In our weekly accounts of places to go we like to call attention to small corners, areas that, because of their beauty, quietness and originality make the visit of tourists something they will never forget, and Sintra should be in the list.
This is a town about 30 kilometers west of Lisbon, the capital. It has about 33,000 inhabitants in the historic area, though the inhabited region around this core extends to over 300,000. It was considered a World Heritage Site in 1995 and not without reason, a visit of one or two days in the area makes us think that it should have happened much earlier. Why?
When we approach the city by car from Lisbon (the A37 will save us the toll of other major roads) the first thing that amazes us is an idyllic setting: a green forest full of lush trees adorned with castles and manor houses. It looks like a place taken from a book of fairy tales and princesses. Not surprisingly until the fifteenth century the city was inhabited by nobles who chose it especially for hunting and the environment. Later it would be used as a retreat and vacational place.
From here, once we have parked in some of the streets at the entrance of the city, quite a long walk through the historic center is ahead, a journey that will not stop surprising us with its charming corners, palaces and parks. At this time we invite you to try the queijadas, a sweet made of milk, cheese and egg, typical of this city and available in any pastry although the most well-known pastries are that of Gregorio and Piriquita.
After this first contact, we list the mandatory stops on our tour:
National Palace of Sintra: of Moorish origin, it became the royal residence until the arrival of the Republic. Especially noted for the two conical chimneys easily visible from anywhere in the city.
Moorish Castle: a castle built by the Arabs in the eighth and ninth century in a good state of preservation of its walls and from which we can marvel at the views of Lisbon, Sintra and the Atlantic.
Monserrate Palace: a manor house nestled in the mountains and built in the mid nineteenth century as a summer residence of Francis Cook. Besides the building, recently restored, it surprises its botanical garden with more than 3,000 species of exotic plants.
Palacio da Pena: this is the most characteristic monument of Sintra, definitely a place to be visited even though we have just a couple of hours. It was a monastery of friars converted into a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. The German architect Ludwig Von Eschewege was commissioned to carry out the works to give the complex its current colour and rounded forms, a castle with a spectacular mixture of styles that will leave our months opened.