than a modest meditation site for a maximum of 18 monks.
Natural disasters, including an earthquake and lightning, left the former monastery in ruins during the 18th century. Only the chapel with its marble and alabaster works of art survived. It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century when reconstruction began to give Pena Palace the appearance it has today.
Among the elements requested by King Ferdinand and Queen Maria II, who began the rebuilding process, were medieval and Islamic aspects of architecture along with vaulted arches and an ornate window over the main façade. Vibrant red and yellow colors added flair to the palace that distinguishes it even today. The elaborate decorations combined with the intentional mixture of architectural designs have made Pena Palace one of Portugal’s most popular destinations for visitors.
Interiors are surprisingly small considering the massive exterior because corridors and doorways were cleverly designed to slow the pace of surging invaders. Each room has been lovingly appointed to the extent that the furnishings convey an ambiance of habitation even though the palace has not been occupied for decades. In fact, the elaborate extent of the décor may rival any historical monument of similar distinction in the world.
Pena Palace is only the beginning, however. Sintra also features the Castle of the Moors, Monserrate Palace, Pena National Palace, Seteais Palace, Quintada Regaleira and the Sintra National Palace as well as countless gardens and parks that make it a horticultural haven.
Access to Sintra from Lisbon couldn’t be easier. It is also inexpensive. A train ticket from Rossio Station costs about 4 euros. Ride the train to the end of the line. In Sintra, bus #434 provides regular service from the front of the railway station to most of the sights in town. Buses are approximately 2 euros.
Hardier travelers can take the delightful walk along the hillside into the main village, but once there, it is advisable to catch a bus up to the palaces and castles.
Sintra is not a place to be rushed. Plan to spend the day, enjoy a relaxing lunch and relish all that it has to offer.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.