Hills of Weird and Wonder, Sintra

Pena Palace. It’s like something from a children’s fantasy book. Stark blocks of primary colours burst with intensity seen in traffic lights. But look past the colour, and the intricacies and sheer levels of embellishment seen in the tiling suggest this was a home of a rather nutty royal. Imagine asking your friends over to visit this place! Shame they didn’t have selfies back then, the palace is just begging for photos.

But what I didn’t expect was the elevation of Sintra. Pena Palace is nestled on the hilltops giving a commanding view (and defensive position) from the ground. Many of Sintra’s other key attractions like Moor’s Castle is also perched up high. Moor’s Castle was almost the opposite to the glitzy Pena: only dull stone walls remain and border the valley with a fortress-like presence. It reminded me of the Great Wall of China but only in Portugal.

The oddities didn’t stop there. At Quinta da Regaleira, many flock to see a 27 metre spiral stair case that looks like something from the Hobbit. It’s also damp, mossy, and very very slippery but the effect is supposed to symbolise the ascent from earth to heaven or maybe the other way around?

Sintra is a fascinating day trip from Lisbon, but bring water, good walking shoes and your camera. Pro tip: Split an Uber to take you up the hill to Pena and walk back down to Sintra station as this saves lots of time waiting for the shuttle bus.

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