sintra: palácio nacional de sintra

Friday, July 19:  After exploring the Castelo dos Mouros and the Palácio Nacional da Pena, I take the Scotturb bus back into Sintra-Vila.   Since I have so few opportunities to get pictures of myself on my holiday, I bought one of those pictures taken by a photographer at Palácio Nacional da Pena.  It’s an 8×11″ picture, and quite large to carry, so I decide I’ll return to Piela’s to drop off the picture, eat some lunch and maybe visit the Friday market that Manuel told me about this morning.

Right across from the train station is a little cafe with outdoor tables; there I order a codfish croquette and a shrimp & cheese croquette and sit outdoors to eat.  It’s still lovely weather in Sintra and I love being outdoors as much as possible.

After lunch, I walk down the pedestrian walk toward Piela’s and I come across a little market with these enticing figs. I buy four of them and take them back to my room.

Figs in a market in Sintra
Figs in a market in Sintra
Fresh strawberries
Fresh strawberries

By the time I get back to Piela’s, it’s close to 2:30, and Manuel tells me that the Friday market is over.  I’m disappointed that I missed it!  Oh well, what can be done?   I drop the picture in my room, eat a couple of my figs, and head back out to Sintra-Vila to see the Palácio Nacional de Sintra.  Below, you can see the two conical chimneys, one of which is ugly gray concrete.  I thought this was some kind of factory when I first arrived in Sintra.

It is the best preserved medieval Royal Palace in Portugal, having been inhabited more or less continuously at least from the early 15th up to the late 19th century. It is an important tourist attraction and is designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

According to Lonely Planet Portugal, the palace had Moorish origins; it later was expanded by Dom Dinis (1261-1325), enlarged by King John I in the 15th century (when the kitchens were built), then given a Manueline twist by Manuel I in the following century.

Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Palácio Nacional de Sintra

There are some interesting sculptures along the Alameda Volte do Duche on the way to Sintra-Vila.

sculpture on the
sculpture on the

Even though the Palácio Nacional de Sintra isn’t much to look at from the outside, because of renovations and scaffolding hugging the building, and because of those ugly chimneys, it’s lovely inside.  The interior is a mixture of Moorish and Manueline styles, with 15th- and 16th-century geometric azulejos that figure among Portugal’s oldest.

The earliest azulejos in the 15th century were imported from Seville by king Manuel I after a visit to that town in 1503. They were glazed in a single colour and decorated with geometric patterns. They were applied on walls and used for paving floors. The Portuguese adopted the Moorish tradition of horror vacui (‘fear of empty spaces’) and covered the walls completely with azulejos.

tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra

The octagonal Sala dos Cisnes (Swan Room) is adorned with frescoes of 27 gold-collared swans.

the Swan Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
the Swan Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
27 gold-collared swans in the Swan Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
27 gold-collared swans in the Swan Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
inside Palácio Nacional de Sintra
inside Palácio Nacional de Sintra

The Sala das Pegas (the Magpie Room) is painted with magpies on the ceiling. This relates to a story that the king John I was caught in the act of kissing a lady-in-waiting by his queen Philippa of Lancaster. To put a stop to all the gossip, he had the room decorated with as many magpies as there were women at the court.

the Magpie Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
the Magpie Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Bedroom in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Bedroom in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra

Another highlight of the Palace is the Galleon Room.

the Galleon Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
the Galleon Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Galleon Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Galleon Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra

Blazon’s Hall is all ablaze with colorful tiles from the walls to the ceiling.

Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
ceiling in Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
ceiling in Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
azulejo tiles in Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
azulejo tiles in Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra

The earliest surviving part of the castle is the Royal Chapel, possibly built during the reign of King Dinis I in the early 14th century.

the Palatine Chapel
the Palatine Chapel
tiles at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
tiles at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
tiles at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
tiles at Palácio Nacional de Sintra

Inside the huge kitchen, I can look up into the conical chimneys, but they don’t make for very interesting pictures.

kitchen at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
kitchen at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
kitchen at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
kitchen at Palácio Nacional de Sintra

King Manuel ordered the Manueline Hall’s construction.

Manueline Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Manueline Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra

On the steps of the palace, I can see the pretty town of Sintra-Vila and the Castelo dos Mouros on the hill above.

Sintra-Vila from the Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Sintra-Vila from the Palácio Nacional de Sintra
fountain at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
fountain at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Palácio Nacional de Sintra

After exploring the palace, walking around Sintra-Vila, stopping in the central square for a sparkling water and buying a couple of scarves at a little shop, I walk back up to Piela’s, where, once again, I admire the colorful manor houses.  At the Cafe, I sit with my computer and sip on a couple of beers while I chat on Skype with my friend Jayne in California and work on my blog.  Again, I love how people drop into the cafe, quickly down a beer at the glass pastry case, and then make a quick exit.

Manor houses in Sintra
Manor houses in Sintra
Manor houses in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Manor houses in Palácio Nacional de Sintra

Manuel has recommended two restaurants in town that are frequented by locals.  He says they’re very good, have vegetarian options and are cheaper than the touristy places in Sintra-Vila.  I seek out one of his recommended places tonight for dinner: Culto da Tasca.  As I walk to the restaurant, a chilly wind cuts through my lightweight clothing to my bones. The sky is heavy with smudges of charcoal; it looks like a storm is brewing.  Inside the restaurant, it’s homey and warm, a welcome reprieve from the cold!   The place is brimming with lively Portuguese families.

Culto da Tasca
Culto da Tasca

I order cream with prawns, bacon & mushrooms, accompanied by rice and fries and a glass of wine.  Bread and olives are included, all for 11.20 euros.  This price for all that is unheard of in these parts!  And it is simply delicious. 🙂

cream with prawns, bacon & mushrooms at Culto da Tasca
cream with prawns, bacon & mushrooms at Culto da Tasca

I return to Cafe Piela’s, where I hunker in for the night, while a cold wind blows outside my window.

sintra’s castelo dos mouros

Friday, July 19:  This morning I must fortify myself for a big day of castle-hopping through Sintra with a coffee and the decadent Portuguese egg tart pastry, pastel de nata, downstairs at Café Piela’s.  Today’s weather is superb, cool and crisp with cornflower blue skies overhead.  The owner of the café, Manuel, whose English is excellent, is chipper and welcoming and makes me feel like I’m eating breakfast at home.  It’s so lovely when traveling alone to have someone who makes you feel like you’re a part of the family, and not some pariah. 🙂

pastel de nata at Café Piela's
pastel de nata at Café Piela’s

I walk straightaway to the bus station where I catch the Scotturb Pena Sightseeing circular route bus (#434) to Castelo dos Mouros.

It’s quite a long walk through a fern and moss-filled forest up to the Castelo dos Mouros, or the Moorish Castle.

on the path to Castelo dos Mouros
on the path to Castelo dos Mouros
on the path to Castelo dos Mouros
on the path to Castelo dos Mouros

When I reach the castle, and climb up on the ramparts, I am stunned by the view.  This is the second heart-stopping experience I have on my journey, the first being my initial encounter with the Mezquita in Cordoba (andalucía: córdoba’s stunning mezquita).  I know it sounds corny, but I feel a lump in my throat and actually feel like I’m going to cry!  It is so majestic and such a gorgeous panorama that it’s unbelievable that a place such as this actually exists.  There’s a wonderful breeze and the air is crisp and I can just imagine the Moors enjoying their mountaintop view over their kingdom all those centuries ago.

Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros

The castle is an irregularly planned military outpost that follows a 450-meter perimeter on top of a mountainous cliff. It consists of a double line of military walls that meanders over the granite terrain of the promontory. Its place on the hilltop, surrounded by and including the natural and exotic vegetation, accentuates the romantic character of the place (Wikipedia: Castle of the Moors (Sintra)).

From the castle walls, I can see Sintra-Vila below with the chimneys of the Palácio Nacional da Pena.

View of Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros

According to Sintra-Portugal.com: Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra, the origins of the castle date back to the 8th century with the Muslim invasion from the north of Africa.  The site of the castle provided a suitable vantage point with views over the estuary of the river Tejo and the plains to the north of Lisbon, with the aim of controlling the strategic land routes linking the Mafra, Sintra, Cascais and Lisbon.  Arab chronicles depict the Sintra region as being very rich in cultivated fields and the Castelo dos Mouros was one of the most important castles in the region, more important than the castle of central Lisbon.

The initial crusade led by King Alfonso VI of Castile captured the Castelo dos Mouros in 1093 but with limited forces was driven out the following year. The castle flourished with the return of the Moors and defensive fortifications were improved.

Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros

The increase in fortifications was not enough to repel the second much larger crusade which freed Lisbon (and then Sintra) from Moorish rule in 1147. The crusader army led by Afonso Henrique’s army was comprised of drunks and thieves, who upon liberating Lisbon promptly sacked the capital.  Sintra and the Castelo dos Mouros withstood longer than Lisbon but succumbed to the siege and sheer numbers of the crusaders’ army. Afonso Henriques and his son D. Sancho both strengthened the castle’s defenses but the royal court favored Lisbon. The castle remained in the background, with its prestige steadily declining.  By the early 15th century, the only inhabitants were Jewish settlers. With the Jews’ expulsion from Portugal in the mid-15th century, the castle was abandoned (Sintra-Portugal.com: Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra).

View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros

Much of the Castelo dos Mouros was reconstructed during the 19th century as part of King Ferdinand II’s transformation of the Pena Palace and surrounding area.

Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
me at Castelo dos Mouros
me at Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila & the Royal Palace of Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros

I can also see the fairy tale-like Quinta de Regaleira and its grounds.

View of Quinta da Regaleira from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Quinta da Regaleira from Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros with Sintra below
Castelo dos Mouros with Sintra below
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros

On an adjacent mountain, I can see the Palácio Nacional da Pena, which I will visit after leaving here.

view of Palace of Pena from Castelo dos Mouros
view of Palace of Pena from Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
me at Castelo dos Mouros
me at Castelo dos Mouros
hydrangeas abound on the grounds of Castelo dos Mouros
hydrangeas abound on the grounds of Castelo dos Mouros
leaving the castle through the forest
leaving the castle through the forest
the forest at Castelo dos Mouros
the forest at Castelo dos Mouros

After leaving here, I catch the Scotturb bus on its circular route to the Palácio Nacional da Pena.

arrival in charming sintra

Thursday, July 18: I leave Evora this morning on the 9:45 Rede expressos bus to Lisbon, which takes less than 2 hours.  From the Lisbon bus station, I walk a short distance to the train station, hop on a train and arrive in lovely Sintra a half hour later.  It’s an easier trip than I expected, and when I get out at Sintra’s adorable train station, I opt to take a taxi since I have no idea where Piela’s Hospedaria is located.  It turns out it’s not that far, but it’s easier by taxi and I’m happy to spend the 5 euros.

The train station in Sintra
The train station in Sintra

My guest house is Piela’s Hospedaria and it’s run by husband and wife, Manuel and Leonor, and housekeeper Anna Maria.  Manuel’s English is superb and he’s the friendliest man imaginable, making me feel welcome right away.  He actually makes me feel like Piela’s is a home away from home.  The guest rooms are on the second floor above the cafe.  Both the Café Piela’s guest house and the cafe are run my Manuel and Leonor.  (Café Piela’s)

Piela's Hospedaria
Piela’s Hospedaria
Piela's Hospederia
Piela’s Hospederia

After settling into the hotel and having some light lunch in the cafe, I venture out to explore Sintra.  I head down into the modern town, following the signs for Sintra-Vila, the historical center of Sintra.

I walk through the part of town near the train station, where I see beautiful old manor houses painted in pastel colors.

Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa

As I pass out of this part of town, there’s a long stretch to walk down Alameda Volte do Duche, passing interesting sculptures along the way.

Sculpture along Volta do Duche on the way to Centro Historico
Sculpture along Alameda Volte do Duche on the way to Sintra-Vila

Once I get to Sintra-Vila, I can see that this is the place to be.  The town is buzzing with tourists, shops, restaurants and street performers.  In the center of this historic part of town sits the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, but I don’t know what’s what at this point.  I couldn’t possibly think that the building with two huge ugly chimneys could be a palace.  One of the funnel-shaped chimneys has been stripped of paint; it sits in its gray concrete nakedness beside another white-painted chimney.  The two chimneys look as if they’re part of an ugly factory in the midst of the adorable little town.

Centro Historico ~ Sintra
Sintra-Vila

As I walk through the streets, I pass some boys playing a lovely mesmerizing song.  An open guitar case sits on the stone courtyard in front of them, waiting for donations.  I walk past them at first, but their song is so lovely that when I walk past again, I stop and sit on a bench to listen, dropping some money in their guitar case.  I ask them, “Are you trying to collect enough money to travel through Portugal?”  They ask me how did I know?  I say, because it seems like something my own sons would do.  They say, yes, they’re Spanish and they are traveling and supporting themselves with their music.  They’re super friendly and they tell me they’re on Facebook: (Sutil).  I tell them, “I think you’re going to be famous one day.”  They’re flattered, but I really mean it.  Their song is that good.

a group of Spanish boys playing some fabulous music (Sutil)
a group of Spanish boys playing some fabulous music (Sutil)

After leaving the boys, I continue to meander through the town, soaking up the atmosphere.  I love it here!

Centro Historico
Sintra-Vila
Centro Historico
Sintra-Vila

At one point I stop for a Sagres and study the Lisbon Guide that Jo lent me in Tavira, reading up on all the things to do and see in Sintra.  It’s funny, many people take just a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra, but I’m staying here for 3 nights.  I honestly think it would be short-changing yourself to come only for a day trip.

relaxing with a beer and the Lisbon guidebook
relaxing with a beer and the Lisbon guidebook

After I finish my beer, I wander around some more, admiring the doors, the pastel colored houses, the red rooftops, the windows and balconies, the laundry hung out to dry, the flowering bushes and the crazy street performers.  I listen to the music of Portugal, Fado, wafting out of the shops, sounding like a lament on a breeze.  It makes me pensive.  I stop into a shop and buy a CD of some of the music that’s playing: Ana Moura “Des Fado.”  Lovely.

Centro Historico Sintra
Sintra-Vila
Centro Historico Sintra
Sintra-Vila
Centro Historico Sintra
Sintra-Vila
Centro Historico Sintra
Sintra-Vila
Centro Historico Sintra
Sintra-Vila

Sitting on a hilltop above the town, I can see the Castelo Mouros, or the Moorish Castle. With its undulating mountains, forests thick with ferns and moss, exotic gardens and hilltop palaces, Sintra seems a land right out of a fairy tale.

View of the Moorish Castle from Centro Historico Sintra
View of the Moorish Castle from Sintra-Vila

At Restaurante Taverna, I stop for a glass of wine and some sausages.  This is way too much food for me, and quite heavy, and I end up leaving most of it behind.

Sausages at Restaurante Taverna in Centro Historico Sintra
Sausages at Restaurante Taverna in Sintra-Vila
Restaurante Taverna in Centro Historico Sintra
Restaurante Taverna in Sintra-Vila

I go up to the restaurant’s shop for a taste of Port; here I buy a can of sardines as a gift for Mike.

For sale
For sale

Then I make my way back through the town toward my hotel.

Centro Historico Sintra
leaving Sintra-Vila

Back along the road from Sintra-Vila to the train station, I pass by the Moorish Fountain, which belongs to the romantic-revivalist period and was built around 1922 by the master sculptor of Sintra, José da Fonseca. Its decoration is Arab in inspiration, with neo mudejar azulejos, painted plasterwork and sculptured decoration (Virtual Tourist: Moorish Fountain, Sintra).

Fountain
Moorish Fountain

There are more sculptures along this road.

Statues along the walk
Statues along the walk

In the town near the train station, I pass by the elaborate Town Hall.

Town Hall Sintra
Town Hall Sintra

And more pastel colored houses…

Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
Houses along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa

Along my walk back, I can see some of the green forests for which Sintra is known.

View along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa
View along Rua Dr. Alfredo Costa

I head back to Cafe Piela’s, where I have a beer and use my computer.  Cafe Piela’s is mostly a bakery, although it also serves sandwiches and soups, so it has a glass case where the baked goods are displayed.  The glass case serves as the counter.  I’m amused that the Portuguese patrons drop into the cafe, order a beer, and stand at the glass case to drink their beer.  I wonder why they don’t have a seat at one of the tables.  They just stop, drink the beer, pay their bill and leave.  Not like the bars I’m used to in America, where people have a seat at the bar, have a couple of drinks, socialize, and linger.  I see this numerous times while I’m in Portugal and I always find it funny, and charming, when I see it. 🙂