This past Wednesday we were going to go the beach to work on our fading tans. Alas, our plans of having sunny and warm weather throughout our whole trip were dashed. Wednesday (as well as the rest of the week) was cold and windy. I mean like in the 60’s cold (I knew I should have brought a snow suit on this trip). For those of you that use Celsius, that is 16 degrees. Brrrr… It was unacceptable blustery uncomfortable weather. That is all I will complain about the apparent early summer freeze we have experienced for now.
There was one positive side to the cold and having to miss the beach. The Pena Palace in Sintra.
Through very little online research Chad was able to find out that the easiest way to get to Sintra was by train. We went to the Rossio train station here in Lisbon, paid the four euros each (Zoë was free) and hopped directly on a train that would take us to our destination in 39 minutes. Zoë loves trains, as do we, and the ride went by quickly.
We disembarked from the train and were in a quaint little town that immediately makes you feel like you are in a real life Disneyland. The clean little cobbled road ways, the colorful and well-maintained buildings constructed in the 19th century, the sculptures and tile work each way you turned, all that were missing were the princesses and background music. And to top it all off, the castles, one within the town of Sintra that is more modern, The Palácio Nacional, and the oldest one in the area, the Moor Castle, which looks down on Sintra eerily.
The castle that we were in Sintra to see was up on the other side of a mountain, concealed from the town below, The Pena Palace.
I just want to give a little history of the castle before I go on about our day…
The site held a monastery that had been all but destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. Queen Dona Marie II and her king consort Ferdinand II, loving the beauty of the area, contracted Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege in the mid 1800’s to build and design a palace that looked like an “opera” around the remaining chapel that still stood. So it is actually a bit more modern of a castle than I had expected. If you would like to know more about the history and construction of the “Feather Palace” I would suggest the Pena Palace website, the wikipedia page, and gekkoportugal.com.
There are many different ways to travel to the palace, including a public bus, private tour buses, and even tuk tuks. We checked out the tuk tuks, because of our love for the fun little taxis from Thailand, but the prices were rather exorbitant starting at 45€ for a hour and a half tour. We opted for the cheaper public bus at only 5€ a person. The public sightseeing bus #434 stopped at the trains station, the old town center, the Moor Castle and the finally the Pena Palace. It was a great deal as they picked up every 15 minutes or so and you could hop on and off at any stop throughout the whole day!
A quick note about the bus trip, the road to the sites is steep, windy and sometimes cobbled. If you have ever had issues with motion sickness, I would definitely suggest taking dramamine before this ride. The drive only takes about 20 minutes, but I am sure that it could be a day killer for any one who gets car sick.
When we had arrived at the crest of the mountain at the entrance of the Pena Palace, we were confronted with ticket booths. I had figured there was a charge to enter the grounds, but was honestly unaware of the cost. Yes, that is how I research..pretty much half way. It is one reason that I always make let Chad look into what we are thinking of doing, that and my infernal laziness incredibly busy schedule. There were a couple of options as far as ticket purchase, you could get a ticket for just the palace grounds and garden which I think was 10 €, but we really wanted to see the interior of the palace too, so we paid 13.50 € each. I thought the price a little steep, and they did nickel and dime you a bit. For example, you could walk up the rest of the way from the entrance to the castle for free, or you could take the tram for two euros a person. But I think I could say in all fairness, that all touristy historical places I have been to do the same thing. You were given a map for free, and you could download an app on your smart phone for free to listen to a tour as well. At least they said you could, we couldn’t get it to work, but I did see people who apparently were using it.
Halfway up the steep hill that we were walking up for free, I started to regret saving the 4 euros for the tram though. Chads positivity saw us through pushing our almost 30 pound toddler up the steep cobbled road in our not so sturdy stroller, because the walk only took about 10 minutes. I think I probably complained for at least 7 of those minutes…I really have to work on that.
Anyways, as we came upon the palace garden and outer walls, I was again struck with how Disneyland must have been designed after castles like this. The pink, yellow grey and green walls interspersed with tiles. The defensive fortifications mixed with the purely cosmetic decorations.
Disneyland also might have been coming to mind because Zoë had been singing “Hi ho hi ho” the whole time we had been in Sintra. I do not know why she thought we were going to Snow White’s castle, but it was pretty cute and appropriate actually.
Despite the cold chill of the wind whipping through our thin summer clothes, we slowed down and took in the entrance to this amazing and somewhat schizophrenic structure. The gardens were beautiful and showed off each decorative motif perfectly. The view was breathtaking, you could look over Sintra all the way to the ocean over 17 km away. I could go on and on about the grounds of the castle, but I will let Chads wonderful photos show you.
The interior of the palace was a mixture of different decorating influences, including islamic, arabic, renaissance, and medieval. The way around the rooms were clearly directed with signs telling you where to go next and was clean and actually quite quiet (must have been because it was a weekday). The walk through the rooms begins with the formal dining room, complete with the full dinner service and tea china. From there you are led through the king and queens bedrooms, sitting rooms, and bathrooms. Surprisingly the lived in rooms were quite small, having just enough room for a bed (about 5 feet long and the width of a double mattress presently), a desk and a chaise lounge or settee. What stood out most to me was the almost unreal view out of the windows in these rooms. Unfortunately we were not able to get a good picture of the view from the windows, but believe me, its worth the trip to the palace just for that. It was overwhelming how intricate all the furniture and accoutrements were in the rooms.
My favorite area of the palace was the chapel, which was the last remaining part of the monastery left after the earthquake of 1755. It had the most vibrant and clear stained glass windows I have ever seen. It also housed a complex wall sized retable carved from marble and alabaster by Nicolau Chanterene, showing seven periods from Jesus’ life and death. The interesting thing to me was that Jesus and the scenes were depicted as though they were in the renaissance period (which is when the sculpture was completed). Regardless of its historical accuracy, it was awe-inspiring to look at.
At this point, Zoë felt that our time was up for walking around slowly and we had to walk a bit more quickly through the remaining rooms, including a room filled with stag heads and the great hall.
Our walk ended at the gift shop, which offered many different types of souvenirs that were reasonably priced.
We walked around the outer garden for a bit longer and took some more pictures and headed down the hill again to the bus stop.
You would be so proud of me, I didn’t complain once on the walk down the hill! I felt like I had turned a proverbial corner.
We hopped back on the bus and walked around the old town center, ate some dinner and went home, exhausted, but happy and feeling like we had had a great experience.
We will definitely be going back to Sintra to see more of the town, as well as the other castles, before we leave for our next destination. I would definitely recommend checking out the Pena Palace if you choose visit this wonderful country, you will not regret it!