The picturesque town 25 km west of Lisbon is perched on a cliff between two canyons. The 10 km of lush highlands between the town and the coast are protected by the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. Sintra served as the summer residence of Portugese kings for 800 years. The National Palace now contains a museum that is open to the public (closed on Wednesday). The mild climate and scenic landscapes attracted wealthy residents from other parts of Europe who tried to outdo each other in the construction of lavish villas. The result was a curious ensemble of castles and mansions that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architectural attractions of Sintra are enhanced by the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside as it slopes down to the sandy beaches and coves along the coast. The beaches can be crowded on weekends.
Westernmost point of the European mainland
This headland rises 140 meters over the ocean and is the westernmost point of the European mainland. Here, in addition to a bar, a radio mast and a lighthouse with a sweeping view of the seemingly endless ocean, there is the roar of the ocean and the wind and the screeches of hawks nesting in the cliffs.
Coastal resort of the Portuguese nobility
In 1870, the Portuguese royal family began spending its summer vacations in Cascais. This, in turn, attracted the aristocracy and the upper-crust bourgeoisie. Today, it is a classy resort town with beautiful beaches. From here, it is also worth a visit to the Boca do Inferno, a two-kilometer section of coastal cliffs whose base has been worn away by the ocean. You can also enjoy a beautiful walk along the beach from Estroil to Cascais on a paved seaside promenade.
Monastery in the ruins of a Moorish castle
The castle whose ruins lie in the forest outside of Sintra was built by the Moors during the 8th and 9th centuries. In the year 1147, the Portuguese king Alfons I. captured the castle and had a Christian chapel built on the site. The Portuguese rarely used the building complex, whereby the castle fell into disrepair in the course of the following centuries. The remaining walls were extensively renovated during the Romantic Era around the year 1860. Today, the original castle is mostly a ruin.
Franciscan monastery in a forest
This Franciscan monastery was founded by Alvaro de Castro in the year 1560. According to legend, his father, the viceroy João de Castro, lost his way while hunting and lay down under a rock outcropping to sleep, upon which he was told in a vision to build a monastery there. He died before completing the project, but his son Alvaro fulfilled his father's wish by founding the monastery. As legend has it, the first eight Franciscan monks led a penitential life for over one hundred years. The monastery is tucked away deep in the forest. Some of its spartan cells were carved into the rocks and lined with cork wood.
The “Portuguese Neuschwanstein”
This “Portuguese Neuschwanstein” is a fairy-tale castle built in the 19th century. It has not fared well among art historians on account of its sappy and carefree mixture of historicized architectural styles. Neorenaissance, Neo-Gothic and Moorish architectural features have simply been placed next to each other. The palace park was originally supposed to represent a classic English garden, but ended up becoming just as fanciful as the palace itself. Inside the palace, the numerous fully-furnished rooms are particularly impressive – it is almost as if people from the 19th century were still living there. The palace gives visitors a feel for the ostentatious lifestyle typical of the royal family and its courtiers.
Muslim palace and royal summer residence
This 10th-century Muslim palace used to be known as the “alcázar” and, with its prominent conical chimneys, is the most distinctive landmark in Sintra. From the 14th century until the 20th century, it served as the royal summer residence. It features a conglomerate of different architectural styles. Arabic influence can be seen in the carved wood ceilings and in the elaborate 15th and 16th century ceramic tiles, or “azulejos,” covering the walls. The palace's current appearance dates back to the time of Manuel I during 15th and early 16th centuries, which saw the development of a peculiar mixture of Gothic and Moorish ornamentation known as the Portuguese late Gothic style.
Enchanted castle and a deep well
The Quinta from 1904 is a unique interplay of house and garden in Italian style. Sculptors, stonemasons, landscape gardeners and craftsmen have created an enchanted and at the same time royal summer residence for the family of António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. Winding paths lead past fountains, viewing points and small grottoes. At the very top you come to a well shaft, the depth of which can only be guessed at first. A spiral staircase leads to the underground complex. After a descent of 27 meters you have reached the bottom. Several underground passages lead back into the open from below.