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Sintra and the Pena Palace

Listed under Castles & Palaces in Portugal.

  • Photo of Sintra and the Pena Palace
  • Photo of Sintra and the Pena Palace
Photo of Sintra and the Pena Palace
Photo by mikelyvers
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The Pena Palace is a creation of sheer romanticism. Built around the ruins of a monastery the palace and surrounding park is set on the top of the hill above Sintra with fantastic views of the forests for miles around. The Disneyland colouring of the palace exterior and decidedly eclectic mix of ornamentation reinforces a sense of real personality and initially for some, slight architectural culture shock but the richness of the combined Moorish, monastic and other influences soon win over even the most staid of visitors.

Few national monuments retain a sense of the people who created them, often becoming hollow echoing mausoleums but one of the most glorious and unique things about this building is that, while enjoying your surroundings, you can still feel the family, imagine their days in these rooms, and the interior is built on a very human scale. It's an experience I heartily recommend.

Getting there can be something of an adventure. The picture perfect tourist playground of the town of Sintra is very easily accessed by short and regular train service from Lisbon, but the Pena Palace, and nearby ruined Moorish castellation can best be reached by the worlds most bone shaking and terrifying bus ride up the switchback mountain road from the town. There is very little parking and very little road width so I would not recommend driving yourself up the hill unless you like a challenge, as the constant stream of bus drivers will play chicken and win every time. Plenty of people walk up and if you are fit it would be a truly beautiful journey but a little beyond me.

It's not a long trip to the top and as you travel you will be persistently be seduced by the magical looking woodland outside the bus window and then the mad switchback will cut in leaving nervous passengers like me clinging desperately to stay in their seats as the bus rotates 340 degrees at 40 miles an hour 1 inch from the cliff wall. But the drivers are very experienced and somehow it always seems alright. Once you arrive safely at the Pena Park you have the option of a small motorised tram ride up to Palace itself. This is worth it to save your feet but does mean you miss all the beauty and features of the park and gardens so if it's a good day do take the map of the grounds and explore them on your way back down to the park exit. If you are staying in Lisbon, the return journey to Sintra, the Moorish castle and Pena Palace can all easily be done in a day and have you back to your hotel for dinner but will, justifiably, leave you wanting more and there is plenty more to see.

If you have access to a car, or are an even moderate hiker, the tiny Capuchos monastery near the palace should be explored. Nearly buried in waves of moss there is something quite ethereal and otherworldly about the place and about these tiny rock cut cells that were lined with cork to protect their Franciscan occupants from the damp. Even more wonders are available nearby via coach, car or no foot including the most westerly point in Europe and the Victorian Monserrate Palace and Park

In Sintra itself, aside from the largely underwhelming restaurant fare aimed at catering to mass coaches and the overpriced horse and carriage rides there are some world class art exhibitions a delightful collection of ornamented natural springs and outdoor sculptures. It’s a heavenly place to walk around and always retains a special atmosphere that will linger with you in instant nostalgia the moment you leave.

Written by  Godzuki.

Other expert and press reviews

“Pena Palace”

This colorful UNESCO World Heritage site is Portugal's answer to those fanciful, eccentric creations of the mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, an extreme expression of 19th century Romanticism in architecture. Read more...

Written by  Mike Lyvers.

“Cultural Landscape of Sintra”

In the 19th century Sintra became the first centre of European Romantic architecture. Ferdinand II turned a ruined monastery into a castle where this new sensitivity was displayed in the use of Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish and Renaissance elements and in t… Read more...

Written by press. UNESCO

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