Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sintra, Portugal

If you've ever been to Lisbon and not visited Sintra, you've sorely missed out. Sintra is located 25 km west of Lisbon. After our amazing first day in Lisbon we did some research and decided that it was going to be smarter to take public transportation into Lisbon, and leave the rental car at the apartment.
We woke up early enough, but by the time we left I was having doubts about taking the train, since everything I read said that during Summer parking was difficult. So we decided to drive. It was an easy drive to Sintra. I plugged Pena Palace into the GPS and we followed it to the top of Sintra.

Sintra is a picturesque Portuguese town that is set amidst the pine covered hills of the Serra de Sintra, just to the west of Lisbon. This slightly cooler climate attracted the nobility and elite of Portugal, who constructed exquisite palaces, extravagant residences and decorative gardens. The variety of fascinating monuments and historic buildings makes Sintra a highly regarded tourist destination and is a popular day trip from Lisbon.

Sintra is known for its many 19th-century Romantic architectural monuments, which has resulted in its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although its heritage in buildings and nature is the most visible face of the historic individuality of Sintra, a whole literary heritage has made the area a legendary reference in Portuguese culture. Because of it's proximity of Lisbon (Portugal's captial) it's the perfect day trip.

Sintra is a small town. If you choose to drive, make sure you have a little car to fit through all of the one way roads that have a row of cars lined up on both ends. If you're visiting Sintra during "Season", April-November. DO NOT drive. Everything I read/researched highly suggests to take the train because you will not find parking in Sintra. We looked at taking the train from Lisbon, it's costs 4 Euro RT per person and once you arrive in Sintra, there are tour guides outside of the train station--or you can take the #434 up to the sights. It costs 5 Euros pp with the last bus loop at 1700. If you're training it in, I'd suggest taking the bus up!

Since we drove, we followed the GPS to the Pena Palace, we arrived at the top of Sintra at 10:15a. I would suggest getting there early. When we arrived in the morning we had our pick of parking, same thing about downtown. When we headed to the downtown area at 2:30p, parking was easy to find, when we left 2 hours later, there wasn't a parking spot to be found.

I think we were lucky since it was off season, on the official website it says that there are only 20 parking spots next to Pena Palace. I'm not sure when that was last updated, because there are a few spots next to the palace, but there are parking lots along the way up! But the road up is only one way, so if you try to get a parking spot up close and it's full, then you're SOL and you'll have to drive all the way around (over 10 minutes to drive the loop and come back up).
I would suggest the parking lot after the Moorish Castle. It's the 2nd to the last parking lot. It is the perfect spot. Originally we had planned to park there, but I saw a sign for another parking lot and I thought it was going to be isn't. I won't bore you with the details about the crazy long UP HILL hike we had to do just to get to the entrance, but I'll tell you that I wasn't a happy camper! If you've read my blog before, you know I'm not a fan of hiking.

When we finally made it to the entrance, we had to decide where we wanted to go. If we bought tickets to multiple attractions we could get a combination discount. BUT only if we bought them together (you're not able to buy one then decide you want another one and get the discount). The entrance fee to Pena Palace is pretty expensive. It was 11.50 pp, since it was off season, (I'm used to paying about 5 Euros) we knew we wanted to see the Moorish Castle too, which was 6.50 so we bought tickets to both. (You can also buy tickets online) For the two of us, it cost 34 euros with the combination discount. For those with kids, they also offer family discounts.

Looking back now, if we walked up from the Moorish Castle, we wouldn't have had to pay the entrance fee, because the fee was to go inside of the palace, but you live and learn.
Once you're inside the palace gates, you can chose to pay & wait for a mini bus to take you up to the Palace, or you can walk (the bus is 3 euros pp and comes every 15 minutes) Instead of paying, we decided to walk up hill to the palace. It is a 550 m hike up hill, with a 14% incline... just in case you were wondering.

As you can tell in my video--I was a little bit winded by the time we got to the top. I didn't even realize I called Pena Palace, Sintra Palace. Whoops!

The views from the palace are absolutely beautiful. The palace from the outside is marvelous! I love the colors and just the look of the castle! We must've taken hundreds of photos of just the outside!

Since we purchased tickets, we decided to check out what was so special about it. The palace is still in tact from when the last Portuguese monarch lived inside! You are able to take non-flash photos on the inside. But the views from the balcony is what I thought was the greatest thing. Thankfully, it was a clear day. There was a tour guide outside and I heard her saying that some times during the summer you can't see anything. We were able to see clear back to Lisbon and the April 25th bridge (Golden Gate twin). Which is apparently pretty special to be there on a day that clear. It's not very common to be able to see the bridge.

The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It is also used for state occasions by the President of the Portuguese Republic and other government officials. There is a small cafe that sells snacks and a restaurant that offers hot meals, for those looking for a bite to eat or a place to sit.

After leaving Pena Palace, we decided to walk down to the Moorish Castle. From Pena Palace, we followed the pathway down to the Moorish Castle, but instead of continuing down the path, we decided to hop the fence, unfortunately we underestimated the drop down and Drew rolled his ankle and it swelled to the size of a grapefruit! He was such a trooper though, he kept walking on it, and hiked all over the Moorish Castle.

The Moorish Castle was constructed during the 8th and 9th centuries, during the period of Muslim Iberia, as the central place in a territory that was primarily agricultural, and which was necessary to protect its population. It was taken by Christian forces from the Moors after the fall of Lisbon, it was an important strategic point during the Reconquista, and classified as a National Monument.
The castle is an irregularly planned military outpost that follows a 450 m perimeter on top of a mountainous cliff, oriented southwest to northwest. It consists of a double line of military walls that meanders over the granite terrain of the promontory.

This place was incredible! I would definitely suggest checking it out. We were able to get some great pictures of Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. I just wish the sun would'be cooperated!

After walking around the Moorish Castle we were starving and decided to grab some lunch in Sintra, so we headed to the Historical Center. This is where you want to check out once you're done. But make sure to get there early, there were lots of parking spots when we arrived, but once we left there wasn't a spot to be found.

We found some street parking along the main road, and headed into the old town. We ended up finding a cheap little restaurant next to Sintra Palace (I got the names of Pena Palace and Sintra Palace confused in my video). We ended up having an amazing 3-course lunch for 30 Euros. Drew and I were stuffed by the end of it.
The restaurant's patio had a great view of the Moorish Castle!
We picked this restaurant because they had pictures on their menu! Haha. I love menus with pictures. The restaurant we chose was actually the first restaurant we saw / looked at. But we looked at all the restaurants in the area, and came back to the first one. It actually worked out for us because it was one of the cheapest restaurants in the area (they feature  8 Euro meals) and the food was delicious.

The restaurant had a good selection of Portuguese food, and the cheesecake was great!
After our late lunch, we decided to head back to Lisbon. When we got back to the car, we noticed that a car had parked behind us on the crossing lane! Just a way to explain to you how parking is in Sintra; it's "get in where you fit in", even if it's illegal to park there. I guess the Portuguese are like the Spanish; they like to sleep in and are night owls, because the town was dead until after noon, then it very busy in the late afternoon.

We packed in a nice full day in Sintra, but we could've stayed and checked out more things. But I am so glad we took a trip out to Sintra.  For centuries Portugal's aristocracy considered Sintra the perfect place to escape from Lisbon and I can see why. I LOVED Sintra. If I could've spent my whole weekend in Sintra, I probably would have. If you're headed to Lisbon make sure to take a day out of your trip and check out Sintra. It will not disappoint you.