A Castle In The Sky – Palácio Da Pena – Sintra, Portugal

Having access to pastéis de nata around the clock has been a dream come true, but it’s left us in need of a little exercise. More specifically, eating the two dozen of them that we made in one sitting has left us in need of a lot exercise. It was time for us to get out of Lisbon for a day and into the hills of Sintra.

Sintra is two things: a small mountain range along the coast of Portugal, about 20 miles west of Lisbon, and a small village with the same name, located in those mountains. It’s a famous place in Portugal, the most popular day trip from Lisbon, and for a good reason – it’s home to 10 national monuments, and a large part of the area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Royalty had taken a liking to Sintra starting over a thousand years ago, but most of what is there today is from the 19th century.

A day trip to Sintra isn’t enough to see it all, so we picked three of the most interesting options: the Palácio da Pena, the Castelo dos Mouros, and the Quinta da Regaleira. Even though Sintra is close, we hit the road super early to get a good parking spot and beat as much of the crowds as possible. We planned a route where we would take an hourlong hike from the car to the Palácio da Pena, located at the top of one of the highest mountains in Sintra, then work our way back down to the car, seeing the other two places along the way.

The picture is of Palácio da Pena, our first stop. This was our favorite place of the day. They say if you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all. We’ve seen quite a few castles, but this was unlike any of them. It looked straight out of a fairy tale book – very colorful and dramatic, if not flamboyant in its design. The best part was that we were able to walk around almost all of the castle, even along the outer walls. Maybe the real best part was that we got there right when it opened, so it was just us and a handful of other early birds.

Our second stop was at the Castelo dos Mouros, situated on top of one of the smaller mountains below the palace. This was a more standard castle, but had a much more “medieval” feel to it, and still had some great views. By this time, the crowds were starting to show up. The guard at the entry to the castle caught Kevin staring at a big group of teenagers carrying big backpacks with yoga mats attached to them and said “that’s just a large group, sir.” You don’t say…

Our third and final stop was at the Quinta da Regaleira. Maybe it was the crowds, or maybe we had hit our limit for the day – but we just didn’t see what was so interesting about this place. We opted for a walk through town back to the car instead. And then it was back to Lisbon for a pastry…or two.