On our last full day in Portugal, we decided to once again hop on the train and explore one of the historical cities surrounding the capital. This time, our trek would take us to Sintra.
Without getting into too much detail, the morning of our Sintra trip I woke up and did not feel good, and little did I know that this would be the first of eight days of feeling disgusting. In retrospect, I should have stayed home; but ever the wanderluster I forged on and we hopped on the train for Sintra.
30 minutes (and €2.15) later and we were in Sintra. Dave had done all the research for this day trip so I didn’t know what to expect, but upon first sight I was blown away. The hills were covered in luscious forests, and dotted throughout were beautiful, colourful castles and mansions. Despite not being 100% well, I was ready to explore.
A smaller town Sintra has a population of just under 380,000 (as per Wikipedia), but given its UNESCO World Heritage status, hordes of tourists flock to the city each day. After getting off the train, we followed the crowds and hopped on Sintra’s Tourist Bus (#434). Specially designed for tourists, the bus links the train station to all the major sites, including Pena Palace, the Moors Castle and the historic centre – and at just €5/each it was a steal.
Our first stop of the tour was the historic centre. We were only there briefly, but it gave provided us with a beautiful view of the valley below, and a good idea for what the rest of the day would hold: steep hills.
As I mentioned above, I didn’t really do any research before we went to Sintra, had I known that the entire town was situated on the side of a steep, steep hill, I may have chosen a different journey for a day where I wasn’t feeling so good. A fear of heights/falling combined with an upset stomach does not a great tourist day make.
But I pushed on.
After our brief stop at the historic centre, we hopped back on the bus. Winding it’s way along a very narrow road we climbed higher and higher until we reached the Castelo dos Mouros (Moors Castle). I wasn’t super comfortable on the bus, but again, I ignored my gut and kept going.
Castelo dos Mouros
The Castelo dos Mouros was established during the 9th century by the North African Moors to guard the town, but it fell into disrepair after the Christian conquest of Portugal. It was restored in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II, who transformed it into a romantic ruin and major feature of the gardens of the Pena Palace (as per Sintra-Portugal.com).
I really wanted to like the Castelo dos Mouros, I really did. I wanted to climb the wall and see the views, but I couldn’t. Fear got the better of me and I barely made it down the walkway to the actual castle part. On one side was the mountain, on the other a steep-ish hill with little to no safety railing. I was scared, and embarrassingly walked as close to the mountains rock wall as I could. I’d like to think that with a safety harness and a helmet I could have made the journey confidently, but that’s a lie; I would have been hugging that wall just as close.
We made it to the centre of the ruins and that’s as far as I got. I looked up at the walls, saw how short the sides were (and saw all the people sitting on them, leaning over the edge to get the perfect selfie) and I was just overcome with discomfort. Scaredy-Kate won over and I stayed put in the safety of the centre, while Dave hiked the walls taking pictures so I could see everything that I’d missed.
It took about 10 minutes for Dave to walk the wall. He took some amazing photos, and I’m so happy he was there to pick up where I’d dropped the ball. I felt bad, embarrassed and full of FOMO that I let my fears take over and had missed out on something amazing, but I knew it’s what I had to do. Sometimes you need to follow your (upset) stomach.
After grabbing a quick snack, we were back on the bus, climbing higher and higher until we reached the Pena National Palace.
The Palacio Nacional da Pena (the Pena National Palace or Feather Palace)
A short ride up from the Moors Castle we were dropped off at the bottom of the Pena National Palace grounds. On foot, we wound our way through the gardens until we reached the bottom of the flamboyant palace. Although it was only 300m, it was quite the hike uphill, but in all honesty, I was happy to be off the bus.
The palace stands at the very top of the hill and provides an absolutely breathtaking view of the surrounding area. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pena National Palace is also one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. Also known as the Feather Palace, Pena National Palace is “the fruit of King Ferdinand II’s creative genius and the greatest expression of 19th-century romanticism in Portugal, denoting clear influences from the Manueline and Moorish styles of architecture. The palace was built in such a way as to be visible from any point in the park, which consists of a forest and luxuriant gardens with over five hundred different species of trees originating from the four corners of the earth.” (as per ParquesdeSintra.pt)
After a quick bite, we explored the palace, marveled at the views, and took a very close look at the intricate tile work. King Ferdinand II was an artistic king, and had each section of the exterior individually styled with various colours and fine stone carvings. Again, Scaredy-Kate kicked is as we explored the palace—there were a few areas with very short walls and steep drops, and I just couldn’t get comfortable with it. Blame my brain, or maybe my upset stomach, but it just wasn’t my day. While it wasn’t what I had planned, I did enjoy my afternoon sitting in the sun, enjoying the gorgeous views of Sintra from a bench.
After Dave finished exploring and photographing, we were back on the bus and making our way down the mountain.
There really isn’t very much I can say about Sintra. My fear of heights was amplified by my feeling sick, so I didn’t get to experience much of the city, at least I didn’t get to experience much that was near a cliff, or steep slop. Nevertheless, what I did experience of Sintra was beautiful: Lush forests, colourful architecture and a true sense of wonder.
While I won’t be making the trek up the mountain again anytime soon, I would highly recommend it anyone visiting Lisbon, Cascais, or any of the surrounding area—at least anyone who isn’t as much of a Scaredy-Kate as I was that day.
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