Lying at the east end of a rocky range of mountains just 26 km west of Lisbon, the fairy-tale setting of Sintra is one of the oldest and most charming places in southern Europe.
Occupied by the Romans until 5 AD, it has been repeatedly praised by master poets over the centuries, including Lord Byron who described it as a ‘glorious Eden’ in his autobiographical poem, ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’.
The town’s landscape is lush with surrounding green forests, exotic flowers and elaborate palaces built centuries ago as summer retreats for the royal family.
When the Christian Crusaders captured it in 1147, they fought bitterly against the Moors firmly entrenched in their imposing castle, the ruins of which remain today.
There are several key attractions in Sintra. On the main square is the National Palace, begun in the late 14th century and most noted for its tall, conical chimneys, Manueline windows, 16th- and 17th-century tiles and grand chambers such as the Swans Room with its magnificent ceiling divided into octagonal panels decorated with swans.
Perched on a mountain top overlooking Sintra, Pena Palace is a rich mix of Renaissance, Baroque, Moorish, Gothic and Manueline styles. With its impressive drawbridge, towers, battlements and daintily-furnished royal chambers, the palace remains much as it was when Queen Amélia lived there at the beginning of last century.
The Moorish castle on the opposite hill dates from the 7th century. Snaking along the mountain ridge, the castle boasts breathtaking views far along the coast.
Founded in 1560 by the Viceroy of India, João de Castro, the remotely-situated Capuchos Convent hidden away in another part of the mountain consists of a dozen cork-lined cells cut out of the rock.
15 km west of Sintra lies Cabo da Roca, Continental Europe’s most westerly point. Known to the Romans as Promontorium Magnum, visitors to this wild, windy place can purchase a certificate testifying that they’ve been to the place where ‘the land ends and the sea begins’.
Inland from Cabo da Roca and a short drive from Sintra is the charming town of Colares, famous for its wine and fruit. With vines rooted in sand, its oldest vineyards survived the terrible phylloxera which destroyed almost all of Portugal‘s grapes in the late 19th century.