Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Portugal: Sintra, Home of Kings

A distant fortification as seen from the Pena National Palace. The mountainous countryside
around Sintra is dotted with palaces and mansions. 
 Most tourists probably visit Sintra as a day trip from nearby Lisbon. A rail line makes it easy. Since Sintra is in the direction we were going when we were leaving Lisbon by car, we decided to make it our first stop, our only one-night stay in Portugal.
      Sintra is a small town that seems to exist to serve the hordes of tourists -- Portuguese and foreign -- who visit daily to see its many palaces.  Residences displaying the exuberance and overwhelming ornamentation of Portuguese architecture dot the mountainsides around Sintra as well as the town itself. In our one afternoon and one morning there, we managed to visit only three, but each was memorable.

For the itinerary of our April 2017 Portugal trip
and links to hotels, click HERE

     We stayed at Villa Mira Longa, a guesthouse overlooking the National Palace and its two gigantic conical chimneys.  Mira Longa is also within an easy walk of Quinta da Regaleira, a 19th-century estate with a huge garden full of architectural follies and a mansion that looks like Walt Disney's idea of a palace.
       A bus ride away is the mountaintop Pena National Palace, and it is this 19th-century Romanticist castle that makes Sintra a must-visit on any tour of Portugal. Built atop the ruins of a 15th-century monastary, it fulfilled the desire of a German-born royal consort for the sort of fanciful castle that was then appearing along the Rhine. Within decades, though, Portugal was no longer  monarchy and the republican government turned it into a museum.  We were told that Queen Amelia, the last queen of Portugal, chose to stay here for last night before leaving the country in exile.
     Also within an easy walk of Mira Longa is the small but elegant Lawrence's Hotel (click HERE), where we had drinks and a very nice dinner our one night in town.  The plaza in front of the National Palace also has many spots for drinks and dinner.
     Here are some of my snapshots from Sintra.
Tascantiga, a wine and tapas bar on the hillside just below
our guesthouse, Villa Mira Longa.  Like everyplace else
in Sintra, everyone seemed to be a tourist.

One of the shopping streets in Sintra.

The National Palace in Sintra, which was used from the early 15th century to the late 19th century,
is considered the best-preserved of Portugal's royal residences from the Middle Ages. Not a terribly
pretty building from the outside, especially with the relatively late addition of two gigantic
conical chimneys. They worked to remove smoke from the huge kitchen even as entire calves
and lambs were being roasted over open wood fires. Note the Portuguese schoolchildren
seated on the pavement while waiting to enter.

One of several cook tops in the palace kitchen.

This is the most magnificent room in the National Palace. The ceiling bears coats of arms of
Portugal's royal and noble familes; the tiles depict historical scenes.

Painted swans adorn one of the National Palace's many
amazing ceilings.

Quinta de Regaleira was the home of one of Sintra's noble families. It sits in its own large
park an easy walk from the National Palace, though buses are there to save you the steps.

A tower is one of many garden follies in the park
at Quinta da Regaleira. Allow yourself plenty of time
to wander around.

The gate to Pena National Palace looks like something from a fairy tale. Note the rock outcropping
at the left. The palace is built in different levels ascending the mountaintop.

There are few places inside Pena National Palace that are not heavily adorned.

Inside the gate, a ramp once allowed
horse-drawn coaches to reach the main levels
of the palace. Different parts of the building are
different colors.

Outdoor walkways, terraces and balconies gave the royals
magnificent views all the way to Lisbon. The exterior
of this part of the palace is covered with blue tiles.

The palace's chapel is a small and intimate space, but still very ornate.

One of the great rooms in the palace still has its original
furnishings from the late 1800s.

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