Sintra: heaven on earth

In the summer of 2013 me and my boyfriend went on a road trip through Portugal. The costa de Lisboa, to be more specific. As befits real tourists, we bought the ‘Capitool reisgids’ of Lisbon, planned our trip for 10 days, got a rental car and off we went!


Everybody has to see Sintra before they die! What started as the favorite summer retreat of the Portuguese royals and aristocrats after the Muslim occupation, now encompasses some of Portugal’s most important and spectacular monuments and luxuriant parks. In 1995 the cultural landscape of Sintra was classified by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. Sintra is a fairy like town which lies beneath the Serra de Sintra (mountains of Sintra) and is a perfect starting point for a tour by car.

Map of the parks and palaces of Sintra ©MLVB

It’s a challenging ride so you must be an attentive driver. The hills are very steep, there are risky hair pin bends and when you think you drive over a narrow one-way street it appears to be a two-way… The route brings you to dense forests and a surreal landscape of enormous mossy boulders and a breathtaking view over the Atlantic Ocean. Or as stated by Unesco:

The cultural landscape of the Serra and the town of Sintra represents a pioneering approach to Romantic landscaping that had an outstanding influence on developments elsewhere in Europe.

Palácio Nacional de Sintra

A bird's-eye view of Palácio Nacional de Sintra ©EMIGUS


In the middle of the historic centre of Sintra (better known as Sintra Vila) this palace of Arab origin pops up and is recognizable by its conical shaped towers. After the Moorish occupation in the Middle Ages, the Christian Reconquest was in the 12th century. The biggest part of the palace was built in the 14th century by King João I. In the 16th century King Manuel I started expansion works on the castle in a Moorish style. When the glory days of Lisbon started and it became the central economic power of the country the Paço Real, as it is also known, became the favorite summerhouse of the court and stayed a residence of the Portuguese royal family until 1880.

Today, the palace is known as the best preserved medieval Royal Palace in Portugal. The various alterations to the palace over time have led to a fascinating mix of different architectural styles. It is a diverse blend of Gothic, Mudéjar (a style of Iberian architecture and decoration of the 12th to 16th centuries which is strongly influenced by Moorish taste and workmanship) and neo-Manueline architectural styles and contains unique collections of Hispano-Moresque tiles and decorative arts.

Sala das Pegas, Palácio de Nacional de Sintra ©MLVB

Sala das Pegas, Palácio de Nacional de Sintra ©MLVB

Sala das Pegas, Palácio de Nacional de Sintra ©MLVB

The ceiling of the Sala das Pegas. The painted magpies (pegas) on the ceiling and frieze represent the women at the court. Each of them holds the emblem por bem (for honour) in their beaks. This relates to the story that king João I was caught in the act of kissing the lady-in-waiting of 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. ©MLVB

Sala dos Brasões, Palácio de Sintra ©MLVB

The Sala dos Brasões with its domed ceiling is decorated with deers holding the coats of arms of the King and 72 Portuguese nobility. ©MLVB