Portugal

Sintra – The Fairy Tale Town

Sintra, how did I missed this real life fairy tale town all these years? The first fairy tale castle I visited was Neuschwanstein Castle which known to be the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. When I was searching for fairy tale castle, a colorful castle that stand high on the mountain above the clouds looked surreal, is this a computer graphic? After clicking through photos, I realized this castle really exist and tucked in a town call Sintra right outside of Lisbon! As I search further about Sintra, it not only has the fairy tale castle – Pena Castle, it has more wow! Most people visit Sintra as a day trip from Sintra but since it has so much more to squeeze into one day, I decided to stay 3 nights in Sintra!

Logistically, Sintra is probably the easiest day trip from Lisbon with frequent trains per day. After breakfast, we strolled our luggage to the next door Rossio Train Station (not the metro station). I loaded the Viva Viagem cards with 5 euros each and off we. The trains to Sintra are commuter trains so do not have luggage storage racks for big sized luggage, the seats were too tight to fit as well. It was only a 40 minutes ride or less so we decided to just stand right next to the doors; the space fitted our luggage perfectly!

The train was filled with 80% tourists so it was perfectly safe, I read that to avoid this train line at night because this line go through some shady neighborhoods in Lisbon. Once we arrived Sintra train station, we had to pull out the Viva Viagem card again to scan to exit the train station. Once out of the station, I took a right turn to walk to the bus station, the bus are operated by a company called Scotturb so the buses in Sintra are not covered by the 24 hour travel card.  There was a long queue at the station for bus number 434 (known as the Circuit Pena) which goes to Sintra Historic Center – Moorish Castle – Pena Palace – Sintra Historic Center – Sintra Train Station. We saw how the bus (a coach actually) was filled up quickly and people had to stand! Luckily, we were heading to our hotel: Tivoli Palacio de Seteais via the bus number 435 instead. The bus 435 (known as the Villa Express 4 Palaces) that goes to Sintra Historic Center – Quinta da Regaleria, Palacio de Seteais (our hotel) – Monserrate Palace, and back. The 435 bus (more like a big van instead of coach bus) was nearly empty so plenty of room on the back to fit our luggage. I purchased the “round trip” ticket that cost €2.50 (a receipt looking like paper with date printed), according to its website: http://www.scotturb.com/carreiras/tarifarios/turisticos the round trip lets you to hop on and off all the way to Monserrate Palace but on the return, the stop you get off is the terminal stop. But I found this is not the case on the 435 route because they don’t track where you get on or off; the bus driver only checked the date on the ticket 🙂 We stopped right at the entrance gate of the hotel and then a long walk to the building.

The bus routes:

The hotel is beautiful and very peaceful! We checked in but our room is not ready yet as it was only 10:30 am. We stored our luggage and off we go to explore this fairy tale town of Sintra! Buses are not as frequent so sometimes it make more sense to walk instead of waiting. The walk from the hotel to our first point of interest: Quinta da Regaleria was only 10 minutes going downhill; the return was a different story LOL! I had purchased the other palaces ticket online in advanced so we can skip the line and with a 10% discount at: http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/ except for Quinta da Regaleria which have to purchase on site. The admission price was only €6. This “palace” was built as the playground of António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, a millionaire who had so much money that he let his architect Luigi Manini to build the wildest dreamland!

The estate is 4 hectare big so in order not to waste time, best to follow the map that you get when purchasing the ticket! First, we headed off to the man-made waterfall:

I thought it would be so cool to walk across those stepping stones and have Jason to take a photo from this angle….

Well……it was two way traffic that I had to step back to turn so the people from the opposite direction can pass through and OMG somehow my foot landed on the edge of the stone and slipped right into the water!!!! It was scary that I never had expected yikes and of course embarrassing! Fortunately, the pond wasn’t that deep; the water level was up to my thigh only and I was wearing short so my clothes didn’t get wet. Oh boy…..what a story that Jason had been laughing at me for days!!! Urggggg!

Moving on LOL……

The playground designed with underground tunnels that lead to everywhere, it was basically a real life maze, brilliant! I thought only Gaudi was that crazy…..we were totally amazed by Luigi Manini’s creation!

There are towers like this everywhere and somewhere you can walk down to the underground tunnel…

The “Unfinished Well” is the smaller version of the big “Initiation Well” that you can walk down to the bottom via those spiral stairs:

Continue onto the bigger well…

The stone door that blended into the rocks so perfectly:

The amazing Initiation Well:

It looked so mysterious!

We walked all the way down to the bottom and it was quite dark down there so make sure you bring a flash light or turn on your cell phone light! Be careful of wet steps and floor as you near the bottom as well. From the bottom up:

Bottom of the well actually has underground tunnel that connects to other places as well……crazy architect! We decided to walk up instead, I am not a fan of dark tunnel! One more photo of the well from above, it was hard to get the whole well into the picture so we had to hold the camera right onto as center as we could with our arms length and play with our luck!

Looked like an exit right Jason?

Yes it is!

The “backyard” was huge…

More cool looking towers!

And caves…

Imagine growing up in this place, never a bored moment!

This is the tallest tower and all the way up, you can see the Moorish Castle from a distance xD See those castle walls up there?

Those spiral stairs were narrow…

This is Leda’s Cave:

And even its own cute little chapel!

Not an ordinary chapel!

Even in this tiny chapel has a spiral staircase to go up…and down..

The chapel’s 2nd floor:

Look at the floor tile pattern!!!

The bottom lead to another tunnel to another cave…..where are we now?

We got out and we had spent at least 1.5 hours just around its backyard!!! Now the mansion:

The entrance from the front side, speaking of grand entrance!

From where I was standing, it gave the most complete view of the mansion:

Alright…we finally entering the mansion! In terms of architectural details, I very totally impressed by the places we have seen so far in Portugal, never would’ve expected that!

We are getting there….the entrance door!

Inside the first room is this massive fireplace, once again, in so much details!

This red door really caught my eye, more like a door to the king’s room or something, hum..where does it lead to? Whatever is behind that door is not open to the public 🙁

Through another corridor that its architectural style is completely different than the rest but with the same amount of details:

The wood carving of this ceiling and the story-book like pages on the wall painting:

Probably the only smooth surface in this place is this staircase but complemented well by the bright pink walls 🙂

The 2nd floor was all exhibition rooms with photos and clips of the history of this mansion. We kept walking up to its rooftop.

There it is Quinta da Regaleria!

At that point, it was well pass my reservation for lunch at Tacho Real at 12:30…more like 1:30 pm and I was super starving. It was time to leave and instead of waiting for the infrequent buses, we decided to walk to town which was less than 10 minutes walk.

The sidewalks in some sections are wide enough like this with very good shadings:

But some sections aren’t so have to be careful with cars; the road already narrow enough to barely fit two cars to pass each other from opposite directions. We had a little difficulty locating Tacho Real but with the help of HERE Map GPS, we found it! I gave it a try and told the waiter that I had the reservation for 12:30 pm but was late..he said not an issue! The restaurant looked small from the outside but inside is huge, plenty of tables! Cell phone reception was quite bad in the restaurant LOL!

Their menu prices are quite expensive compared to the inexpensive food prices we have seen in Lisbon…I guess we are in the middle of no where!

Jason wanted to try the “king crab” and it was like this, not too bad but quite expensive at like €19:

The grilled fish which was surprisingly only €9 and was not overcook!

Jason’s main dish was shrimp with fish fillet, it was okay!

Of course after spoiled by the delicious and fresh seafood rice – Arroz de Marisco, we weren’t impressed by this meal for €33.80 (after 25% off from thefork.com). In order to receive the 25% off, we had to order either an appetizer+main dish or main dish+dessert per person so I ordered this cake. I realized that coconut is popular in Portuguese desserts! Another characteristic of Portuguese dessert is….sweet…very sweet for my taste bud!

We walked to the town center to catch the bus to go to Monserrate Palace with our still valid €2.50 round trip ticket. On the way, I had to stop for photos of cute shops in these ones:

The bus station in the “Historic Center of Sintra” was very crowded with tourists waiting for the 434 bus to Pena Palace. There was a staff from the bus company to coordinate the lines, it was that busy! The 434 coaches kept coming one after another to fill the demand of tourists while the small 435 bus finally arrived to pick us and a few tourists up. It was quite a long way to Monserrate Palace, it is impossible for us to walk there! The bus dropped us and a few people visitors off right at the main gate of the admission booth. I had pre-purchased the tickets so I just hand it to the lady to scan the barcode and grabbed a map to look for the shortest route to the palace. The walk was downhill so it wasn’t bad…wait till on the way up I was thinking! The palace is surrounded by lush green gardens!

As we got near, wow isn’t that cute?

Monserrate Palace has an Arab/Moorish influenced and it’s probably one of my favorites! The circular shape made it more feminist than the bold looking square shaped castles.

Shortly after the entrance, I was totally jaw-dropped by the interior of this!

This palace is petite in size compared to the others but the details were incredible!

The warm toned arches with light pink/red columns, I would think any queen or princess would love this palace!

I had to stand there until people are out of the way to take photos of this palace and I don’t mind taking extra time since we have 3 days in Sintra so plenty of time and not to be rushed!

Time to change to a wide angle lens to capture more!

After who knows how many minutes we spent in just the hallway, time to explore the rooms:

Closer to the details….there’s no flat empty surface!

We walked to one of the end rooms and another magnificent domed ceiling!

I love the purplish outlines!

I had to put the camera on the floor (even with a 16-35 mm wide angle) and still not wide enough to capture the full circle! Jason took a photo of me using his phone:

A miniature of the palace:

Another room:

Must be the library room!

The door is the most interesting in that room! Watch out where you touching Jason 😉

An antique clock:

We walked up to the 2nd floor where the bedrooms are located but not much to see in the bedrooms.

We walked down to the massive palace kitchen! Look at the size of those pots!

The palace as I mentioned petite in size so through the hallway is the back door to one of its gardens:

Those flowers are so pretty and I have never seen this specie of roses?

Too bad those trees covered one side of the palace 🙁

The palace has an impressive collection of plants from all over the world including a rose garden (way pass bloom at that time) and Mexican garden. Plants and flowers that I have never seen before like this one:

And even its man-made ruin chapel purposely built like that!

We were making our way up to the exit and oh boy those stairs!

Another note, buses are hardly on time…it was over 10 minutes late. But can understand because of traffic like this, the road is too narrow for two cars to pass so one has to give way! I made the right decision not to rent a car for our trip!

I was running out of cash after all those cash-only restaurants and entrance admissions so I took the bus all the way to the train station and walk to the Deutsche Bank, alliance with Bank of America and they still do charge the $5 per transaction fee GRRRR! ATM in Portugal can be a pain because the withdrawal limit is only €200 per transaction and you can have max two transactions per day…thus…charging me twice!!!

The other side of Sintra on the back of the train station.

After withdrawing cash, we walked back to the historic center which is a very long way but a nice walk to enjoy some of the cute houses!

Guess what is this “castle”?

It’s their town hall, so cute!!!

Hum…a rest stop?

Phew, we reached the historic center and walked around to check it out!

The shops sell similar items as in Lisbon but there are a few “authentic” design in Portugal shops but of course $$$.

Sintra town is not big and the shops are concentrated either in the historic center or around the train station. I made a dinner reservation with Romaria de Baco at 6:30 pm, a tapas restaurant. We got there early at 6 pm and the waiter was saying that they have issue with the oven or whatever that we’ll need to wait for a while for main dishes. However, they can still serve appetizers. Dinner time was much more quieter than lunch because day trips were gone by then.

We ordered the garlic shrimps appetizer to fill our tummy a little while waiting for the main course.

After more than half an hour of wait, we finally got our main dishes….duck and “grilled” salmon. More like baked salmon……the duck was okay, a little bit too well done.

The dinner was €47.60…yea a lot more expensive and less tasty than Lisbon 🙁 One of the downside staying in Sintra…the food!

After dinner, the last bus already departed (the bus schedule really designed around day trippers) and I have known about it so was prepared to walk back to the hotel. The uphill walk was very tiresome and getting cold! We finally reached the hotel and got our room, it was spacious and grand! Their door locks are the old turning style so whenever we leave the hotel, we’ll need to drop the key off at the reception. Upon entering the room, there’s a small hallway…is that the “office” space?

Made a turn, on the left was the bathroom and right was a closet:

That’s the smallest see-through fridge I have seen!

The bedroom……I love those draped curtains!

There’s a tray of welcome mini desserts and a bottle of red wine, too bad we don’t drink 😛

I really like the comfortable grand style of the room but the only thing I dislike about the hotel is no free in room wifi!!! This room regularly cost above $300 per night and no free wifi in this mobile age? I had to get some work done too and luckily Jason’s T-Mobile phone had a promotion at that time which offer free unlimited high speed 4G data in Europe for the whole summer until end of August. That was the first time I ever tried using mobile hot-spot and the speed was good enough for my work stuff 🙂 Sintra exceeded my expectation and surprised Jason a little bit since I hardly showed him photos of Sintra. I couldn’t wait to see Pena Palace the next day and we planned to be there when it opens hopefully to avoid the day trippers 🙂 Stay tuned for the next trip report!

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