Diary / Justbobbi / Sep 26, 2022
Simply Perfect: Traveling to Sintra, Portugal
Written by: Christina Valhouli
Sintra may be just 20 miles west of Portugal’s capital city, but it feels like another world. Lord Byron described Sintra as a “Glorious Eden” and it still feels like a fairy tale destination, thanks to its mix of lush hills, palaces and romantic buildings. The Portuguese royal family used Sintra as a retreat for nearly 600 years and left behind a legacy of fanciful architecture which helped establish the town as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Sintra is easily accessible by train from Lisbon, and although it’s a popular day trip, plan to spend a night or two here to explore the area at a leisurely pace – and to beat the crowds. Book a room at Penha Longa resort, which is tucked inside a national park. The resort is built around a 14th century monastery which is still used for weddings. Pop inside to enjoy the serene atmosphere and don’t miss the original tilework. Bring your sneakers and go for an energizing hike around the property. Penha Longa’s Historical Hike route takes in some of the older buildings on property, and a steep climb through shrub offers a view of the rock which gives the resort its name, which translates to “long rock.”
Recharge with a lazy afternoon by the pool or the spa, and make a reservation well in advance at the Michelin-starred LAB restaurant by chef Sergi Arola. The restaurant has only 22 seats and the menu is designed to take guests on a culinary journey. A recent tasting menu included marinated sardines filled with herring caviar; cauliflower roasted under sand and in seawater and braised tuna.
In the morning, wake up early to beat the crowds and take an Uber to the National Palace of Pena, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that looks like a fairy tale version of a palace. The palace dates back to 1842, and features an exuberant mix of colors and architectural styles. It’s painted rose and yellow, and features a mix of Moorish and Gothic details, ranging from onion domes and turrets to gargoyles. The interiors are equally lavish.
Just a short walk away is the 8th century walled Castle of the Moors. One of the best reasons to come here is for the sweeping views of Sintra along with views of the National Palace. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and burn some calories exploring the greenery of Pena Park, which has over 500 acres of forested hills. It’s filled with trees, ferns and flowers from all over the world. Keep your eyes peeled and you may get lucky with an outdoor art exhibit as well. Over the summer, Pena Park hosted an exhibit of the Travel Photographer of the Year competition.
Hike down to Sintra’s town center to refuel at lunch. Loja do Vinho is a tiny wine bar that’s ideal for a casual lunch. Order a tabuas to share, which is a cutting board loaded with meats, cheeses or grilled sardines. Try the smoked ham and Portuguese sausage, washed down with a glass of light, fizzing vinho verde, a young Portuguese wine.
Fueled up, head to the mysterious and otherworldly Quinta da Regaleira which is home to caves, underground wells and gardens. This is where visitors take one of the most iconic picture of Sintra — a look down at the Initiation Well, which spirals down for around 80 feet. If you still have energy, pop by Sintra’s Arts Museum to see its collection of modern and contemporary art, housed in an ornate building before heading back to Penha Longa.