Sintra lies on the eastern side of a range of mountains around 20 miles from Lisbon.
This area enjoys an almost tropical abundance of luxuriant flora and rich vegetation. For this reason it has been made famous by poets and artists such as Byron who described it as a glorious Eden.
At the bottom of the mountain lies the small village of Sao Pedro because of the large numbers of tourists, that Sintra attracts many of the shops and cafes in Sao Pedro are rather more expensive than usual. However, a short walk to the train station takes you to a number of local restaurants and bars that are considerably cheaper.
Scattered amongst the foliage, flowers and fauna of the mountain, are a variety of opulent palaces and castles in contrasting styles. The two huge oat house chimneys which can be seen from miles around Sintra are part of the Royal Palace, now a museum.
The huge kitchen from which the chimneys ascend is one of the most interesting parts of the museum, if simply to give an idea of the complexities of cooking for royalty. The chapel is surprisingly simple and uncluttered, combining Moorish aesthetics with an almost Protestant sparseness. The Manueline room was created later than other rooms, and depicts the style associated with King Manuel, who also comissioned the building of Jeronimos monastery in Belem. The Blazons room is possibly the most elaborate, with the ceiling depicting the coats of arms of seventy two noble families of eighteenth century Portugal. Huge pieces of Oriental porcelian and marbled glass can also be found here, given to Queen Carlota Joaquina by the Emperor of China in 1806.
Above the museum stands Pena palace, towering over the south eastern side of the mountain range. Originally this was the site of an early monastery, it was remade into a palace in 1840. The attempt to fuse Scottish Baronial style with Moorish aesthetics was to the taste of Dom Fernando II. Taking advantage of the exotic oddness of the architecture the 1996 TV mini series of Gullivers Travels was partly filmed here.
The Moorish Castle dates back to the 8th Century and provide a sweeping view of the region. It is believed that the Castle was taken from the Moors during King Sigurd of Norways crusade in the 12th Century. The castle has a wonderfully romantic feel to it, although sufferers of vertigo may find the views from the summit a little frightening.
Sintra is an excellent place to visit if you have a passion for walking and rambling through beautiful countryside. Vast views of Cascais and Estoril and the estuary of the Tagus can be found within a short stroll around the many parts of the mountains.