Friday, March 9, 2012

Sintra: Chasing the Fairytale

Once upon a time, there was a quiet, enchanted town where castles and palaces sat atop wooded hills, beckoning visitors to enter and explore.

This was the image projecting in my mind when I headed to Sintra. I felt compelled to make the short day trip from Lisbon after reading and hearing so much about the town’s beautiful castles and stunning views. I had read words like “mythical” and “magical” used to describe the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a friend had told me that she’d felt like Cinderella there. Of course, reality is never quite like a fairytale. The castles are striking, and the views are impressive, but that uphill climb kills!

The bus ride downhill is no walk in the park either. When my friends and I stepped out of the Palácio da Pena gates, we joined the seemingly endless line of tourists awaiting a bus that would transport them back to civilization. Only one more bus was scheduled for the day, and it seemed impossible that we would all fit in it. There were no cabs (or cars, for that matter) in sight. As the daylight waned, the anxiety became palpable. Luckily, my friends and I managed to squeeze into the final bus, which was filled way past capacity. I stood an inch from the windshield, watching every twist and turn of the narrow road and holding my breath as the clunky bus swerved down the tall, steep hill.

Often, unexpected predicaments like this are what make travel memorable. Disney is just a fantasy; the ride is artificially smooth. Travel is the real thing -- less perfect, but more exciting.

On our visit to Sintra, the arduous uphill climbs and the not-so-safe bus ride were worth the rewards. The town boasts many historical monuments, but we only had enough time to see two -- the Castelo dos Muoros and the Palácio da Pena.

The Castelo dos Muoros is a ninth-century Moorish fortress that overlooks Sintra. At the foot of the castle, I was struck by the thought of the backbreaking labor many men must have endured to build the imposing structure so many centuries ago. The few minutes I spent overlooking the landscape from the tower were, for me, the highlight of the day.

View of Sintra from the Castelo dos Muoros
The castle blends into its natural surroundings
Many uneven steps lead to the the tower
I look miniaturized against the castle wall
Next was Palácio da Pena, an ornate and colorful palace of the Romantic period. This is where a girl might expect to have her Cinderella moment, but I was too sweaty from the climb to feel anything like a princess. I took in the view as I caught my breath and then snacked on plump little shrimp and chicken turnovers at the castle’s café. They were a dose of warm, greasy perfection.

The palace is painted in bright yellow and shades of pink and purple
Ain't it fancy?
Okay, it does kinda look like a Disney castle
Palace terrace (for cocktail parties with your royal friends)
For more pictures of my day trip to Sintra, visit my photo gallery.

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  1. A real fairytale!! It's like Princess Bride! oh, how I would love to visit that wonderful magical place one day...thanks so much for sharing!!

    Cathy Trails

  2. Looks lovely! Great pictures.
    Can't wait for your next post.

  3. Cathy, I'm sure you'll make it to Sintra someday. ;o}

    Hi, Berta! Thanks.