On the outskirts of Lisbon is Sintra, a Portuguese village nestled within the Serra de Sintra, a small mountain range cascading down the western shores of Portugal. Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, offers all the trimmings of a bustling Western European city replete with tiled buildings, Moorish influences plus rolling hills, trolleys and a Golden Gate bridge, reminiscent of San Francisco. But Sintra, just a thirty minute train ride from the capital, offers a quieter peek into Portuguese life.
Situated high in the mountains, Sintra carries relics of its Moorish past washed over with Roman adorning and hints of Alpine influences showcasing the natural beauty of the region and a rich history of oscillating leadership. Like most parts of the Iberian Peninsula, Sintra’s early development is owed to Islamic domination, though most remnants from this epoch have been secluded to mere speckles among the Sintra’s most historic buildings. Once colonized by Alfonso I (the first king of Potrtugal) in the early 15th century, building facades and structures were re-styled to encompass the traditional architecture of the Catholic faith and coat over the influences of their predecessors. Though much of the Moorish influence was disguised, drops of the hidden era are scattered throughout arched entrances and windows.
Getting to Sintra is easy and affordable. A round-trip train ticket from Lisbon is under 10€ and deposits travelers at the station located at the base of the village. While buses and horse-drawn carriages are available to tote tourist up through the winding, vertical streets toward the heart of the village, thrifty travelers will not only save a few Euro traveling on foot, but also gain the opportunity to inspect the statues and artwork adorning the upward path.
Once in the center of town, the Sintra National Palace (the original Moorish palace) amasses breathtaking views of natural trees arching high above weathered buildings from centuries before. Visitors not only will enjoy the scenic views and hikes, but also soak in cultural relics from the region’s transient history plus a series of restaurants and shops cascading along the steps as the village climbs upward. Unlike most kingdoms, Sintra possesses three palaces, each bearing traits to a unique culture: Sintra National Palace (originally constructed by the Moors later updated by the Romans), Quinta da Regaleira (designed and constructed in Italian Gothic style) and the Pena National Palace (paying homage to Germanic culture).
Though Sintra offers a diverse cultural appeal through museums and palaces, its small frame and integration of nature throughout its sprawl provide appeal to both buffs of civilization and the outdoors alike. If once again travelers forego modern transport to the Pena National Palace, a heavily-wooded road guides visitors upward to where the palace sits on the peak of a hill overlooking the village and hills beyond. In addition, palace gardens circumscribing both the Quinta da Regaleira and the Pena National Palace immerse travelers into the natural flora and fauna of the region in exquisite and unfiltered fashion.
Although small in size, Sintra celebrates a union of a Central European influence amid a deep Portuguese tradition. And with a mild, Mediterranean climate, tourists are able to enjoy the outdoors year-round while exploring the art, history, architecture and nature Sintra offers.