Sintra and its mystical hills dotted with fairytale palaces and extravagant villas have bewitched visitors for centuries.
The Romans made it a place of cult moon worshiping and named it “Cynthia” after the goddess of the moon. They were followed by the Moors who also fell in love with the lush vegetation and built a hilltop castle, a palace, and several fountains around the town. Later it became the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family and attracted a number of wealthy aristocrats who built huge mansions and villas.
Famous British poet and traveler Lord Byron stopped by in the 18th century, writing that the town is “perhaps in every respect the most delightful in Europe,” and calling it a “glorious Eden” in his epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. His fellow countryman Robert Southey followed him and saw it as “the most blessed spot on the whole inhabitable globe.” Others made it their own private retreat, such as William Beckford (one of 18th century England’s wealthiest men), who lived in the splendid Monserrate Palace, later bought by Francis Cook.
It is indeed an extraordinary place with a surreal mixture of history and fantasy, protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Its fairytale palaces, incredible vistas, and notable museum collections make it a destination you should make the effort to see, especially if you visit Lisbon.
In the main square is the National Palace, dating from the 14th century. Its two gigantic conical chimneys are the town’s most recognizable landmarks, while the rest of the building is a combination of the Moorish, Gothic and Manueline styles. Inside it possesses what is said to be the most extensive collection of Mudejar Azulejos (colored glazed tiles) in the world, and several exceptional rooms. The Sala dos Brasaes (“Coat-of-Arms Room”) stands out for its domed ceiling decorated with stags holding the coats of arms of 74 Portuguese noble families and for its walls lined with 18th-century tiled panels. The former banquet hall, Sala dos Cisnes (“Room of the Swans”), also has a magnificent ceiling, divided into octagonal panels decorated with swans painted in the 17th century. Other highlights include the “Magpie Room” (named for the birds that decorate the ceiling), the Royal Chapter of King John I, the huge kitchen with a capacity for 1000 diners, and the interior courtyards where poet Camaes read his verses to the king.
Canon 5D Mkii. Canon 17-40mm F4L USM