Days: 8 (13 March 2017)
Total distance travelled: 18,917.90 kilometres (11,750.20 miles)
Lifestyles of the rich and the famous (well, so sung Good Charlotte)…
Hardly our style, but when the small town where the who’s who of nineteenth century Portugal used to hang was but a short journey from the capital, we’d be crazy to not check it out.
A former sanctuary of the royal family, it has also been a UNESCO World Heritage listing (yes, another of those) since 1995.
Under monotonal, almost French grey skies we’d utilised our metro cards to get the train out here, which was a shame given the weather we’d had over the past week had been almost flawless blue skies.
It really was a short journey, and before long we were alighting at Sintra station.
Almost immediately, we could see signs of some current (and much former) grandeur.
Winding, tree lined roads sported colourful homes, some stately, some pockmarked with peeling paint and others, mere shells, shadows of their past selves.
Sure, we’re come to see some of the town itself, but our ultimate goals sat above.
An ancient Moorish castle (Castelo dos Mouros) and the apparently quite interesting Pena Palace (Palácio da Pena).
We din’t have a map, nor did we know the route, however we figured if we continued to follow the roads or paths upwards, we’d eventually get there.
On the way uphill we passed a few eateries and a few stores selling knick knacks for tourists, however one of these, rather than be totally trashy actually had something that piqued our interest.
A selection of old tiles, in various stages of wear.
Whether we thought them from the old buildings of the town or not, it didn’t matter, so we noted it for our return journey (we generally balk at souvenirs, however we did grab one for ourselves and another as a gift on our way back down).
Also, somewhere else on the ascent after passing more faded mansions and a few old churches hugging the hillside, we found a plaque on a rather unassuming home that suggested Hans Christian Anderson (of fairy-tale fame) had once resided there.
We took note, but didn’t attempt to find an entrance and continued our climb up the cobbled, often stepped climb.
The day remained dull, but when we had breaks in the surrounding foliage, we did at least have lovely views of the town below, or of some of the more grandiose homes, almost castle or palace like structures that perched on the higher points of the surrounding hills.
Whilst the quality of the path between our feet improved the higher we climbed (think better fitted stones and even some mortar or packed sand holding them in place), the stone walls to our left and right in turn had a higher level of moss coverage.
This made them look ancient, however in truth they could be as recent an addition as the path itself, although its crenelated style certainly fit the bill for what I would call authentic!
Finally an even higher wall stood before it, and through an arched entrance we passed to find ourselves inside the Castelo dos Mouros proper.
There was a clearly modern cafe and restroom perched within, but otherwise internally, there was little other than some trees that had seemingly some point claimed this bastion as their own, so we ascended the walls to take in the views.
It wasn’t until atop, that we could fully appreciate the views (how amazing would they have been on a sunny, clear day), but also how cleverly the castle had been built to follow the contours of the land upon which it was built.
It was a lovely spot, and also allowed us views of a few other stately homes built at this elevation, as well as our other destination, the surprisingly brightly (I thought it a bit garish) coloured Palácio da Pena.
Fortunately, it did at least appear as though we’d completed the bulk of the required climbing!
Perhaps it stood out even more given the dullness of the day, but as we got closer (and I was wrong, there was still a fair amount of uphill walking between the castle and the palace), this multi-coloured thing before us continued to make little sense.
It looked, with its mismatched colour scheme as though it was the result of clashing designers, perhaps built over many years, and the sum of its many parts made it a rather large whole.
I was of the opinion that it wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Vegas strip!
The theme park feel continued the closer we got, although some of the ornate detail was indeed quite impressive, such as walls (and even ceilings within) adorned with all sorts of ornate decorations. Think seashells, rivets carved from stone and even figures seemingly holding windows and balconies aloft.
By chance we found ourselves exploring the exterior first, as it felt as though there were fewer people there and it was the sort of place where you never knew where the next archway would lead, nor what may be revealed.
Again, we were gifted with some stunning views, views that certainly would have been better had we a clearer day.
You get the gist, but the disappointment was such that I’ve made mention of it more than once.
Outside as we were, it was a combination of wide patios, and narrow catwalks that hugged the towers themselves, and at least one domed roof I could spy above had me wondering (okay, hoping) if perhaps one of the rooms may have sported a telescope or even telescopes with which to spy the celestial night sky.
The other thing we noted was, that despite the gaudy colours, the reality now close to the palace itself (finally allowing us to see the detail up close), was that everything was actually a bit grimy.
Stone was weathered and even moss covered in places, and a layer of dirt clung to many surfaces, be it wall or floor.
Still, once within (where our explorations took us next) we could certainly see how grand this place once must have been.
It even sported one of the first telephone systems in the country, which did get us wondering, If you have the first, and perhaps only telephone in the land, who can you call..?
Like everywhere else of import in the major cities we’d visited (Porto and Lisbon), painted tiling was a feature, however there was equally impressive stained glass windows, gold adornments and incredible mosaic.
Some of it looked to my eyes purely decorative, others obviously influenced by Moorish culture with obvious Islamic roots in star carved ceilings above us.
It was an interesting enough place, but by now we were done, and so it was time to wind our way back down the hillside, with the aforementioned stop for a couple of souvenir tiles being the only real stop of note.
We had a little wait back at the station, but nothing too major before we were on our way back to Lisbon, our time at this retreat for the wealthy and famous complete.
* Using our Lisbon metro cards (originally costing us €0.60 each), the train to Sintra cost us €2.20 per person each way.
* We paid for both entrance to the Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) and the Parque e Palacio de Pena (Pena Palace) to receive a 5% discount. This therefore cost us €17.11 per person.